AVIATION INTERVIEW WITH AIDA ISMAIL
Malaysia Chapter Head
Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA)
At 44, Aida Ismail still has this insatiable desire for success and to be at the top in what she does. She wears many hats besides being a governor on the board of AsBAA, a non-profit association representing business and general aviation entities in Asia and around the world. She is also the president of Women in Corporate Aviation Asia (WCAA) and regional director of the Dubai-based Hadid International Services Asia, which provides aviation support and fixed base operator services. Occasionally, she still runs very small groups teaching children how to manage their pocket money and to her, that is the ultimate happiness.
From an early career background of providing women healthcare and screening services, how did you stumble into the aviation sector and become the first Malaysian to hold the position as Hadid regional director?
I was approached by an aviation professional during an event and before I knew it, I was the business development manager of a local aviation company in Subang. After a few years, I moved to greener pastures to Singapore as head of operations for an international company. I learnt a lot here and later left for Dubai, taking care of the business in Asia, Australia and New Zealand for Hadid.
Being with an international company, you are measured by your performance, credibility, leadership and profitability. The competition is stiff and it certainly is not easy to helm the fort. I am very proud to be the first and the only Malaysian working in this 40-year old company, which is one of the best in the world.
Would you say that there is a dearth of women in the aviation sector?
During the last two decades, the number of women involved in the aviation industry has steadily increased and they can now be found in nearly every aviation occupation. However, the numbers are small. Women pilots, for example, represent only six percent of the total pilot population. Women in aviation leadership positions are less than 1% in the United States. Unfortunately, we do not have the statistics in Malaysia as most of the time the Human Resource divisions refuse to be transparent due to reasons of their own.
From the various positions you are holding, especially as WCAA president, how do you propose to inspire and empower more women to fill in the gaps of diversity in this sector?
While aviation is not a rocket science, it calls for a mindset shift and attitude change from women. A lot more engagement and exposure are needed so that women could have access to relevant information directly from the right people in the aviation industry. It would be fantastic to see more women in aviation not only as pilots, engineers or support staff but also in positions of higher management.
Many of the stories of women in aviation are highly inspiring and rare, plus their experiences are really spectacular. We need more support from aviation-related organisations in hiring women and providing them with opportunities. At the same time, women need to step up, prepare themselves by attending approriate courses and getting the right certifications as this industry is highly regulated and safety is always given top priority. Also, do not underestimate the importance of networking!
How many members does AsBAA have and what are some activities you have organised since helming AsBAA Malaysia Chapter in April 2020 that has impacted the industry?
We are 140 members strong. They include original equipment manufacturers (OEM) such as Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, Airbus Corporate Jets, Dassault Aviation and Bombardier. AsBAA Malaysia Chapter has organised many engagements with the regulators, government agencies and the Transport Ministry. We also provided input and feedback in the formulation of the directives to the industry.
On 31 March-1 April 2021, we successfully organised our first virtual Malaysia Safety Forum that attracted many local industry players as well as regional and international aviation professionals. The opening speech was delivered by our Transport Minister followed by a special presentation from the National Transportation of Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt from Washington DC, US despite the different time zones. As the chairperson for this inaugural forum, I would like to say that the Covid-19 pandemic has made it more challenging. I would like to thank my team and the sponsors who made it possible.
In your opinion, how can we resolve key issues affecting Malaysia’s business aviation industry?
We need a strong leadership who is willing to lead responsibly and committed to be solution-focused and flexible enough to size up the business situation. We require a conducive business aviation ecosystem from the infrastructure to the integrated system besides having the right professionals managing it.
A sustainable business environment, more stable political climate, better tax incentives as well as greater international engagements to attract investors and OEMs to relocate to Malaysia are what we hope for our local business aviation industry, which has been improving tremendously.
AsBAA recently renewed its Memorandum of Understanding with Malaysia Airports to provide advisory and expertise from various fields as well as assist in airport planning. Can you please elaborate on this?
As end-users and industry players who represent an important component that drive the aviation business and contribute to the gross domestic product, we are glad to be part of the airport planning and various initiatives. AsBAA and Malaysia Airports need each other and moving harmonically as one orchestra is vital. We expect Malaysia Airports’ Subang Airport Regeneration plan will be a game changer and catalyst for our future growth.
How do you define success and what are the traits to have to succeed? What lessons have you learnt from your career in aviation that you wish to impart to those aspiring young ones planning to join this industry?
To me, success is the ability to contribute, produce more leaders, stand up and do the right thing, speak the truth plus the ability to have a deeper sleep at night knowing that I have done and am doing my best. There is so much to learn when we listen to others and observe. We do not have to win every argument. Trust is one of the most valuable things in life that must not be compromised considering that integrity is very fragile nowadays. I usually follow my instincts and always believe knowledge is the master key to many things. Having that key is essential.
I have learnt that certain decisions made might not be popular but as a leader I have to do what is necessary. Ensuring everyone is happy is not what I can do each time and I do not plan to do that. Doing the right thing is what I want to do. Having an open mind and heart, being flexible and the ability to enjoy the process are also very important.
Aviation apart, what are your other passions or interests in life?
Scuba diving, travelling, reading and going to the spa are what I look forward to. I also love playing with children as I can learn so many things from these pure and innocent creatures. Having big hugs from them could really make my day and ease all my cares and worries.