Strong leadership is the key to the success of any organization. Particularly in aviation, good leadership can impact safety, efficiency, and productivity. Moreover, strong aviation leadership fosters innovation and adaptation to technological advancements, improving operational performance and sustainability. Ultimately, aviation leadership sets the course for the industry’s growth and resilience in the dynamic global landscape.
In the high-stakes environment of the aviation industry, Stanley Ng is a nonchalant leader with an authentic approach to leadership. With a proven track record in managing and undertaking various leadership positions in the aviation industry, he is well-recognized for his ability to spearhead efficiently with his forward-looking mindset. After an 18-year career with Philippine Airlines (PAL), Stanley took charge as the President and Chief Operating Officer of the company in early 2022. Currently, he looks after the organization’s overall growth strategy while guiding the entire team.
A Brief History of Professional Leadership
Stanley Ng embarked on his journey in 2003 as an airport agent with PAL, doing check-ins. He was simultaneously working as a translator at the airport for about a year, owing to his spoken fluency in Mandarin. He later applied to the PAL Aviation School. In 2004, he started flying the first Boeing 747 as a Second Officer or Cruise Relief Pilot for about two years before becoming a First Officer for the Airbus Airbus 320. He started flying domestic flights across the Philippines.
After staying there for a while, Stanley Ng became a cruise relief captain for the Airbus 330 and 340, flying to various destinations like the Middle East, Hawaii, Vancouver, etc. Eventually, in 2014, he went back to flying the Airbus G20 as a captain, and in the same year, he piloted domestic flights across mixed regionals.
After becoming an Instructor Pilot and the Chief Instructor Pilot in 2018, he was promoted to the Chief Pilot of the Airbus 320 division. He was further promoted to the Head of Operations for PAL more than a year later. From 2019 to 2022, Stanley was the SVP of Airline Operations for PAL, and it was towards the end of January 2022 when he assumed the post of President and CEO.
While he was mostly involved with operations in his previous leadership roles, Stanley Ng looked after various aspects at PAL–from finance to the commercial side. He also looks after the whole strategy while steering the airline’s mission forward.
Trifecta of Authenticity, Genuineness, and Transparency
Stanley Ng harbors a simple leadership philosophy–being genuine and authentic. Work culture change is always difficult, but it is achievable by increasing the number of people with the same mindset. Leaders must be patient throughout the entire process. As a seasoned leader, Stanley strives to be authentic consistently while aiming to be genuine and transparent about mistakes and learn from them. He also emphasizes that everyone in the company should have a voice, not just the senior leadership team, as the best idea can come from anyone, but they should be brave enough to speak up!
Being at the helm and catering to every aspect of the organization, Stanley ensures that every department is fine-tuned. However, many fundamentals are yet to be fixed for every department; Stanley Ng asserts that he cannot be present everywhere at any given time. Hence, he emphasizes seeking people who harbor a shared, forward-looking mindset while being open to change in accordance with the industry’s evolving dynamics.
Change is the only constant, and irrespective of the sector, every business is subjected to change and innovation. Thus, the requirement for people who will actively seek improvement and offer fresh perspectives to stay relevant is more than ever. Currently, PAL is also on the lookout for individuals who share a common vision for everyone.
Emphasis on Shared Vision and Visionary Mindset
When it comes to identifying and developing talent within an organization, Stanley necessitates the need to identify people with the right mindset. Stanley Ng seeks individuals who embrace change and are not afraid to make mistakes while taking responsibility and accountability for their actions. “People must take full accountability for their actions, whether it is good or bad. They have to be on top of those things and not afraid to admit mistakes and learn from there,” he adds.
To nurture talent at the core, PAL is currently engaging with several institutions like LinkedIn learning, where employees can learn and have options to learn by themselves. Although these institutions offer a wide range of courses, from finance to management and strategy, Stanley believes that learning should come from within. In such aspects, efficient and effective mentorship in the form of constructive feedback plays a crucial role. He adds, “Constructive feedback to the employees will help them grow as an airline employee as well as a person, improving their abilities in dealing with people, being authentic, and building relationships with the stakeholders.”
Besides demonstrating agile leadership, every leader must maintain an optimum balance between work and life to function effectively. Likewise, Stanley Ng always believes in well-being and constantly preaches its importance. He also believes in taking good care of himself by exercising and spending time with family and friends and cherishes the relationships. Although he is more focused on the long-term aspects, he believes short terms are also important while the former is impactful.
Employee Happiness = Customer Satisfaction
While customer experience is important, employee satisfaction is equally essential for the success of any organization. Stanley believes when employees are happy and taken care of, they will also take good care of the passengers. He adds, “As long as the company is fair and consistent to everyone, and as long as people who are working really hard are identified and rewarded, this culture change will push the whole organization to a more performance-driven company.”
Stanley regards every employee as an ambassador for the airline as they go out and engage with people daily and introduce the company’s vision to others. While challenges will persist, PAL aims to establish its commitment to the customers and forge a strong impression by actively addressing issues and focusing on improvement, especially during disruptions.
Stanley Ng states that providing extra care during these times makes journeys easier and more memorable. He also supports employees with personal and work-related matters to emphasize their importance to the airline. “They can always come to me as we are always here for them. And I think that’s the most important thing,” he affirms.
Winning the Race with a Winning Strategy
PAL is constantly trying to improve its products and even services, emphasizing Filipino hospitality to enhance the customer experience. The airline even collaborates with various institutions to support local talent, artists, MSMEs, athletes, and more in the Philippines. It is also involved in supporting endeavors like the Philippine Ballet and athletes competing in events like the Asian Games and the Olympics. The commitment to supporting local talent and Filipino representation globally remains a top priority for the airline to date.
Today, airlines are ordering more planes. Since airports have limited slots, airlines need larger aircraft to handle more passengers for long-haul flights. PAL is ordering bigger planes and upgrading existing ones to maintain pace with improvements in infrastructure and the increased need for faster journeys and business travels. Despite issues in the supply chain area, the airline strives to improve every aspect, from seats to check-ins and its website, to win the competition and improve its processes at every touch point.
PAL is also leveraging technology to enhance its overall customer experience by making improvements to its digital platforms. It recently partnered with Salesforce to have a CRM system to understand the customer better. Moreover, Stanley Ng highlights that integrating CRM will greatly help the airline and its back-end system and help PAL improve significantly on the digital front.
The idea is to ease customers’ travel experience using CRM, an important tool for sales and customer engagement, especially in managing disruptions. PAL is always within the safety standards and other tools to help make the flight safer. It is continuously engaging with the manufacturer and regulators to make operations safer. However, the airline strives to remain ahead and improve digitally by exploring technology extensively.
Environment Consciousness with Passenger Comfort
Sustainability has become a rising concern in the aviation industry due to impending climate implications and increasing pressure from typhoons worldwide to respond proactively. PAL has introduced fuel initiative programs for the past few years running successfully. The airline has reduced emissions with initiatives like regular engine cleaning to ensure efficiency and burn less fuel. Being a revered pilot, Stanley Ng encourages flying aircraft more efficiently and more comfortably for the passengers. At the same time, many airlines are incorporating sustainable aviation fuel (although in short percentage); PAL is pledging that by 20-30% by working with regulators and other industry stakeholders.
The airline is reducing single-plastic usage by encouraging the use of reusable water bottles at the office. It is also encouraging eco-friendly choices, like switching from gas-powered cars to hybrids or considering electric vehicles in the future. In addition to inculcating sustainability programs in the organization, PAL also plans to work with the local government to have tree plantation programs.
Pacing with Evolving Trends
As a veteran in the industry, Stanley Ng has noticed significant changes in the aviation industry over the past few years, where airlines are increasingly focusing on customer services and in-flight products. With the pandemic, travelers are now more willing to pay more, but their expectations have also increased considerably. They anticipate a seamless flight experience, improved cabin comfort, and enhanced service at all airport touchpoints. These expectations are notably higher compared to the pre-pandemic era.
To adapt to such changes, PAL has taken some significant steps. For instance, the airline recently engaged with a chef to improve its in-flight food and customer experience, resulting in doubled customer satisfaction with in-flight food service. Moreover, PAL is investing in newer engines and advanced aircraft technologies to provide a better passenger experience and contribute to a more environmentally responsible aviation industry.
In addition to the above, the airline is trying to overcome several existing challenges while ensuring things run smoothly. Firstly, the current challenge is volatile and rising fuel prices that affect all airlines globally. Although airlines can add fuel surcharges to cope, PAL is also exploring fuel hedging cautiously. Secondly, supply chain issues are widespread, so mitigating that involves working closely with the stakeholders, partners, vendors, and suppliers by better protecting how the parts will be replaced in the future.
These issues have affected the industry in recent months. Amidst such concerns, PAL is continuously evolving its customer experience and focusing on building lasting relationships with customers, suppliers, and stakeholders. Since flying capacity depends on supply chain stability, working closely with vendors can help manage flight availability.
Acknowledging the Reality and Succeeding with Calculated Risks
Being a seasoned leader in the industry, Stanley Ng acknowledges that risks are inevitable but believes that as long as they are calculated, they can be tackled. He often categorizes risks into two groups. The first involves maintaining tried-and-true strategies for profitability and stability, while the second encourages innovative, out-of-the-box approaches and experimentation that don’t impact the core income sources.
This approach allows for continuous improvement on one side while exploring entirely new solutions for the airline, such as venturing into uncharted routes. Although he understands that taking risks may result in failures and mistakes, he emphasizes the importance of trying and learning in the meantime.
“Just believe in your vision and don’t be close-minded. If you see that things aren’t really working out, know when to pivot, go back, and go in the other direction; that’s an important thing for entrepreneurs.”