How will you remember the year 2020 at skeyes?
Renaud Lorand, Chairman of the Board of Directors : “Regardless of the health and humanitarian consequences of the crisis, I, like everyone else, will remember 2020 as the year of a great shock to both our population and our planet as a whole. I will remember that the health crisis particularly impacted the transport sector, and within that, the aviation sector. Our partners, the airlines and the airports, have been severely and massively affected by the drastic reduction in air traffic levels. Keeping planes on the ground and seeing airport terminals completely deserted has been extremely difficult. On the other hand, at skeyes, 2020 has also been the year in which we mobilised our forces and energy. Not only to manage and anticipate the consequences of the pandemic, but also to maintain and pursue the major strategic projects that prepare our company for tomorrow.”
Johan Decuyper, CEO : “My thoughts go first of all to the colleague who skeyes lost due to corona. In a broader sense, it was obviously a year of crisis management. Within skeyes, from the beginning and throughout the pandemic, we did everything we could to protect the health and safety of our employees as best as possible. We also had to look after the interests of the company: we could not let everything we had built up go to waste, although we obviously did not control all the elements ourselves. We depend on air traffic for our income, and when that stopped, it had a huge impact on our financing. But in the midst of that crisis, we did not want to lose sight of the future either: we were already thinking about how we would adapt our financing and our operations to the new realities in aviation for the years to come.”
What lessons will you remember from this pandemic?
RL : “The pandemic is above all a lesson in humility: the world "before" had become accustomed to hypermobility and hyperconnectivity, and the aviation sector was undoubtedly a vital link in this hypermobility, which for it rhymed with growth and profitability. Nature and the virus have brutally reminded us that this model is not immutable. The crisis is forcing us to rethink our model and to think differently about how we live and travel. Our sector, and our company, are not immune to this rethink. The pandemic also gives us cause for optimism: in this regard, I would like to highlight the responsiveness with which the teams of skeyes were mobilised to ensure service continuity and traffic safety in working conditions restricted by health regulations. Finally, the outbreak of such a crisis reminds us how important it is to be prepared. Not only operationally, of course, but also economically. One of skeyes' strengths in the face of the crisis was its sound financial situation, characterised in particular by an adequate cash flow, which was the result of several years of rigorous and prudent management.”
JD : “I was thinking above all about what we had learned from a previous difficult period at Belgocontrol. Unlike some 10 years ago, we continued to invest and recruit. The main strategic projects also continued. Of course, we took the circumstances into account and adapted plans where necessary. But we knew from experience that it would be even harder to make up for the damage if we came to a complete standstill. After all, air traffic will start up again anyway and then we have to be ready immediately. The fact that we were able to do that was, of course, due to the favourable starting position we had acquired ourselves. And we also know that the financial efforts we are making now will be made up for precisely by the revival of air traffic. We had turned skeyes into a healthy company before the crisis and skeyes will still be a healthy company after the crisis.”
What do you look back on positively in 2020?
RL : “Two essential partners of skeyes have been mobilised at its side: firstly, its staff, either by ensuring control operations day and night, 7 days a week, through a physical presence in the installations, or by imaginatively reorganising the activities to ensure work and training in compliance with health regulations. In addition, our sole shareholder, the Belgian State, which recognises the vital nature of our business for the country, has been at skeyes' side at every key moment of the crisis.”
JD : “The most important thing is that we have had relatively few cases of COVID-19 within skeyes for what is after all a group of 900 people. And we have also been able to prevent problems on other fronts for all our employees: by systematically eliminating historically accumulated leave, we have not had to resort to temporary unemployment and have been able to maintain our operations continuously. This is certainly not an easy task, but together we have succeeded in achieving it.”
How should skeyes overcome this period?
RL : “Every crisis also offers opportunities. A momentum has been created for strategic positioning. Our partners are more than ever aware of the importance of air traffic control and of having their own national ANSP for Belgium's own airspace. This is an enormous asset for the attractiveness and accessibility of our airspace and therefore in the interest of the entire aviation sector in our country. In recent years, skeyes has worked hard on the continuity of its services, on customer friendliness and on reliability. The entire aviation sector can now make use of these assets for reviving air traffic in our country and strengthening our international position.”
JD : “By realising that we are not alone. Unfortunately, the entire aviation sector has been hit hard. But together we can pull through again. skeyes was once again a reliable partner for all its stakeholders and we will continue to play that role. That is why it was so important to continue investing in the improvement of our services; just think of A-SMGCS, the digital towers we are going to build, or the renewal of SAS2. We are ready for when air traffic recovers; our partners can count on us: airports, airlines and all companies active in the sector. And we have a vested interest in it ourselves, because our income also depends on that recovery. ”
What should skeyes pay attention to, apart from the post-crisis recovery?
RL :“First of all, it should be emphasised that the crisis is not over and all the international forecasts indicate that the impact of the crisis on air transport will continue to be felt for several years. The priority will therefore be to manage the consequences of the crisis, in particular by applying the measures adopted at European level. Crisis management cannot and should not overshadow the other, sometimes existential, challenges. After all, even before the crisis, the pressure on aviation to become greener was growing. The pandemic has increased that pressure even further. We as a sector must take up this challenge. And we want to. This change will not happen overnight, but we must already invest in it. We are already doing this. skeyes focuses on green landings where possible, fully supports the renewable energy sector - in combination with air traffic safety, of course - and our CSR policy is meanwhile strongly anchored in the operational management. Together with our partners, other initiatives are underway to learn from each other and strengthen each other in making our sector more sustainable.”
JD :“Our whole crisis strategy was to get back on track with our pre-2020 plans as soon as possible. One of the pillars of this was innovation. We continue to invest in new technologies but also in economic and social developments. I fully endorse what our Chairman said about sustainability. And I will add another example: drones. We have already gained a great deal of experience and knowledge in this area through very concrete cooperation projects with partners who are exploring the possibilities of drones in real life. More and more, we are taking on our future role as a frontrunner. We are helping to develop technology to support drones, to ensure the safety of all air traffic and to become a knowledge centre and hub for the entire aviation sector in our country.”