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Birgir Jónsson: Uniting Global Expertise for Aviation Excellence

Birgir Jónsson, the CEO of Play Airlines, brings extensive international management and operations expertise to his role. With a remarkable track record, he has held key positions in prominent organizations across continents. Previously, Birgir was the Regional Director for Asia at Ossur, and was based in Hong Kong. 

He also held CEO positions at Iceland Express and Deputy CEO at WOW Air. During his career, he resided and worked in various countries, including Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary, where he led Infopress Group, a leading printing company in Eastern Europe, as its CEO. Additionally, Birgir successfully led Iceland Post as its CEO and spearheaded numerous restructuring and transformation projects spanning multiple industries.

Birgir is a distinguished academic, earning an MBA from the University of Westminster in London, UK, and a BA (Hons) from the University of the Arts London, UK. His educational background complements his extensive practical experience, positioning him as a dynamic leader in aviation and beyond.

As the CEO of PLAY Airline, what do you believe to be one of the most crucial qualities a leader should possess in the aviation industry? How has your leadership style evolved over the years?

Humility is one of the most essential qualities I believe a leader should possess in the aviation industry. Whether you come from aviation or other industries, the same skillset applies to create success. It’s essential to remain humble and not be afraid to make critical decisions. No one can know everything and do everything, so it’s okay to make mistakes. As a leader, you must surround yourself with a great team and trust their abilities.

Over the years, my leadership style has evolved. Having worked in international markets and lived in Asia and Eastern Europe, I’ve learned the importance of building relationships with the people I work with. I put my ego aside and see myself as a conductor for a band rather than the star of the show. This mindset allows me to bring out the best in my team.

How have you navigated economic fluctuations and uncertainty in light of the Covid 19 pandemic’s impact on the airline industry? What specific strategies have you employed to maintain financial stability and profit?

Navigating economic fluctuations and uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has challenged the airline industry. PLAY Airline started operations during the pandemic, thinking it would be short-lived. However, various issues, such as the invasion of Ukraine and the impact on oil prices, severely affected the industry. Throughout this period, we maintained transparency and consistently communicated the situation to our shareholders. 

This open communication was fundamental in leading us through these challenging times. We are now becoming operationally profitable and have focused on scaling up to 10 aircraft for continued growth and stability. Building cash reserves and reducing costs are also priorities to ensure financial stability.

With growing concerns about sustainability and environmental impact, how have you mitigated these aspects in your global business operations? Please highlight some initiatives your airline has undertaken to reduce its carbon footprint and promote eco-friendly practices.

Addressing sustainability and environmental impact is a significant challenge in the aviation industry. As an Icelandic Scandinavian airline, we recognize the industry’s carbon footprint and actively work towards mitigating it. We contribute to environmental sustainability by having Europe’s youngest fleet of all airlines. Our aircraft are fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly. 

Additionally, we have been lobbying with the Environmental Institute in Iceland to allow the recycling of aluminum cans generated during flights. This initiative is a significant step forward as few airlines globally practice recycling. By taking these measures, we aim to reduce our carbon footprint and promote eco-friendly practices.

Can you provide an example of a policy you implemented to ensure customer safety, enhance the passenger experience, and maintain a competitive edge in the industry? 

Ensuring customer safety, enhancing the passenger experience, and maintaining a competitive edge are priorities for us. One policy we implemented to achieve these goals is offering our staff a unisex uniform and the freedom to choose their clothes. This approach allows them to be themselves while delivering excellent customer service. We have also created a culturally diverse environment by hiring people from 23 nationalities. This diversity promotes a great place to work and thrive. While these initiatives may seem simple, they significantly impact the overall passenger experience.

How do you approach building and managing global teams across different cultures and time zones? Could you share a specific practice that has fostered collaboration and achieved organizational goals?

Building and managing global teams across different cultures and time zones requires effective strategies. We approach this with a detailed business plan and approach that provides clarity and aligns everyone towards common goals. As the CEO, I believe in getting out of the way and empowering my team to find solutions. We provide leadership training to every manager in the company from the beginning, focusing on their team’s success. 

Our culture discourages workplace gossip and encourages direct communication with respect and honesty. Promoting inclusivity and open dialogue ensures that everyone feels included in discussions and decisions.

In your experience, what are the key factors to consider when evaluating potential international markets for expansion? How do you determine if a market suits your organization’s products or services?

When evaluating potential international markets for expansion, we consider several key elements. Data plays a vital role in our decision-making process. We crunch data from various sources like Google, Expedia, and search engines to identify specific European locations people in a particular area are searching for. We match our flights to meet the demand and ensure we provide transportation solutions from point A to point B. As a low-cost airline, we also consider the cost structure and choose airports that align with our business model. Consistency is essential in our choices, and we focus on delivering low fares to our target demographic.

As a specialist in international management, how do you stay updated on global trends and emerging markets? What types of resources do you rely on to anticipate changes and adapt your business tactics accordingly?

Staying updated on global trends and emerging markets is crucial for our continued success. I frequently use LinkedIn to gather information and connect with industry professionals. Our team relies heavily on data analysis and coordination to anticipate changes and adapt our business tactics accordingly. We create comprehensive solutions to navigate the evolving landscape by involving many people and gathering diverse perspectives.

Consider influences such as rapid technological advancements, changing consumer preferences, and evolving regulatory frameworks; how do you foresee the airline industry’s future in Canada?

The airline industry’s future in Canada is influenced by rising technological developments, varying buyer choices, and changing governing structures. Air travel is no longer considered a luxury, but a transportation necessity. Low-cost operators are gaining prominence, offering reliability, increased frequencies, and lower prices. Infrastructure improvements are needed to enhance transportation within Canada. As a low-cost airline, we see a focus on growth in this sector, with more options for affordable air travel.

How does PLAY Airline differ from other airlines? 

PLAY Airline differentiates itself in the marketplace through several factors. We offer our passengers the option to build their prices. It means they can purchase additional services like food or bring their own. Unlike other airlines, we do not include the cost of food in the ticket price. We focus on providing excellent service and a great experience to all passengers, regardless of their fare. Our crew is known for being happy, welcoming, and ensuring the safety and security of our passengers.

In conclusion, I want to be part of a great team and am thrilled when my colleagues are happy and prosperous. Building relationships, maintaining transparency, and embracing diversity is essential to my leadership style. I value data-driven decision-making, customer safety, and environmental sustainability. By adapting to emerging trends and delivering a unique passenger experience, PLAY Airline aims to make a difference in the aviation industry.

Jennifer Williams | Editor-in-Chief

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