APEX in Profile: David Withers

APEX in Profile

Image: Marcelo Cáceres

David Withers

Chief Executive Officer

David founded digEcor’s parent company, Total Aviation Solutions, in 2009, and has more than 25 years of experience in the aviation industry. He is a former president of Boeing Defence Australia and was managing director for Smiths Aerospace (now GE Aviation’s Systems) after his time with Qantas Airways. David, who is also a commercial pilot, has a masters of business administration, an honors degree in communications engineering and trade qualifications in aircraft maintenance.

apex-experience-6-5-qa-withersFAST FACTS
Location: BNE
Now Reading: And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini
The future of flight will be: Amazing
Favorite Hotel: Hyatt Hotel Canberra
Favorite Aircraft: B747
Brand of Suitcase: Samsonite
Paper or electronic boarding pass? Electronic
Passport stamp you wish you had: Iran
Seatback or PED? Seatback
Favorite social network: Linkedin

Did you choose the airline industry or did it choose you?
I can’t remember a day in my life that I didn’t want to be involved in the industry. Of course as a child, I wanted to be a pilot and didn’t know much more about the industry than that. I’ve been amazingly lucky in my aviation career, having worked across many areas of the industry.

Something that never ceases to amaze you in your industry?
How small our huge industry is. This has to be the most exciting global industry on the planet and is huge by any measure, yet, at the human level, has an intimacy and friendliness more akin to a small business.

What do you think is the most overlooked aspect of the passenger experience?
Probably crew training. Technology is a huge enabler of passenger experience, but at the end of the day, it is the human interaction that either reinforces or undermines that investment.

How do content and entertainment expectations change for people when they are traveling?
For years, the airplane was the place you got to watch all the content you couldn’t at home, and now, the at-home experience has sailed past the onboard experience. People still board expecting to be fully entertained for the duration of their long-haul flight and are increasingly disappointed by the depth of content available. We may each want to watch only one percent of the available content; it is just a different one percent.

“People still board expecting to be fully entertained for the duration of their long-haul flight and are increasingly disappointed by the depth of content available.”

Will the embedded seatback screen still be around in 10 years?
Absolutely. There’s no question about it. It will be the center of the passenger experience, certainly for long-haul flights. Personal electronic devices have their own role, as does Wi-Fi and connectivity, but the core will remain the seatback screen.

In your business, where do you see room for innovation?
I think my team would like me to back off on the innovation for a while, as we have been so busy bringing new products to market. Having filled most of the hardware elements around the passenger (in-flight entertainment, power, lighting, etc.), we are definitely becoming more focused on the software applications that leverage that hardware.

What can the airline industry learn from the entertainment industry?
To be a bit more dynamic and to focus on the outcome rather than the process.

If you weren’t doing your current job, what would you love to be doing?
No doubt something else in aviation, but if I had to leave the industry, I have always been interested in medicine, so I’d probably head back to university to do a medical degree.

Every job has a cool factor. What’s yours?
Working with interesting people from all backgrounds across the globe.

What’s the one item you can’t travel without?
Kindle on my iPhone and melatonin.

Something that only a frequent flyer would understand?
Just-in-time arrival at the airport. Arriving 61 minutes before departure is arriving one minute early.

Two things that you miss most about home when you’re traveling?
My three kids. Waking up looking at the ocean. 

Your top three films of all time?
Love Actually – because I’m a romantic at heart. The Castle – an Australian classic (check it out for a good laugh if you know anything about Australian culture). Any Bond film.

If you could sit beside anyone on a plane, who would it be?
Orville and Wilbur Wright.

This article was originally published in the 6.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine.