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Recovery on the horizon for Irish aviation but challenges remain

After the pandemic came fuel-price pressures and the invasion of Ukraine

Ireland has a sophisticated aviation finance ecosystem that combines experience, expertise and a business-friendly environment, all of which will be vital to recovery. But there are challenges too.

“Ireland remains the centre of the world for aircraft leasing. Talent, track record and the corporate tax environment are key for us maintaining our competitive advantage. Given it’s a mobile asset class, the personal tax regimes on offer in the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong are a concern, but to date we have not seen those jurisdictions take market share from Ireland,” says Joe O’Mara, head of aviation finance at KPMG.

As a global sector it is subject to global macro-economic trends. “While it clearly demonstrated exceptional resilience during the pandemic, additional pressures of fuel prices and the invasion of Ukraine could well be negative to the sector,” according to his colleague Kieran O’Brien, head of aviation finance advisory at KPMG.

He does not believe that events of the past two years will have a negative impact in the long term.

“Given the resilience the sector has shown we don’t believe the sector has lost any sheen, it still attracts top talent and provides employees with the real ability to lead world-class companies from Ireland. Given the additional opportunities for growth and to lead real innovation in the sector it shows no sign of changing soon,” explains O’Brien.

Sustainability agenda

Indeed, as international travel rebounds, there are opportunities on the horizon.

“There is no doubt that the growing ESG sustainability agenda will be impactful on all sectors and in particularly on aviation. However it does offer opportunities for the sector and Ireland. We have the opportunity to take a leading position in sustainable aviation fuel and the sector as a whole is looking at further innovation in efficient technology, electric and hydrogen-based engines, as well as vertical take-off and e-taxis, as some lessors have already done,” he adds.

If Ireland is to keep up with such innovations, strengthening its skills base will be critically important.

Happily Ireland’s third-level sector is one of the main pillars supporting the sector. Those looking to forge a career here have a number of courses open to them at institutions such as Dublin City University, University of Limerick and Carlow Institute of Technology.

University College Dublin’s master of science degree in aviation finance is, for example, the only degree of its kind in Europe and is supported by leading aircraft leasing companies through internships, scholarships and research projects.

According to its founding academic director, Tom Conlon, Ireland is well placed to retain its position as a global centre of excellence. However, “One of the challenges it faces is the cost of living. It’s very expensive to live in Ireland, and this is very much an international business,” he points out.

It’s also very much a specialist industry, he points out. “To compete, the industry needs to be constantly developing talent. We need to keep expanding the education offering and upskilling the industry.”

The skills required by the sector are diverse, from accountancy to technology and negotiation skills. “It’s a very broad landscape. We need to ensure we have the people with the skills it requires,” says Conlon.

On-the-job training is key too, and available through Skillnet Ireland. Through its Aviation and Aerospace Skillnets companies work collaboratively to respond effectively and rapidly to specific talent and skills needs in the sector.

“Ireland needs to ensure that we retain a highly skilled and highly educated pool of aviation leasing professionals,” agrees Caoimhe O’Donnell, a senior development advisor at Skillnet Ireland. “The global aviation sector is a dynamic one, and the talent and skills management of aviation leasing professionals required for the industry are always evolving – now more than ever.”

To continue to attract – and retain – good people in a tightening labour market, companies in the sector “will have to showcase a development platform that enables talented and ambitious people to improve and work on their skills,” she advises.

The Aviation Skillnet supports the sector, maintaining and enhancing Ireland’s position in aviation by investing in future research in such areas as sustainability, women in aviation, digitalisation and innovation.

Sector resilience

Having come through the pandemic, and more recently Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and in some cases the seizing of leased aircraft – the sector has shown resilience, says Linda Barron, director of the Aviation Skillnet.

However she believes that it is only by pulling together and pooling data from right across the aviation ecosystem – from airlines to aircraft lessors to academia – that the sector will be able to capitalise on its biggest challenge to date – its ambition to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Like many in the industry, she believes there is now an opportunity for Ireland to position itself as a centre for excellence in the development of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), in the same way as it did for aircraft leasing.

“Ireland could have a huge impact on the sustainability front. The respect and history of Ireland in aviation is huge globally. The diaspora Ireland has around the world, in huge jobs, is enormous. Leasing was invented here and we could lead the way in sustainable aviation too,” she says.

To succeed in that will require input from all elements of the ecosystem but Barron, whose Aviation Skillnet members represents nearly 150 companies, is optimistic it can be done. “There’s a lot happening,” she says. “It’s all coming together.”