Jens Ziesel is the Regional Director for Africa and Turkey within Collins Aerospace Avionics business. One of his main tasks is to ensure flexibility in responding to an increasingly demanding marketplace. Before being named as Regional Director for Africa and Turkey in January 2020, Jens was Director Sensors and Fire Protection (S&FP) for EuMEA supporting the integration of the S&FP Sales Force into the Collins Aerospace Avionics Sales Team. Prior to joining Collins Aerospace, Jens was Captain within the Austrian Armed Forces serving in various Missions abroad including Chad and Central African Republic. Jens earned a master degree in military leadership from Theresian Military Academy in Austria.
Here in this exclusive interview with Aviation & Allied Business Journal, he outlines essence of ensuring effective management of the COVID-19 challenges, and how Collins Aerospace is gearing up to be part of Africa’s post-COVID-19 recovery.
Q: How would you describe the aviation market in Africa in relation to your services?
A: Africa is an exciting continent working in aerospace. It has many of the same passenger and operational challenges as other regions, however, we are seeing a great evolution in the African aviation market which has lead us to implement a team to focus and support our current and future African customers and partners. The variety of the customer base is from highly professional, global player airlines down to very promising startups. Exactly this mix of customers makes our daily work challenging and exciting as we are able to implement our lessons learned from other continents and get to the finish line more effectively and efficiently.
During the Covid-19 crisis, we have seen great adaptability within some of the existing airlines in Africa, which would be an indicator for highly effective lead airlines.
Collins Aerospace is dedicated to tackling the toughest challenges facing the commercial aviation industry by making airports, airlines, aircraft, and airspaces smarter, safer and more amazing than ever.
From the time airline passengers begin their journeys by entering their departure airports until they end their journeys by exiting their destination airports, no single aerospace company delivers the breadth of leading-edge technology that enables the end-to-end passenger experience as does Collins Aerospace.
Our 16,000 engineers and 62,000 support personnel worldwide combine decades of industry knowledge and experience that enable Collins to understand the unique needs of airports, airlines, and customers’ in Africa and around the globe. Cockpit to cabin, nose to tail, and across the airport ecosystem, Collins employs its expertise to deliver leading-edge, customized solutions that are focused on passenger safety and comfort, airport operational efficiency, and aircraft availability, maintainability and sustainability.
Q: Collins Aerospace has expertise across segments like aerostructures, avionics, mechanical systems and power controls, which are crucially needed in any aviation industry; how much of this expertise has been brought to bear in Africa so far?
A: Collins Aerospace is indeed one of the major players in the aeronautical industry on the African continent. Already present for many years in Africa, we provide complete aeronautical solutions to aircraft manufacturers, integrators, airlines, airports and governments. Collins Aerospace has nearly 200 employees spread over six sites in South Africa, Morocco, Tanzania, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Kenya. In Casablanca, we recently expanded our site by 40%, creating 60 new jobs, in order to support the production of rudder controls for the Airbus A320neo and Horizontal Stabilizer Trim Actuators for the Boeing 777X.
Our strategy is to offer our customers solutions that allow them to develop an ecosystem favorable to the development of air transport and to connect African countries with each other and with the rest of the world to promote economic development. For this, Collins Aerospace works on three strategic axis: smarter, more connected and more electrical systems. For example, we are at the forefront of designing intelligent systems with our autopilot controls, flight controls, flight management systems, data links, advanced sensors, communication and navigation systems.
When we talk about connected systems, we are looking at both on-board and off-board systems to create the most linear travel experience possible for passengers, to deliver digital and data solutions that make the industry more efficient by providing new products and smart tools. Collins in addition is heavily investing in next-Gen technology like electric drive and management solutions to shape the future.
Q: Given that airlines have grounded their aircraft for several weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how do you think African airlines can get back into operation without technical and safety challenges?
A: Throughout the pandemic, our top priority has been our employees and our customers to continue to support their needs and operations. Our Africa dedicated team has been available 24/7.This is key to soften the impact of the COVID-19 for our customers who need a strong established partner in the industry.
We are currently fully dedicated to support them in going back into operations with the restart of commercial flight in Africa, working on exactly technical and safety challenges.
In Africa in going back into operation with regard to technical and safety challenges is based on three for main areas of Continuing Airworthiness, Maintaining Crew Training, and Scheduled Maintenance Work.
All three areas are supported 24/7/365 by our Collins Avionics Service and Support teams. Main contributors to this support are our global field network which consists of +100f Field service support engineers, our support center which is available for technical support 24/7 and our MRO Services team which is responsible for oversight and control of MRO operations and program management of services and long-term agreements.
Being here in good as in bad times together with our investment into future products, provides a solid foundation for our customers for efficient and sustainable operations.
Q: Are you satisfied with your presence in Africa in terms of location and marketshare, and how do you hope to increase your footprint especially in West Africa region post-COVID-19?
A: Collins Aerospace Avionics is strongly committed to Africa. With our new dedicated team being responsible for the African Continent, we have made big steps increasing our engagement in Africa. COVID-19 for sure impacted our roadmap in establishing professional and personal relationships in the region.
But our goal is clear: increase our presence and marketshare in Africa with focus on high potential countries for the aviation industry. Putting the customer first and listening to our customers is part of our DNA. In doing this, we strongly believe that we are going to be able to further enlarge our footprint in West Africa region particularly and throughout the whole continent.
Q: Given the changing needs at airports globally and in Africa, how do you hope to participate more actively in Airport passenger facilitation in African airports where these may be lacking?
A: As modern travel evolves, passengers expect a faster, easier and more seamless experience, and airports must adapt, innovate and develop strategies to meet the needs of increased passenger growth.
This is also particularly true in the age of Covid-19. Consider all the passenger touchpoints during a commercial flight. There is airport arrival, check-in, baggage drop, security access, security screening, outbound border control, boarding, the in-flight cabin experience, inbound border control, and airport departure at the passenger’s destination.
Each of these touchpoints provides an opportunity for passengers and airport staff to come in contact with each other and COVID-19. While no one can predict the future, what is absolutely clear is that until passengers feel safe and confident to travel again, the global airport and airline industry will continue to struggle.
Collins Aerospace offers integrated and intelligent solutions for passenger processing and facilitation, airport operations and baggage management. Our self-service solutions help create a seamless travel experience for a high volume of passengers. We provide airports in Africa the solutions needed to improve operational efficiency and enhance the passenger experience.
Our systems are installed at major airports in Africa. For example, in Egypt, we have all of the terminals in Cairo, such as Terminal 3 at Cairo International Airport, Terminal 2, Terminal 1 as well as the Seasonal Terminal with the full list of systems. We also have our passenger handling systems installed at other airports in Egypt, such as Sharm El Sheikh, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, as well as at new airports such as Capital Airport, Sphinx and others, which will soon be operational.
A very similar list of systems is also used at the main airport in the capital of Rwanda, Kigali International Airport. We also provide our passenger processing system in Nairobi, Kenya; Dakar, Senegal; Zanzibar, Tanzania; as well as several systems, including video surveillance and access control and networks as part of our work at T3 international airport in Dar es Salaam, as well as Dar T2 in Tanzania. We work with our customers to implement fully scalable and flexible solutions that meet their needs.
Q: What would you describe as a major challenge you see in Africa’s aviation market; and also what excites you most about the industry in Africa?
A: Africa is set to become one of the fastest growing regions for aviation in the coming years. It generates unprecedented opportunities to help stimulate local economies. Visa free travel remains a challenge that African states are working towards through the establishment of bi-lateral agreements. Increased air travel will support national economic development and raising the income per capita which in-turn will complete the cycle by increasing discretionary travel within the region.
As African aviation continues to accelerate, it will place increased demands on its aviation infrastructure. I believe that the major challenges in the African market that Collins can help address include creating more seamless travel experience, improving efficiency and lowering the cost of critical infrastructure required to support current and future demands.
In Africa we have the benefit of not being inhibited by the burdens of legacy infrastructure which induces time, cost and complexity to iteratively upgrade; instead we have the opportunity to move directly to a future state. Great examples of this include advances in long range communications such as Iridium and HF that can provide beyond line of sight communications, Satellite based navigation that will enable improve on-route and approach performance eliminating the need for traditional ground based systems such as ILS; and finally Head up Guidance which is being delivered on the latest generation of aircraft such as the A220 in order to improve safety in all phases of flight.
Q: Would you say the COVID-19 will change the aviation landscape; and how has Collins Aerospace participated in combating the pandemic?
A: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health of our communities and the global economy has been unprecedented.
As a global company, we are actively monitoring the evolution of the Covid-19 virus. As I said, the health and wellbeing of our employees, and their families, remain our top priority. We have aggressively instituted numerous precautionary health and safety measures for our workforce. This includes travel restrictions, self-quarantine procedures, employee social distancing, remote and flexible work schedules, enhanced paid leave, and continuous and comprehensive deep cleaning and disinfecting of our manufacturing facilities and offices.
I could mention few examples that illustrate why we’re designated as essential to global transportation – during this fight against COVID-19. Our wheels & brakes, cargo systems and propellers, air management systems, as well as our avionics and communication systems, are key components of cargo aircraft like the C-130, in use by governments all over the world right now to move essential supplies.
Our Field Services teams around the world are enabling continued critical flight operations every day to transport medical supplies, cargo and return people to their homes.
We’re supporting airline customers as they transition select passenger aircraft to all-cargo flight missions for supply distribution. And, we’re providing critical spare parts and support for cargo carriers as they see significant increases in operations resulting from reduced cargo capacity from cancelled passenger flights worldwide.
Our datalink services enable air-to-ground communications for commercial, business and government aviation – including flights supporting medical equipment distribution and other relief missions. And our international trip support services help provide urgent flight planning and logistics for Air Ambulance flights, bringing citizens to their home countries and delivering much-needed supplies.