I had the pleasure of sitting down with Bruce Dickinson and interviewing him for about 1.5 hours before and after his keynote at Aviation Week’s MRO Europe Conference in London. He’s a very charismatic guy who loves music and flying Boeing aircraft—but he also strikes me as an astute businessman.
I saw more businessman than rockstar—although a glimpse of the musician was evident as he crisscrossed the stage while delivering his speech. He’s definitely not a person who has stage fright!
After writing this AW&ST MRO Edition article and creating a photo gallery of Cardiff Aviation, I’m left with a lot of colorful quotes from Bruce—so here is my version of outtakes at the end of a movie--some fun things that didn’t make it:
On establishing the business, Dickinson said: “There are two ways to generate business: Throw money at it, and that’s often how airlines start. For example, an airline spent $50 million and finally turned a profit this year, which presumably is a success. Not in my book. The other way to do it, of course, is through hard work and by making 0+0=1, which is the way entrepreneurs do it. You build value by building experience in the company and you bring in customers inventively.”
What was the genesis? Cardiff Aviation was “borne out of an entrepreneurial opportunity. We [Dickinson and partner Mario Fulgoni] were looking to start an airline, and frankly, the hangars cropped up and we said, ‘we should start an MRO,’” said Dickinson. He provides this analogy for the logic: “If you want to sell lawn mowers, you either go buy a lawn mower factory or a patch of lawn and wait. So we looked at the MRO and said, this is the cheese in the mousetrap for people who have airliners.” (While the analogy is light hearted, his drive to create a profitable, sustainable business is not.)
How did they come up with the business mix? “It’s a very strange but logical. Being a musician and pilot, I said to my partner Mario, looking at the MRO biz, it’s great but the margins will always be tight. If you’re going to fly, you need something else. So we came up with the one-stop shop but not just MRO—total aviation experience. Our skill set is in ACMI, airline provision. We know that works.”
Aspirations for training (besides Dickinson getting his 747 type rating): Having an MRO is a key plank to that model. The training goes along with it. There is genuinely a pilot shortage because there is a lag in the system. In Asia, the demand is going off the scale. Who will train these pilots? …We know having an airline pulls through a stream of pilot cadets that could be trained properly. And frankly, ACMI is one of the best training grounds you could get. …A lot of the guys I worked for at Astraeus, where I worked for 10 years, are now at British Airways and Emirates etc. I’m willing to bet if we all sat around in a room and said what was the most fun flying you had, it would be there. That training and those experiences stay with you and I’m keen to replicate that.”
What attracted you to aviation? “I come from an engineering family. My godfather, who got me interested in airplanes, was an RAF engineer. Our airline has a Maltese certificate... and it’s strange to walk around Valetta and think he was getting targeted by bombs there. My uncle was a flight engineer for the RAF then BA, my dad was a mechanical engineer as well—so I should be an engineer, but if you’ve ever seen me put up a set of shelves you’ll know why I’m not. But I ended up as a pilot--and I appreciate engineering!”
Balancing being in a band and running an MRO—do you sleep?: “I sleep well. Sometimes it’s a bit of plate spinning. I can do 2.5 things but as soon as it goes to 3 or 4 it becomes difficult, like when we were doing PR for the new album—I was running a big ragged. We are looking at bringing in more resources because this is about delegation. I could be the public end of it but I also fly the airplanes. Frankly, that bit is the easy bit. When I was just a pilot, one of the reasons I loved it was that you could walk away from it and say finished. I need 12 hours rest—you can’t disturb me. I can’t do that now.”