Aviation Outlook: Embry-Riddle President Promotes Accountability to Speed Recovery
Resilience and responsibility were recurring themes in a recent webinar exploring the future of the aviation industry, featuring Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University President P. Barry Butler. The impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, new on-campus safety protocols, the full re-opening of residential campuses in the fall and the recovery of the aviation industry were also discussed.
“If we each do our part, that supports a faster recovery for our institution, our industry and our economy,” Butler said. “What’s going to make our policies effective is personal accountability, and I am confident about that because it has always been part of our safety culture.”
In a far-ranging conversation with Embry-Riddle assistant professor of Aeronautical Science Dr. Bob Thomas, Butler described the move last spring from face-to-face instruction to online teaching in response to the pandemic, as well as the university’s development of policies and practices to protect the health of students, staff and faculty upon their return for Summer B and fall classes.
“Students who had never taken an online course were suddenly taking four or five. Faculty that never taught online had to make a shift. It was inconvenient but people understood it was the right thing to do,” he said. “Our IT team was amazing, constantly looking at licenses, loaning out 250 laptops and providing support around the clock.”
Safety is in our DNA. … We design, we test, we iterate, we improve.
The expertise gained through Embry-Riddle’s Worldwide Campus also eased the transition, he said.
Although the pandemic presented unprecedented challenges to the institution, Butler credited past experience at the University of Iowa for providing a valuable model.
“In 2008, Iowa experienced floods that were 500-year events, from a statistical standpoint,” he said. “As dean of engineering, I attended daily operational meetings. I was not a major participant, but I got to observe decision-making up close.”
In turn, Butler instituted daily operations meetings at Embry-Riddle in early March. This response team monitors best practices at other institutions and develops policies customized to Embry-Riddle and responsive to public health recommendations.
“Safety is in our DNA, and it shows when you visit Flight Operations,” Butler said. “From the signage at the door to sanitize your hands to the checklists on what to clean in the plane, it makes a real statement on how we do things.”
In addition to signage and physical and procedural changes on campus, Eagles can put their own stamp on social distancing with custom t-shirts, featuring aviation-themed messages such as “Hold Short Six Feet” and “Blast Zone: Stay Back Six Feet.”
Safety practices are also expected to evolve, Butler added, with the Summer B term standing as an opportunity to assess what can be improved.
“We are engineers,” he said. “We design, we test, we iterate, we improve.”
On the aviation job market, Butler was cautiously optimistic, citing the industry’s resilience after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the impact of SARS and other past economic downturns.
“It always comes back,” he said, suggesting that the industry entering into a “reset” mode might actually provide a greater opportunity for students with both technical and business skills to make an impact. “This is a time you can be at the ground level and really stand out. Our graduates will continue to set the standards.”
He also noted an effort to ensure that more of those graduates will be female.
“The last major event I attended before the pandemic hit was a Women in Aviation International conference. It was amazing to meet alumnae who were enjoying such varied and successful careers in aviation. We are working to recruit, welcome and support more women in aviation through new mentorship and scholarship programs.”
Regrets about his three-year tenure at Embry-Riddle? Just one.
“My only regret is that I didn’t come 20 years ago,” he said. “The passion just shows up everywhere, in students, faculty, alumni, our board of trustees. The name ‘Riddle’ is so well received when I visit execs.”
Butler was the second speaker in the College of Aviation’s Aviation Outlook series. The online event drew more than 700 listeners.