Inspiring Leaders series:
1. How did you first get started in business aviation?
My passion for business aviation came straight from my earliest years of childhood in Syria. Our family is steeped in aviation as my father, Hisham, was involved in the development of civil aviation in the Middle East. It was this inherited passion from our dad that inspired my brother and I to partner with two entrepreneurs and set up a service provider giving operators what no one else had before…. That was in 2000, and over the past twenty years we’ve developed our vision into a successful global aviation solutions provider. Having started out with a small office and handful of employees in Dubai, serving clients from the Middle East, we were setting up continental headquarters in Houston, Texas, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Hong Kong by 2015. This expansion was followed by regional offices in Lagos, Nairobi, and Beijing. My beginnings in aviation is really marked by a lot of hard work and dedication to realizing my vision, and this is something that still motivates me to this day.
2. You quickly rose through the ranks to reach the position of CEO, was that something you always wanted?
I have been managing from the beginnings of UAS, which is fortunate as I have always been uncompromising in my vision and determined to be my own boss! I am mainly focused on strategic management, but I also take a great interest in the operational side of the business, so it affords me 360-degree involvement. From my youngest years, I have always put incredible importance on setting personal goals and challenging myself because I knew this ensures constant progress as well as elevating me to new possibilities. I’ve always maintained that nothing can be achieved without both vision and goalsetting. Also, I’ve always believed that a willingness to do more and to go the extra mile is essential… so it was probably inevitable that I would end up in a leadership role.
3. You speak passionately about sustainability, what is your vision for UAS’ contribution to a more sustainable industry?
I think sustainability is something we all must be passionate about. This is a time of great challenge where climate change, the depletion of natural resources, and the damaging effects of carbon emissions all pose massive threats to our planet, its nature and wildlife, and to the future of humankind. Although aviation has often been a target for negative press due to its heavy carbon footprint there has been great efforts and strides made within the aviation community to identify ways of becoming more carbon neutral and reducing any damaging environmental impact. However, the aviation industry is making good progress to drastically cut the carbon emissions of its pollution and it is organizations like IBAC, IATA, ICAO, and, of course, the SAF Coalition that are leading the charge. The industry is doing all it can to find alternatives and make itself as green and sustainable as possible. UAS and I are committed to supporting this endeavour in any way we can, through raising awareness, raising funds, and incentivizing sustainable practices where they are available. This is a topic we cover a lot in our blog and on our social media platforms.
4. What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?
The best advice I could my younger self would be to always trust your intuition. Intuition is a natural gift to us all, and it rarely guides us in the wrong direction. However, it’s vital to learn how to listen to it. Not all choices based on logic alone prove to be the right ones, so understanding the power of intuition and how it can provide an even greater advantage can help us make better business decisions. Making decisions based on logic alone can have several potential drawbacks because often data is non-exhaustive, or we receive inaccurate information. So, we may very well be missing the bigger picture and therefore, decisions that are based solely on cold hard data may not be the best ones. However, our own gut feeling – developed through our evolution as a species – have been refined to warn us of oncoming trouble or give us a peaceful feeling… this is what we must tune into. By incorporating intuition into decision-making, we can use our rational minds and our instinct together. This is the best advice I could give anyone!
6. COVID-19 has changed the world, but the desire to travel and explore will always exist. What does business aviation need to do to stay relevant and evolve?
Exactly what it has been doing; innovating. This year has challenged aviation more than any other time in history. Yet, despite all of the fear, confusion, and uncertainty, we managed to keep essential supplies moving around the world, we managed to evacuate people out of bad situations, we managed to repatriate people back to their loved ones. It is extraordinary what operations teams, suppliers, flight dispatchers, flight planners, ATC, aircrew, and airport authorities have accomplished through the lockdown periods and their aftermaths. We have had to innovate – find our way around obstacles, find cleverer ways of doing things, respect social distancing requirements in close quarters, make sure sanitation was on point… So, now that many countries have reopened and the wheels of industry are slowly taking off again, this is the vein in which we must continue to evolve. Also, if the COVID pandemic highlighted anything it is just how much safer and healthier it is to fly private. So, if anything, business aviation is more relevant now than it ever was before… and more people know it.
7. What are the biggest frustrations about the industry?
I think the biggest frustration in aviation today is the difficulties occurring from different countries having their own rules and regulations tackle the spread of COVID. The lack of similar regulations on all continents (and during lockdown periods many regulations were changing daily) causes huge obstacles and challenges for operations to function efficiently. More congruity and standardisation amongst governments and airport authorities would make the process would be so much more efficient if there was more congruity and standardisation amongst countries. If we can all work together to develop SOPs that everyone can adopt, this will greatly expedite industry recovery everywhere.
8. When possible, where do you hope to travel?
Mountaineering is a personal passion of mine. Two years ago, I set myself a goal – that I would complete the seven summits of the world before the age of 45. That year, I did an expedition of the Himalayas. In 2019, I conquered Kilimanjaro to raise awareness of aviation sustainability with the support of the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA), and the Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA). So, as soon as it is feasible to travel, I would like to head for the next summit on my list – Europe’s highest mountain, Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia.
9. What do you enjoy in your spare time?
My priority is spending quality time with family as well as my extended family. This bond is the most important part of life. We enjoy a lot of outdoor activities together, as well as just hanging out at home. Traveling would have been a big part of our time together, though of course, this must wait for the time being. I do a lot of reading, all kinds of books such as bestsellers about business, biographies of people I respect, culture, psychology, etc. Staying active is also important to me, whether it’s at the gym or on the tennis court. Finally, I love to indulge my passion for mountaineering and the great outdoors when I get the opportunity.
10. When life gets hard, what should we do?
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