Melinda Darbyshire, tangerine, with her dog, which she walks every morning before starting her workday.

What We’re Made Of is a Q&A series that looks at how companies in the aviation industry are tackling challenges brought on by the COVID–19 pandemic. We’ve had to adapt to changes in where, when and how we work, but we are resilient. If you would like to share your experience, e-mail editor@apex.aero.

Melinda Darbyshire
Director, Tangerine
Location: London
Day 18 of working from home
Date of writing: April 8, 2020

Where are you writing from?
I am blessed with a large, crumbling Victorian house in central London. Think Mary Poppins, tall, narrow, lots of stairs to keep you fit.

How are you trying to maintain “business as usual” or communicating with your team?
Eighty percent of our business comes from outside the UK, so we are well accustomed with working long distance. The restriction that affects us the most is not being able to meet potential clients face-to-face. When you are courting new business, important relationships are cemented by the body language, which you don’t really get a sense of over Skype.

“We are streamlining the business, but we are keeping all our people, as they are the creative heart of tangerine.”

How are you passing time?
I fall asleep every night listing to the BBC radio soap The Archers, wrapped up in the story of local farming folk. It was devised after World War II, and I recall my grandmother chortling to some of their antics. Of course, life moves on and nowadays the program sounds more like a soap, but at least its storylines have steered clear of the coronavirus

Describe where your business was at the end of 2019. What were your goals for 2020?
Business for tangerine at the end of 2019 was going well: Japan Airlines had unveiled our design of its new A350 cabin interiors, and with Finnair, we had collaborated on the creation of a new flagship lounge at Helsinki Airport. In another sector, we had helped a startup, Bluebell, launch the world’s first smart baby monitor for both parents and babies. In 2020, we were looking to build on these successes and branch out into the world of wearables and IoT.

Can you share some specific challenges your business has faced as a result of the outbreak?
When it became clear that our clients in Asia were slowing down, we braced ourselves for a disruption in not only the supply chain and our projects, but also the logistics by which our business is run. As banks and tax offices shut, so did the ability of our clients to pay on time. We trusted them to pay, but we knew that we had to put in place finance that would help us to weather the storm. We were able to consider our options carefully in early stages, while other business have struggled to even speak to their bank managers.

How prepared was your company to instate remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic?
We have an office in Seoul, South Korea, that kept us up to date with how the virus was developing out there. It was on their advice that we purchased N95 face masks for the team in London and increased our hygiene regime. Weeks before the lockdown, we had tested our systems, made sure that everyone could work remotely and that our IT security was robust.

What’s one thing you would do to better prepare your business to weather a similar storm in the future?
About five years ago, tangerine suffered a catastrophic flood to our offices. We were out of our offices for ten months. We eventually got back to our design studio and proceeded to have our best year ever. We believe that it was because we took on the mindset that we might be down but we’re not out. And that’s what I am thinking now: In our crisis planning, we’re leaving no one behind. We’ve made savings where we can, we are streamlining the business, but we are keeping all our people, as they are the creative heart of tangerine.

How can we, as an industry, work together and rebound from this unprecedented crisis?
Right now, many SMEs are pulling together dreaming of new ways to work and innovate. It won’t be about profit; it will be about finding new ideas and insights into new consumer behavior and solutions. Add to that the climate change revolution, which was in full momentum before the virus. Mankind couldn’t have devised a better way to experiment with the eco-warrior’s ‘what if’ scenario. World change and approach to life are going to have a massive impact on every industry.

How has the outbreak, and subsequent lockdown, driven innovation at your company?
Well creative juices are flowing. In the airline sector, IoT will play a big part in the development of new services designed to reassure passengers that boarding a flight is safe from viral load. Not to mention the additional devices that will need to be delivering a fast, more effective cleansing of the cabin when the aircraft is on the ground for a turnaround. The lockdown has also given us time to develop our ideas for a new retrofit premium economy proposition, which recently received patent status, as well as new idea for a high-density, business-class cabin for single-aisle aircraft.

How do you feel about your government’s response to the crisis?
Initially, I felt that the British Government was slow to respond. But since the virus started to take hold, it has been quick to act and has been strong in its support for both our national health service (NHS) and the economy. As to the airline industry, Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, probably ranks #1 among world leaders, as she shut the skies over New Zealand when just 102 cases were reported in their country. Justifying her extraordinary move, she said “We only have 102 cases – but so did Italy, once.”

What’s one thing that will never be the same again for commercial aviation?
Hygiene. Prove to your passengers that you take hygiene seriously, that planes get the deep clean that they need, that you can guarantee that no one on the flight has the virus and you will save yourself a fortune on the rest.

Read more about the coronavirus impact on the air travel industry, including APEX’s position on the matter, and subscribe to the APEX Daily Experience newsletter to stay up to date.