In advance of Aviation Week's MRO Americas Conference & Exhibition in April, we talked with American Airlines CEO Doug Parker about the new horizons facing the aviation industry, the challenges and successes of the merger with US Airways, and his feedback for the MRO industry.
AW: What do you consider to be the most pressing issues facing the aviation industry?
Parker: For us it’s been figuring out the best way to compete with such a wide-range of other airlines. Internationally we’re up against subsidized airlines from the Middle East. We have a great product at a fair price – but we’re competing against airlines that don’t have to turn a profit. That’s a challenge. Meanwhile, at home we’re facing a lot of growth from the no-frills airlines. We’ve found a good approach in how we compete with them, and there’s more to come later this year. Both kinds of competitors are challenges we can handle.
We also have the FAA reauthorization bill, which is being considered on Capitol Hill right now. It’s of the utmost importance to continue the strides we’ve made to make the United States the safest country for aviation, and we need to find new ways to fund innovation and better efficiencies, including Air Traffic Control reform. Our industry is at a crossroads right now in Washington as we’re seeking a transformational change to the way the U.S. ATC system is financed and governed. We’re in favor of a system with stable and predictable funding outside the federal budget. What we’re advocating for is separating the ATC function from the FAA and creating an independent, federally chartered, nonprofit corporation that manages the system. Reforming the system will reduce delays and operational costs, allow the FAA to focus on its most important priority – safety, and bring U.S. aviation back to the forefront of innovation and technology.
AW: What have been the most rewarding success and the biggest challenge with the merger so far?
Parker: The most rewarding success has been how the two teams have come together so well. This merger came together in an odd way, and with the wrong attitudes, it could have been difficult to pull everyone together. But we had people on both sides that cared a lot more about the building of a great airline than they did about personal agendas. As a result, they were able to pull together with a common objective – building the greatest airline in the world.
AW: What advice would you give to the next generation of airline/MRO professionals?
Parker: It’s an industry that is unique in its mix of technical expertise, customer service focus and workforce diversity. We operate highly complex products – that get more complex with every generation – to move people and products around the globe and have to cater to many different customer bases. We interact with flight crews, flight service, marketing, corporate, OEMs, regulatory/government agencies – all of which require a different approach and provide a different viewpoint on our work product. There are not many professions where the diversity of the experience is this broad. With the advanced technology in today’s modern aircraft, emphasis on specialized training and experience is paramount. These modern aircraft require new methods of advanced carbon graphite repair, software admin/management and integrated avionics resolution. But you have to recognize that pure technical expertise isn’t enough – that we need those interpersonal skills to be successful in this diverse environment
AW: Which work project are you most excited about right now?
Parker: We are in the midst of a cultural change in our airline that is only just beginning. We have built an airline that is going to be here forever and that is different than the world most of our team has been living in. That new world comes with new rules, both in how we treat each other and the service we can provide our customers. It’s a bigger transformation than I think most people realize and I find that exciting.
AW: In an alternate universe, what other career would you have?
Parker: If I weren’t a business executive, I think I’d be interested in teaching. I like to win, but what I really like is helping other people win. I love seeing our team members succeed. I think teaching would be much the same.