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COVID-19 Recovery Strategy: Planning for X-Day, In Aviation and Beyond

Dear friends and readers, I know we’re all feeling overwhelmed right now, but I see the situation before us in the aviation community, and beyond, for our global society, as an algebra problem. I’d like to propose a humble solution—plan for X-Day.

We are now at the end of a terrible week, that we will always remember as lasting a decade. There is no scope yet for the damage and no clear end in sight. We do not know how for how long we will be dealing with the fall-out.

It doesn’t really feel as though some of the people put in charge of managing crisis really have a grip on the scope of the harm to everyday people of halting the powerful economic engine of aviation, nor do many people in charge have their priorities straight either—focusing on preservation rather than profit.

But we know there is an end. We know because there always is. Always. As the Spanish saying goes, “There is no evil that lasts 1,000 years, nor body which could withstand it.”

COVID-19 is an unpredictable variable in our everyday lives, which makes forecasting difficult. How bad will it be? How much will we lose? How long will it take to recover? All the models that experts might draft will have to be revised by morning, and they don’t matter.

These are the wrong questions. This is the wrong sort of planning. The repercussions of a global economic halt seem beyond measure. Measuring a moving target is not as useful as accepting the extreme. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Say it will be worse than we might want to imagine. What do we do with that worst-case scenario?

So we must each start to do this planning together by embracing the variables—Y-Damage and X-Day.

We know there will be some serious damage to our pre-COVID-19 capabilities—call it Y-Damage. However much “Y” is, it will happen despite our best efforts, but that doesn’t mean we should allow it to passively grow.

Our energy needs to be focused on doing our part to keep the scope of Y-Damage down.

Here’s how:

  • Because we are likely to be vectors for the spread of the disease, we must use good sense and follow expert medical recommendations. Isolate ourselves to preserve life. That doesn’t prevent us from communicating. If you’re reading this, we’re communicating right now. We can communicate social media, via traditional phone lines, using video conferencing, on slack channels, or through press announcements. Engage with your community. Share solutions. Have a laugh. To that end, I will continue to post critical news here and report on other outlets that I contribute to. If you have something to share, send it on.
  • While we have abundant resources, the adequate distribution of essential resources is a key factor in Y-Damage. Airlines and airports can help with that, by supporting carriage of critical cargo around the world, and governments must employ them to that end.
  • We are going to have to share whatever we can spare. Be that money, or space or knowledge or other resources, or just time. This is not a time for hoarding or profiteering. It should be actively discouraged. This should also apply to spare parts and the resources needed for safe aircraft operations.
  • We know that bad actors will prey on this opportunity. We must be aware and supportive of each other.
  • More than ever, we will need to focus on cyber defence, since that is the thread that binds us all together now. People will try to cut it. Be vigilant of your links and protective of your systems. Have resources in place to deal with a systems-off scenario.
  • We must also be wary of cargo exploitation. Those who will want to distribute illicit goods will try to use the remaining transport infrastructure in every way they can. Aviation companies should keep a close eye on spares, maintenance processes, COMAT and hazardous materials transport.
  • Shut out the noise. The noise will be a distraction, but it will expend your energy. Learn to block it out. Keep your focus on the critical factors to Y-Damage and X-Day planning. Try to ensure that your messaging does not add to the noise.

Look forward to X-Day

Now let’s talk about X-Day because we should use our at least 20% of our energy on planning for that. Why 20%? I’m a big believer in the Pareto principle 80/20 — 80% of our results come from 20% of our actions.

It is a really useful rule of thumb in times of crisis. We are all herding cats right now. There are a million things drawing our attention—all of which seem to be equally urgent. Some cats will get away. Accept it, embrace it. Focus on the cat on your lap for a moment—a quick stroke of the ears — and leave sufficient energy to map the landscape and plan for X-Day.

What is X-Day?

X-Day is the day that things start to spring back to action again. It’s the day in which the substantial engine of the economy that is the aviation sector (and this applies to other halted sectors) must restart. It will come. While we can’t assign a date to it at this point, we can prepare for it. Between now and X-Day— we must focus on conservation, minimizing Y-Damage by preserving critical human resources, core capabilities, materials and IP, and other resources to whatever extent possible.

We must have a KanBan plan in place for X-Day. What are the steps that you will need to re-start your business when X-Day comes? These will vary from company to company, but there will be some common threads:

  1. Take stock of human resources available. If you’ve been vigilant on preservation, then you may already know where your people are and what their status is for returning to work. But be prepared for Y-Damage to them. People may not have the same resources to return to work that they once did. What can you do to help? Have a plan.
  2. Take stock of material resources available. You will have relied on certain vendors who have also had to cope with Y-Damage. Find out their status and have a list ready of replacements, as needed. If you have the resources to maintain a minimum flow of materials and build up stock until X-Day, do that.
  3. Define your minimum operating requirements and capabilities. Set realistic expectations for your customers that you may only be able to offer the minimum for a while. Have the resources available (people and messaging) to clearly communicate what you can and cannot do. Use technology wherever possible to communicate your capabilities and constantly update your customers as those capabilities increase.

I will give you a couple of examples from my own experience of recovery from X-Days: Hurricane Andrew and 9/11.

Hurricane Andrew

After Hurricane Andrew passed, I was able to walk to my branch at Personnel One because my apartment was within walking distance. It was a war zone. I found debris in my way and was able to immediately assess that it would be dangerous for my team and for our staff to try to come to work until that was resolved. The first thing I needed to do was to get in touch with everyone so they wouldn’t risk it. We had a corporate phone tree IN PRINT (don’t assume that digital systems will constantly be available). I checked-in with key people and they checked-in with others. It saved time in getting a status check. We had no unnecessary meetings or communications. We gave each other room to act.

Without electricity at the branch, I was unable to tell whether anyone was calling—the phone lines were live, but the phone system was dead. I spent a lot of time pressing buttons to check each line for an incoming call. It was a bit weird, and somewhat funny, but useful. In fact, I received dozens of calls from temporary employees and candidates who wanted to know if they should go to work, or just to check-in. We kept a written record of those people, their situation and availability. We put those people to work as soon as there were places available for them. We made the same set of status checks on our clients, to make sure they were OK and identify who needed what.

Most of our branches in South Florida and the corporate headquarters were damaged beyond repair so we all gathered at my branch, once the trees were cleared, the roads opened. We took stock of the jobs that were in demand and we set up so that we could all work together from one branch as a central station. It was tight quarters, but rewarding. We were able to assist each other with whatever was needed, share knowledge, and keep our spirits up. Eventually, X-Day+ came and we recovered.


I was at the Air Carriers Purchasing Conference in New Orleans on 9/11. It was a terrible day, with hundreds of representatives from airlines around the world and suppliers gathered in a single place, far away from their homes and unable to fly back. We took stock of each other. We gave each other emotional and resource support.

We carpooled back home and helped each other assess the critical needs of the industry. Airlines asked for support and we gave all the support we could. Our company was in a fortunate position to keep our people working on preparations for X-Day, building stock that would be needed at a future date. That helped us preserve a core workforce. We had to make some difficult decisions, but we tried to minimize the Y-Damage and maintained open and frank communications with customers and with staff from day-to-day. We went lean, to preserve our resources. We got creative. We got through it together. Eventually, X-Day+ came and we recovered.

Where we failed

There is also something to learn from failure. While we recovered from 9/11, the events that ultimately led to the collapse of our 60-year-old company may also serve as a reference, especially for the individuals reading this who are unable to control Y-Damage.

We were undone by sabotage—a combination of internal and external. It involved a criminal element trying to exploit our capabilities who used a combination of physical intrusion and cyberattacks intended to undermine and intimidate. We tried to fight this foe in-house and failed. We tried to get help from the government to fight back and were unsuccessful.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you fail. Failure can undermine your confidence, but it’s important not to let it. Even if you have nothing left but ashes at X-Day, recovery will still come. You will be able to re-invent yourself. Take stock of your own capabilities. Find new ways in which they might be used. Ready yourself to be a phoenix and to rise again.

Don’t lose hope. Don’t let fear drive you. Just remember what matters most is being here for X-Day+. It may look different from what you expected, but that doesn’t matter. Once everything is moving again, just move with it.

Until X-Day comes, we must take care of each other so that we can all move on to the next phase: π in the sky.

Manage today as best you can and trust the sun to be there in the morning. Keep helping each other and keep looking up!

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