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INTERVIEW: Aviation Executive Michael Walsh

In the first of a series of interviews with aviation experts, Yugo speaks to seasoned aviation executive Michael Walsh about how the industry can recover from coronavirus and the opportunities that may arise.

Michael Walsh, CEO of PBEC
Michael Walsh, CEO of PBEC

Boasting 24 years’ experience in aviation, Michael Walsh has successfully steered through several international crises. The 2002 SARS outbreak, 9/11, and the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, but nothing has hit the industry like Covid-19.

"The aviation industry was hit hard, but it bounced back," recalls Walsh.

Walsh is currently CEO of Pacific Basin Economic Council (PBEC) and senior consultant at Aer Mobi. “Time will tell with this, but there are always opportunities in these crises and those who are nimble enough will adapt and adopt.”

Charter flights in a post-coronavirus world

Walsh says there is a huge opportunity for the luxury travel segment when the world gets back on track. “People are going to want to be reassured that on every step of their journey they are not going to get infected,” says Walsh. “How can you reassure them?”

This paves the way for a predicted rise in demand for chartered flights and private retreats. “There is an opportunity in the luxury segment and safe destination health segment,” he says. “Now people are going to want to be reassured that on every part of their journey, they are not going to get infected.”

Walsh says those in the industry should start establishing partnerships with exclusive resorts to establish exclusive transfer services for the luxury segment.

“People will want to go to more remote, isolated areas to enjoy their holidays.”

There may also be the opportunity for smaller aircrafts to fill gaps left by commercial airlines scrapping shorter routes or reducing schedules. Walsh adds there will be an increased demand for local providers to accommodate shorter trips.

Walsh adds that in Asia, the business aviation industry has been predominantly focused on long-haul, large cabin development. Smaller bug smasher single piston aircraft rotors have been more in ASEAN countries where there is demand because of a lack of infrastructure, for example not having a proper MRT system in a city like Jakarta for example.

How will the aviation industry recovery?

Walsh says it is essential the industry unites to ensure it does not collapse during these challenging times.

“There needs to be recognition for every sector of aviation,” he says. “Sometimes governments will focus on the national carriers and commercial carriers first. Those are the ones speaking the loudest for government handouts and support.

"It is industry associations responsibility to get in front of governments and decision makers and shout loud enough. Sometimes we are side-lined as a sector because of the perception problem of the general public in certain countries; they see it as just for the rich and famous and not necessarily the economic driver."

Walsh also predicts a rise in technology in the post-coronavirus world. For example, the virus has fast-tracked the use of unmanned drones. In China, companies such as used electric powered unmanned drones to provide medical equipment in Wuhan.

“They got temporary exemption from the civil aviation of China to run these mass experiments and have come out very positively. I think the government will continue to support that sector’s growth. We are a long way away from vertical take-off electric rotors because of safety issues, but drones and the movement of cargo and home delivery is not that far away.”

About Michael Walsh

Walsh is currently CEO of PBEC, an invitation only members organisation for owners, founders and senior business leaders from the 21 APEC member states. He is also senior consultant for Aer Mobi, which he founded in 2019. It provides advisory, consultancy and advocacy services within the aviation industry.

I like to think I add value and am a strong business development professional. I see a digital future in the transport sector in general with the application of smart technologies such as AI, machine learning, blockchain and autonomy both in the air on the ground.

In November 2014, Walsh joined AsBAA (Asian Business Aviation Association) board as a volunteer and stood down in June 2019, having completed the initial five-year commitment.

He says, “Under my leadership and guidance during that period, the new value proposition of AsBAA was developed and we earned global recognition by air transport government-related agencies and other international trade bodies.”

Walsh is also the mastermind behind the annual Icons of Aviation Annual Awards Asia and charity gala dinner, which has raised more than USD175,000 in donated funds for the Orbis Charity.

Additionally, he launched the AsBAA Student Discovery programme to educate young people about business and general aviation and worked with several government agencies and airport authorities to advocate for new infrastructure to accommodate the future of general and business aviation. He says, “This is one of my proudest achievements.”

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