Manager, Airline Strategy – InterVISTAS

Apr 20, 2017

Ever wonder what the world of aviation consulting would be like? This month we have sat down with Ian Winton to chat about his career path and what he does in a day as a consultant with InterVISTAS.

Could you introduce yourself please?

My name is Ian Winton, and I’m originally from Southern Ontario. I moved to Edmonton when I was 18 to study Commerce at the University of Alberta. During this time, I became involved with the aviation industry and started working at the Edmonton International Airport. Since then, I have worked in a number of roles for a few different companies. Among others, I have worked as a customer service and operations agent for Servisair, a network and schedule planner for WestJet and now as a consultant for InterVISTAS Consulting.

How did you start out in the aviation industry? Was it a conscious decision or did you end up in it by chance?

People often ask me if I’ve had a burning desire for aviation from the a very young age. Quite honestly, the answer is no. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about being a pilot, and I almost never flew as a child. However, I have always been interested in the transportation sector in general, in the logistics of moving things from A to B. Only when I became more knowledgeable in the area was I drawn towards one specific mode of transport, which was aviation. However, what truly ignited my passion was the fact that my parents’ neighbour was former Edmonton Airport CEO, Scott Clements. I got to know him a bit and he helped guide me to a contact at the airport, which led to my first aviation-related job.

What was your first job in aviation, and how do you think it contributed to your future success?

In 2004, I started working for airport retailer HMS Host in a customer service role. A few months later I got a job at Servisair, where I also worked in customer service at first. I was positioned around the airport, and serviced a number of the company’s clients including Sunwing, Air Transat and the now defunct Jetsgo.

Eventually, I ended up being dedicated to the Jetsgo contract, which actually had a profound impact on my future career choices.  Many employees did their best to avoid it due to Jetsgo’s reliability problems, but I viewed Jetsgo as an opportunity to work on a large contract and learn from the operational challenges they were facing. I spent lots of time dealing with their delays and cancellations and interacting with the passengers affected by them. This was often a trying experience but also an opportunity to learn a great deal about the operation of an airline and how shortcomings in commercial planning can impact an operation and in turn a brand. It was ultimately my experience at Jetsgo that first got me interested in network and aircraft scheduling in the first place.

Following my new-found interest, I ended up joining WestJet as a schedule planning analyst. In the following years, I moved up to become a senior analyst, primarily focusing on future scheduling activities. To describe the role at a high level, the network planning team would come up with routes and frequencies they wanted to fly, and then it was my job to schedule this flying onto the available fixed fleet of aircraft ensuring a strong commercial product while adhering to all operational requirements. Then in 2014, I moved on to InterVISTAS.

Could you please give a brief introduction of your current occupation?

I am currently a manager in the airlines practice at InterVISTAS Consulting, and I work in three main areas. The first is air service development (ASD), which refers to the creation of business proposals on behalf of airports for airlines to fly additional routes. For example, a smaller Canadian airport may contract us to create a route forecast for WestJet Encore to begin service to their airport. We would do all necessary calculations, and then meet with both our client airport and WestJet to discuss our finding and why we feel this new route would be a beneficial add for WestJet. Second, I spend a lot of time working on airline network planning. In such cases, we work for an airline to improve network performance or to solve any specific network problem the airline is facing. Finally, I also work with the borders and airport experience team to analyze the effects of various air policy initiatives.

In your opinion, what are the three most essential skills that helped you advance in your carrier to where you stand now?

I think the most important skill is being able to understand the big picture while working in the weeds. You’re not going to succeed in a network planning role if you don’t consider the whole network even when planning a very small part of it.

Second, being detail oriented. It is crucial to make sure everything you plan abides by all company and government regulations. As an aircraft scheduler in particular, a small error can have very large implications for the organization as whole.  Finally, being successful in managing difficult relationships has been critical in getting me to where I am today. This was apparent during my time at WestJet, where commercial and operational departments are naturally focused on different goals. Like with any airline, the commercial departments are focused on profit maximization while the operations team wants to ensure they have adequate time and resources to safely carry out the airlines’ operations with a high quality of service. This will result in occasional friction, and as a schedule planner your role involves bridging this delicate gap.  Being able to effectively manage these situations and help the departments find compromise is critical in this type of role.

Could you explain what you do on a day-to-day basis in your position at InterVISTAS? What would an average work day look like?

My role is largely a desk job. I work typical workdays doing a lot of research and analytical work. In addition, I spend a significant portion of my time interacting with clients, to get their feedback on our work. As a manager, project planning is a crucial part of my positon. A key part of this is managing analytical resources to ensure the right people are matched with the various project tasks and that the output is of high quality and produced within budget.  Working in the airline industry, I also spend a certain amount of time traveling. The actual amount of time I spend traveling varies a lot, from going to Africa every few weeks for 6 months, to being positioned in Vancouver for months at a time. This is driven by the specific project work I am engaged in at any given time.

What do you like most about your job?

I like the variety. As a consultant, you get to look at different things all the time. If you work for an airline, like I did, that gives you one perspective on how things work. However, working as a part of a consulting firm you’re constantly exposed to different perspectives with every project you work on. This not only allows you to learn a great deal about the industry, but also helps you make valuable connections around the world.

What are the most significant changes that you’ve witnessed during your time in the aviation industry?

To me, the repeated ups and downs of the industry are more relevant than any one change. Aviation is a very cyclical industry with high volatility driven by high degrees of exposure to external force, especially fuel prices.

One specific trend I’ve observed in the Canadian market I’ve found to have a profound impact is the movement to higher density aircraft. In attempting to maximize profits, airlines are driving down average seat costs by increasing the number of seats in each aircraft. In the regional market, there is a movement towards larger turboprop aircraft as the smaller variants are no longer being produced and no replacements have been developed by the manufacturers.  In addition, recent attempts to establish an ultra-low cost carrier in Canada have the potential to profoundly impact the domestic Canadian market in the near future.

What advice would you give to youth who are looking to start their careers in the aviation industry?

Go be a front-line employee at the airport.

If you’re in school and can afford to work a lower-paying job, take that customer service or ramp position at an airline or third party airline handler to learn the operations of the industry first hand. In my experience, having that experience can provide an immense level of credibility and competitive advantage down the line when combined with formal education.

To finish things, I’d like you to pick favorites in following categories:

  1. Aircraft: Boeing 787
  2. Airport: MUC, as it is very efficient
  3. Travel destination: Istanbul
  4. Food: Big Mac
  5. Hobby: Golf
  6. Author: John Grisham
  7. Musician: Anything that comes up on the radio. Coldplay. Rural Alberta Advantage.

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