Deloitte: In your opinion, what permanent changes has the pandemic brought to the future role of financial directors? Have major changes taken place already which you would not have expected two years ago?
Nicole Leyre: The aviation industry has suffered periods of volatility in the past, but the Covid-19 pandemic has given rise to a level of volatility that is unprecedented. This crisis has been a real test for the industry. From a financial perspective, there were no ready-made solutions. This has forced us to work differently, developing greater agility and resilience by starting with multiple potential scenarios and making plans based on these various scenarios and hypotheses. Thanks to a good dose of creativity and agile governance we have been able to find solutions quickly.
“To bring visibility to a world where there is none and better manage the crisis, it's necessary to work on different scenarios and hypotheses.”
Today the aviation industry is evolving in a highly volatile environment. But this is a global challenge for the entire industry, and highlights the need to make further progress towards digital transformation so that we have the flexibility to continually adapt our offerings and pricing to demand.
Deloitte: What adaptive measures have you had to take during the Covid-19 crisis when it comes to governance?
Nicole Leyre: During the pandemic Skyguide has worked directly with the Federal Finance Administration. We have interacted and communicated frequently and openly with our shareholder, which has allowed us to develop an appropriate refinancing proposal to cope with this unprecedented situation. During the discussion phase we made transparency a priority and sought to present realistic scenarios. We have tried to avoid overly pessimistic scenarios which could result in overfunding. Thanks to the relationship of trust we have with our shareholder, we know that if the situation were to deteriorate we would be able to revisit our funding needs quickly.
“Shareholder confidence during the pandemic has been essential. Our relationship with our shareholder has grown even stronger.”
Deloitte: In your opinion, what will the finance function look like in the future? What roles will technology, human factors and business culture play in its transformation?
Nicole Leyre: The pandemic has shown us the importance of technology in the digital transformation and has accelerated the process that was already under way at Skyguide. New technology is driving digital transformation and change in the finance function. But the human factor, especially team morale, is also extremely important in these periods of transformation. With a view to the near future, Skyguide is now focusing on increasing its agility in forecasts and control measures through ongoing analyses.
“The finance function is expanding beyond its traditional number crunching role and is now recognised as a genuine business partner within the enterprise.”
Deloitte: How far has digitalisation of air traffic control systems progressed? How much has changed and what is the potential, in your opinion?
Nicole Leyre: Digitalisation is already a reality in aviation. In 2016, for example, we introduced “stripless” operations, getting rid of the slip of paper on which air traffic controllers used to log their communications with pilots. We’ve replaced the strip with a digital version.
Then with Virtual Centre we are kicking off a paradigm change by introducing the idea of “location independence”. For the first time it will be possible to manage airspace no matter where the air traffic controller is located. Skyguide is playing a pioneering role here in the deployment of the “Single European Sky”. In our industry, safety is paramount. As a result, we can only adopt new technologies once we can guarantee that they're safe to use. This is what we are seeking to accomplish with the deployment of the Virtual Centre.
Deloitte: Sustainability is also an increasingly important topic for Skyguide. How can Skyguide help make air transport more sustainable, and how can you as CFO contribute to your company's sustainable development strategy?
Nicole Leyre: At Skyguide, sustainability has several aspects. As an enterprise, we have to do what is necessary to reduce our carbon footprint. Accomplishing that will require major investments. Often, the financial return on these sustainable investments is negative when calculated by conventional means of evaluation. But the CFO’s role is not to reject these investments systematically. The sustainability dimension must be considered so that all the costs and benefits are taken into account and a connection is made between financial concerns and environmental ones.
Furthermore, Skyguide must help airlines consume less jet fuel by working with the air traffic control systems of neighbouring countries to establish more efficient routes.
“If we are not viable environmentally, we will no longer be viable financially either.”
CFO at Skyguide
Nicole Leyre has been Skyguide's Chief Financial Officer and a member of its Executive Team since 2018. She spent 19 years with Schneider Electric in various management capacities. She then served for more than ten years as Chief Financial Officer and a member of the Executive Board of KBA-NotaSys, where she also bore responsibility for IT, human resources and facility management. She holds a master's degree in international finance and an MBA.