People say that it’s easy to fall in love with aviation once you become part of the industry. But what attracts people to it? Donatas Ziburys, Fleet Development Manager at Avion Express, the leading narrow-body ACMI and charter airline, says aviation was in his genes and the only choice for him. Let’s get to know more about his experience and what is it about aviation that people just can’t get enough of.
Tell us, how long have you been working at Avion Express and how have your positions evolved over time?
I have been with the airline for around nine years and it has been an interesting journey. I saw a lot of changes, developments. When I joined, the company was about the size of around 50 people. And now, there are more than 360 people at the office (and even more with the crew). So, I witnessed the process of how the business evolved from a small company to a large one that is today.
Regarding my positions throughout the years, it was quite a learning curve. I started working at Avion Express as a Maintenance Controller for about 1,5 years. Then I briefly changed my position to Planning Engineer. I may have only stayed there for three months before taking the position of Production Engineer, which I held for about four years. This position was new in the company, and I needed to establish the culture and processes in the production planning department: how we are communicating with maintenance providers, establishing, or creating work orders, what logic we are using and so on.
After that again, I got a promotion and I took over the role of Maintenance Services Manager, where I was responsible for a contract establishment and overseeing third-party line maintenance providers. And then, of course, Covid came. The company shrank from, I think, 150 people, to around 50 again. It was quite a challenging time because we needed to solve a lot of open questions regarding an unknown future.
After roughly two years, I got a promotion and started to work as a Fleet Development Manager, and this is my current position.
Why aviation? What was the underlying motivation to join this industry? Or did it choose you?
Oh, aviation was in my family. Back in the 1950s, my grandfather with a few of his friends built a glider, and that’s how he started his aviation career. Later, he became a director at Siauliai Aeroclub in Seduva Airfield in Lithuania. I never knew my grandfather, but my father used to spend a lot of time at this airfield and told many stories about it, and how fun it was.
As a child, I would go to annual aviation events and shows in Siauliai with my father. And that's how I got involved in it, learned about aircraft, and developed a love for aviation.
When it came time to choose my studies, I began my research. During my school years, I wasn't overly preoccupied with thoughts of where to study. An aviation institute in Lithuania, that I was unaware of, was mentioned to me by a friend whose mother was a pilot, and from that moment on my decision was straightforward. I will just go study aviation.
So, these stories and romanticism of aviation were a bit in the genes, you know. Aviation was really the only choice I wanted.
As a Fleet Development Manager, what exactly do you usually do on your daily work basis?
The Fleet Development Department is responsible for aircraft deliveries and redeliveries. We are responsible for introducing the aircraft to the fleet for it to start the operations, and then to remove the aircraft from the fleet without causing too many expenses for the company.
So, this is like a combination of everything, I would say. You need to have knowledge from the technical, operational, and regulation perspectives. You’re taking control of the processes which are quite fast, moving and constantly changing, and to which you need to be able to constantly adapt.
Mainly, my responsibilities are to lead delivery and redelivery projects. So, this starts from project initiation: reviewing and filling documentation for aircraft registration. If everything is met as per regulation requirements, then controlling the delivery process from the physical perspective of the aircraft. This means going physically to the location of the aircraft’s inspection and issuing reports for lessors and our company to track the process.
Then finally, executing the technical acceptance, obtaining a Certificate of Registration, and Certificate of Airworthiness and fully introducing the aircraft to the Avion Express fleet to start operations, or vice versa in terms of redelivering the aircraft.
This position involves a lot of travelling. What are the routes, trips, and any interesting things you had a chance to see and experience during your work trips?
It was quite an intensive workload for the past few years after Covid because the fleet grew quite rapidly. During Covid, we shrank from 22 to 15 aircraft and today our fleet is the size of 51 aircraft. So, we added quite a number of aircraft in these past two years.
This involved a lot of travelling in Europe. For example, my colleague Benas and I once took an interesting road trip through nearly the entire country of France, stopping at three different locations along the way as we travelled from the north to the south of the country. In a few weeks’ time, we travelled most probably around 2000 km in France just going up and down and back, as we needed to physically inspect the aircraft. I have also visited the Netherlands, UK, Ireland, USA, Poland, and Hungary.
My previous positions also involved quite a lot of travelling too. Back then we had quite interesting operations in the Caribbean region. So, I had a chance to visit Caribbeans when I was a Maintenance Controller. Seeing the other side of the world and meeting people with different mentalities allowed me to grow as a person and broaden my view.
As a Production Planning Engineer, I was also involved with travelling, because I was acting as a technical representative during heavy maintenance inputs, summer season preparations or base maintenance, like C checks, D checks and so on. When you spend quite a lot of time in the hangar environment together with the aircraft, you can see everything from close up, to how the aircraft is being fixed and you are controlling this process from that perspective.
All these positions involve travelling and this, I think, is one of the big benefits of working in aviation and on the technical side because it allows you to see and travel quite a lot. Of course, maybe sometimes you wish it would be a vacation travelling when you are just spending time sightseeing. But if you want, you can still combine work and a bit of tourist time.
Is there anything you really love about your job? Can you share?
One of the most satisfying parts is to be able to work with people who love their jobs. Working in this field, you need to have a huge love for technology, aviation and gaining more knowledge. Most probably, you are surrounded by most of these kinds of people yourself. And this is the most fascinating and wonderful part of my job.
Each day is different, you learn new things, grow as a person and as a specialist, and meet a lot of different people with different mentalities and experiences, from the opposite side of the globe, or your neighbours. Since you work on projects and solve issues together with them, you have the chance to get their point of view. Therefore, each day you are learning something new.
What aspects of Avion Express as a company do you enjoy most?
The uniqueness of Avion Express, the people and the culture. The understanding of everyone in the company is that we are working towards the same goal.
Also, the nice thing is that it’s simple to distinguish between friendly, personal discussions and work-related ones. Sometimes you have conversations where you are arguing quite passionately, sometimes even emotions kick in. However, people understand that we’re just doing our job. And after this intense discussion, you know you are going out of the meeting room and you are again a colleague, a friend. So, this is what I really enjoy also.
Everyone is like a huge family. You can easily go discuss with everyone you want. There is no closed-door policy. If I want to speak with you, I can easily speak with you or vice versa. And same applies to everyone in the company, whether it would be top management level, CEO, VPs, middle managers, or specialists.
We have many outstanding leaders who are setting a good example, and there is a collaborative approach to everything. That creates a very healthy environment for growing as a specialist because that kind of culture eliminates unnecessary stress. We are also encouraged to try and test and learn from our mistakes. That is the way to grow for success, as a company.