What to do when your industry becomes dull?

Being the dyed-in-the-wool aerospace junkie that I am, I cannot resist checking out industry news every few days.

And everytime I do, what strikes me is how terribly dull the aerospace industry seems to have become.

Almost all the news seems to consist of very minor incidents, sales announcements, and opinions aired by journalists with a deadline and an editor standing over their shoulder. When will such and such a company go under? Who’s going to win the sales race this year? Etc, etc.

The most exciting piece of news today, for example, is the collapse of the nose landing gear on an A330. (That does slightly intrigue me, having done landing gear in a past life.)

But it was a gear collapse on the ground, aircraft stationary, no one hurt. There will be an investigation, some corrective action will be taken, the incident will probably never recur, the world will have become a slightly safer place, and we can all go home.

Dull. Really dull.

Such a reaction is, of course, totally subjective.

Has it really become so dull? Or am I the dull one? Have I lost the plot?

If you don’t share my view, tell me off, quit reading now, get another coffee, and go find something better to do. Don’t waste your time on me.

But if you find yourself sympathizing, let’s ask the question:

Why has the aerospace industry become so dull?

Yes, there are a few SpaceX’s and Virgin Galactics. But they’re mighty few and far between.

Here are a few possible reasons.

The first one I’ve already alluded to, and that is:

(1) We’ve changed.

You and I. We’ve changed. Our minds and bodies have progressed. (More than we care to admit.) What excited us 25 years ago doesn’t anymore. What challenged our intellects previously is now quite ho-hum.

We’ve learned not to fear the things (or people) that used to scare us. Which is good, in a sense, but it also removes some of the excitement.

(2) We’ve actually done a damn good job. All of us.

Flying is incredibly safe. Has been for a few decades. Getting safer all the time.

All the big fish in the Safety Pond have been fished. Only plankton left. Improving safety has now become, not so much a law of Diminishing Returns, but a law of Diminishing Demand.

Major events that demand a change to airworthiness requirements come along only every few years now.

A blessing? Yep. Who doesn’t care that they can fly anywhere with an almost 100% probability of event-free arrival?

But a curse as well? Yep.

Because a professional’s mind needs to stay sharp. He/She needs challenging work. Without it . . . . . boredom sets in quickly. (Without a crime to solve, Sherlock Holmes find drug abuse irresistable.)

(3) The problems have changed, gotten bigger, and require skills I haven’t got or don’t care for.

It’s not as though we’re problem-free.

Ever fly through a huge airport? Ever fly on an American carrier? (Apologies to my American friends. I’m fond of you. I just object to being treated like dirt on your airlines.)

Watched the news lately? It’s not as though there is no longer any terrorism threat.

Very real problems, but most of us think: Those problems are way bigger than me, and I’m not equipped to solve them. (Neither of which should stop us from trying, but most of us don’t.)

(4) A lack of vision.

(Also called: Most of the players are getting old.)

Aerospace is still very much a Western game, though it’s slowly changing. Most aerospace-related firms are based in the West, are publicly-listed companies, and have pension obligations to retired employees.

Companies behave very much like the people who own and man them.

And the West is aging.

People become more risk-averse, and get excited about less, as they age. So do companies.

Hence for most aerospace firms, Risk is a four-letter word. Something to fear and be minimized at all costs.

A new programme? Cool! For the youngster, a new programme, especially a moon shot, is something that makes life worth living. Count me in!

But for the oldsters, it’s scary. Something that could take us all down. An unnecessary complication. Avoid, avoid, avoid. Just keep milking the old, tried, tested, and true.

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Hence, I repeat, aerospace seems rather dull.

And dullness isn’t bad. But it’s a problem if everyone expects to be at least occasionally excited.

What to do?

4 thoughts on “What to do when your industry becomes dull?”

  1. Hi Dave, long time!

    I think that the bits of the industry we are in have become more routine – there are still pockets of awesome hiding in the big jet companies but they are hard to find.

    Personally, I think the awesome has moved on to new places in the industry, like parcel delivery and ADSL. Who thought that either of these would be a cool place to work as an Aerospace engineer? But Amazon and Google are designing delivery drones and Google and heaven-knows-who-else are designing pseudo-satellites that are basically highly-reliable, super-efficient autonomous electric aircraft with a high-powered ADSL router strapped underneath. Cool challenge!

    The downside is that these cool places are few and far between and employ very few people, hence only the well connected or excessively awesome get chosen. Ever tried to get recruited by Google? Not an easy task. Even more difficult to get into Google[x], their moonshot division, where much of the aerospace awesome is hiding.

    I don’t have an answer, except that maybe we should ditch the expectation that awesome Aerospace and a permanent job with a big firm will coincide. Maybe we should be doing research, getting back to da Vinci and coming up with our own New Stuff, then scraping together the money to make it a reality. A much more scary proposition, but Who Dares, etc, etc.

    Cheers, Iain

    1. I agree 100%, especially with your last paragraph. Even that (coming up with your own idea, scraping money, making it happen, etc) requires a large amount of luck: Being in the right place, at the right time, access to a network of resources who can help, etc. But that kind of luck is easier to devise today than ever before!

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