Interesting people, unusual flight plans…

On 22-01-2010, in Interesting people, by steve

Guenter Martis – The humanist among us

Guenter is Director of European Affairs at CANSO (Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation)

What were you dreaming of becoming when you were a kid?

I wanted to become an inventor, like Marconi. I wanted to invent things with which I could contribute to the well being of mankind. In more concrete terms I wanted to be a communications officer on a big ocean liner. No ideas about airplanes back then.

So what made you become a member of the aviation family after all?

The actual trigger was a job opportunity at Austrian Airlines but the main driver was something else. I hated the idea of becoming electrical engineer number xyz in a big company. I wanted to be different and the airline job seemed to offer that chance.

What were the most significant sideways jumps in your professional life?

Well, after 27 years, I left Austrian and went to work for the Association of European Airlines (AEA) and later, IATA. Initially I was seconded only but in 2008 I decided to leave Austrian. These were not sideways moves of course… what may appear to have been was my recent appointment as Director European Affairs at CANSO the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization. But that is the wrong perspective to take of course. The them and us attitude which I think is all wrong. We may all have different priorities and focus, but we are all working for the same aim, to make the aviation business a success. I think the path I trace is more a series of logical, supplemental elements than sideways jumps…

What were the most significant events that influenced your professional life?

During a change management training a sister from one of the convents gave a presentation on the methods they used to run their hospitals, kindergartens and hospices… some 4000 employees in all. They were very successful and the key to their success was the importance they placed on the human aspects of the enterprise. It was a very clear message: never ever forget the human element.

Was there a person who had a profound influence on your professional life?

It was the boss of my boss at Austrian Airlines, the Director of Engineering, Mr. Fritz Simunek. He helped me to get in touch with the latest technology… I was always 5-15 years ahead of the others and this was a big advantage. I suspect that he did not like being involved in those things and “delegated” most everything to me. It was a big boost to me.

As a result I was involved in things like the first commercial telephone system on the A340, the first landscape camera system on the A330… One of the really big ones, something that saved Austrian millions was our insistence on provisioning the A320s for the multimode receiver even though it was not yet certified… When cert was finished, we simply swapped the boxes and it all worked beautifully. We were ready before others could even start…

Was there a company which had a profound influence on your professional life?

I have been with Austrian Airlines for 30 years altogether and there can be no question about it: OS had the greatest influence. Not only because of the length of time but also in absolute terms. None of the others come near…It showed that “small is beautiful” and even a small airline can have influence, vision and success. At least in earlier times we did very well in keeping a fleet of 8 different aircraft types well in the air with a minimum staff others never would have even started to work.

Was there a “Darth Vader” in your life that you needed to conquer?

Well, there wasn’t one particular figure that haunted me… but there were several who did not help let’s put it this way. But I could manage them, mainly by accepting the situation and refraining from hitting back equally hard… This tactic tends to take the wind out of their sail.

If you had a second chance, would you try to avoid aviation as a career?

Most probably yes. I would go for a career where you work more with people, where you are called upon to support and help… I have no regrets for my past choices but I would try something different if I could start over.

Would you recommend aviation as a career to young people to-day?

Yes but with certain caveats. They must at all times keep in mind that in aviation the technicians are always in the second row. There is a saying in the movie industry: no techie, no showie. This is true also in aviation… and still the guys with oil on their hands will always be shown as second fiddle. If young people understand this limitation and accept it, they can make it in this industry.

What personal traits should they develop first and foremost?

They will need a mix of technical and commercial skills and of course knowledge of human nature. They will need to be disciplined, focused and they must observe and understand the human beings around them and the community in which they live and work.

What was the funniest, aviation related situation you can recall having been in?

I think this must have been funny for all those who saw it… In 1999 I was in Durban, South Africa, attending the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) Conference. At one of the evening social functions in the Durban Conference centre I was invited on stage to perform some African dance… well, you can imagine!

But I have also another answer to your question. When I started working in 1977, it was just after the first energy crisis… This was like an omen… through the years I was always forced to be in crisis reduction mode. Fuel prices, the effects of liberalization, no project was unaffected… It was not funny… but it was fun!

In conclusion?

I never followed a defined career plan. I always tried to be what I am, tried to use common sense while following a reasonable path of development. Many people told me that I was wrong.

Over the years I heard countless of times that I was not behaving like I should, I was not conforming to people’s expectations… But in the end I always found that I was right from the beginning, that following my own way was the right choice.

So, at this point in my career, from where I am now I can say that “I did it my way” and finally I am receiving a lot of recognition for this.

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