Retaining current members, recruiting more carriers and developing a longer-term strategy are three key focus points for European Regions Airline Association (ERA) director-general (DG) designate Simon McNamara. Currently the deputy DG, at the end of this year he will replace incumbent Mike Ambrose, who is retiring after a quarter century leading an aviation lobby group that was something of a fledgling organization when he was appointed in 1986.
At the organization’s general assembly in Dublin in September, the deputy DG proclaimed that he has “always” had a passion and belief in the industry. “ERA is an amazing organization [from which] to see the industry at work. You see all sides of this dynamic business in one place, meet inspiring people, see the best–and sometimes the worst–of the industry, but above all you tackle some of the [industry’s] major strategic challenges,” he said. For his part, Ambrose told delegates that the ERA Directorate’s enthusiasm and commitment to “promoting and representing” members’ interests will remain undiminished under McNamara’s leadership.
Laying out his stall before airlines and other ERA members and associates, McNamara claimed to “have the energy and commitment required to maintain ERA as a strong and influential force.” He was at pains to emphasize that members are at the center of his thoughts: “A key objective for [me] will be to ensure that [ERA] remains relevant to your needs and that it delivers what you want,” something that will involve a two-stage process.
“First, the association has to ‘deliver’ in 2013. A key focus will be on membership retention and recruitment; second, we need to plan a longer-term strategy,” said McNamara. In a “rapidly evolving” industry in which one of ERA’s strengths was the “number and variety” of its members, he said the group needs to look at new market opportunities across the European regions both for airline and associate members.
The ERA Board, which comprises 15 presidents of member airlines and eight representatives from associate members, expects “new ideas and vision” and an evolving association to meet members’ future needs. Transmitting their views to politicians and regulators will remain an important focus, with ERA’s newly formed communications group intended “to make us a more effective lobbying organization,” said McNamara. “Being your voice [to] Europe’s main regulators will be the overriding aim.”
The DG designate told assembly delegates that ERA’s policy and lobbying work needs to become even more proactive to stay one step ahead of the regulatory machine. “Regulators need to know, in advance, who we are and what we want. We need to ensure we are communicating developments in regulation and helping you, the members, with compliance wherever we can.” He promised his audience a full review of “promotional material, our website, publications and all the ways we [tell] you what we are doing.”
McNamara believes that the ERA directorate needs to provide new services and benefits that “add more short-term value” to membership. He cited training, advice on regulatory compliance, legal services, consulting, industry promotion, distribution and collective purchasing.
New Leader Charts a New Course
A main plank of McNamara’s plans as he prepares to move across the ERA cockpit to the left seat is development of a new strategy. “Next year’s work will be building on and improving current activities, [but] I want a new focus on how and why we do what we do.” For this, he has launched an internal review within the organization’s Directorate, scheduled to be concluded early next year, to look at its work for members, which already has “a high quality” and delivers “real benefits.”
Without prejudice to the present leadership team and support staff, McNamara has concluded that ERA needs “to challenge ourselves to deliver a better product.” His initial ideas and thoughts include a need to continue to “increase our productivity and become even leaner” and to consider the ERA’s funding, which implies looking at membership fees and new revenue sources. “Our aim should be to make what we do invaluable” to members. He also plans to survey members to confirm “what you value in ERA and what you think we should be doing.”
McNamara is in no doubt that Europe in general and the regional-airline industry remain in “a crisis” that will not be over any time soon. He said that few people he has spoken with are willing to make predictions and many are planning for the current economic and business climate to be “business as usual” in the future.
“The optimist in me says we are not really in a crisis at all: it’s just ‘business as usual’ and we need to get used to it,” he warned the industry. “Whether you believe we are in a crisis or a new reality, I think ERA has an essential role to play. The work that the association does on your behalf concerns real threats to the industry’s future and its ability to deliver a service.”