Dr. Clyde Hutchinson, Viva Air Labs, at his home office in Dublin.

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.

Dr. Clyde Hutchinson
Founder, Viva Air Labs; Partner, Journey Partners; and Co-Lead, Propeller Shannon
Location: Dublin
Day ~60 of working from home
Date of writing: April 29, 2020

Are you in lockdown right now?
Yes

Where are you writing from?
I have a mini office in my house which overlooks the city center street so I can occasionally distract myself by watching social distancing in action!

How are you trying to maintain “business as usual” or communicating with your team?
A mixture of WhatsApp, Zoom and Teams, but enjoying a good old phone call every so often also!

What’s your new office attire or go-to comforts at home during this time?
I don’t think I’ve worn a pair of shoes in two months. It’s mainly t-shirts and shorts!

“Pandemics by their nature are temporary and we should be careful not to run into over-regulating the industry for a crisis that we may not see again in our lifetimes.”

How are you passing time?
It’s actually been a really busy period for us, but my partner and I are also baking a lot as cake seems to help the mood, if not the waistline!

Can you share some specific challenges your business has faced as a result of the outbreak? How did you overcome them and how can the industry learn from your experiences?
At Viva Air Labs, with the complete shutdown of flights in Colombia and Peru, we worked on how we can get people flying again once the restrictions are lifted. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Latin Americans were just getting the opportunity to fly at low cost. This led to the creation of the Viva Air Labs COVID-19 Challenge, which solicited solutions from passengers, staff and partners for travel in a post-COVID-19 world. We received close to 1,000 ideas from over 20 countries as far away as Sweden, South Africa and Japan.

How prepared was your company to instate remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic? Any tips on how to remain productive under these new circumstances?
This period has been the longest I have ever been at home. I find myself missing face-to-face contact and the excitement of travel. I see a lot of guides on being productive or learning new skills, but I think people are being too hard on themselves – it’s okay to not always be at your most productive during a global pandemic.

How can we, as an industry, work together and rebound from this unprecedented crisis?
I have been on calls with Future Travel Experience, and meet-ups to check in with people working at airports and airlines around the world. I have been surprised at the level of knowledge sharing within the industry. It’s been great learning how others are dealing with various challenges and it’s keeping my morale up, too. There will be changes to travel, but I feel it’s important for us to keep things in perspective and avoid the potential to overreact at a time like this.

What has your company done to join the efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus?
At Journey Partners, we have been working on webinars and online training to help those affected by the pandemic. We also serve as mentors for the pan-European EUvsVirus hackathon run by the EU Commission. I am also a jury member of EIC Accelerator, the EU Commission funding mechanism for startups and SMEs and am involved in assessing the funding for startups and SMEs addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some companies may have been inspired to create new product lines, or redesign existing product or services as a result of the pandemic. How is it driving innovation?
Pandemics by their nature are temporary and we should be careful not to run into over-regulating the industry for a crisis that we may not see again in our lifetimes. In our evaluation of ideas for the Viva Air Labs COVID-19 Challenge, we’ve seen a common concern regarding disinfection, but also an opportunity for airlines to build a closer relationship with passengers through living through this crisis together.

Where do you see your company or the industry in six months from now? One year?
The lockdown has given people a thirst for travel – something they may have taken for granted previously. At Journey Partners, we feel optimistic that travel will be back by this fall. In one year, we believe the industry will certainly be leaner, but those who missed traveling this summer will look forward to flying again.

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.