Liz Aluvanze’s life since childhood has always been marked by stellar performances. She attended Loreto Primary School and then Makini School, scored an A, and joined Precious Blood Secondary School Riruta, and got another A.
After completing her A levels at Brookhouse School she scored another A, enabling her to proceed to the University of Manchester in the UK for a degree in Aerospace Engineering graduating with First Class Honours.
She then joined the prestigious Cranfield University (also in the UK) for a Master’s degree in Air Transport Management.
Before her appointment as the CEO of Kenya Association of Air Operators (KAAO) last month, she had worked at Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, Kenya Airways, and in various sectors including air transport, commercial, fleet development, air law, and engineering services, technical and flight operations.
As she settles into her new position, replacing Col Eutychus Waithaka who had been the CEO for 25 years she tells BDLife, “I have a big role to play in pushing this organisation to the next level.”
What has your journey been like, from a young girl to now sitting at the helm of the Kenya Association of Air Operators?
I was born and raised in Nairobi. I am the firstborn in a family of four children, a brother and two sisters. My parents worked very hard to provide for us and our extended family. I think that is a lesson I learned very early from them; the importance of hard work, diligent work, and tenacity. I grew up in Buruburu and later we moved to Kilimani.
Sometimes our predecessors have the proverbial big shoes. What are your plans to fit in or be even better?
My predecessor, Col (Rtd) E.K Waithaka, is a legend in the aviation industry. He has championed the safe, efficient development and growth of the industry not only locally but regionally. I hope to honour his legacy by carrying out my mandate with transparency, diligence and inclusivity as we steer the next chapter of the Kenya Association of Air Operators to greater success. The beauty here is that he remains committed and supportive of the association’s initiatives and is available to us for guidance and consultations. My board is also very supportive of my initiatives and believes in building on positive legacies.
There aren’t many female executives in the aviation industry. Why do you think the industry is generally steered by men?
Gender disparity is a big and very hot topic in the aviation industry. I believe the industry has the poorest gender balance, particularly when it comes to females holding leadership roles. The challenges and barriers women face are much more than those of our male counterparts and they vary from bias to preconceived notions on women’s capabilities and interests as well as gender stereotypes. Another barrier is the lack of information and sensitisation about the industry and the various career opportunities, targeted at girls and young women.
Being among the few women leaders in the industry does this give you more pressure not to let women down?
I am not the first woman to hold such a position, nor will I be the last. Women have excelled for decades in executive levels of leadership, and the aviation industry is not any different. For instance, the CEO of Uganda Airlines is Jennifer Bamuturaki while Yvonne Manzi Makolo is the CEO and MD at RwandAir and Anita Adjei Nmashie was just a few days ago elected to represent Ghana on the International Civil Aviation Organisation Council.
All these three women, just to name a few are trailblazers in the aviation industry, and I hope to meet and learn from them. The pressure that I then have to face is how to continue making the sector achieve its many targets while at the same time steering my team to continue to meet our short- and long-term targets.
Through the successes that result from this hard work, I hope I can motivate young girls and women in Kenya and the region to venture particularly into STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics], knowing they can achieve whatever it is they set their minds to do.
Who is Liz away from work?
Liz is a young Kenyan lady who likes to spend time with her family and friends, listen to podcasts, exercise, read and try new things. I believe exercise is important. Ever since I got this job, going to the gym daily is difficult because of my packed-up schedule. However, I try to exercise up to three times a week.
How many members do you have at KAAO and how many more do you intend to recruit in the next year?
We have 48 members and I plan to bring 100 more on board in the next three years. You understand that one of my main roles in this job is to increase our membership. I want to bring training, maintenance, drone, and balloon operators among others, into the association so that the aviation industry sphere is represented under one umbrella. Having all categories of operators; from fixed-wing, helicopter, hot air balloons, and remotely-piloted aircraft systems to approved maintenance organisations and approved training organisations all working together under the association’s umbrella.
How did you end up in the aviation industry and what was your first job?
As cliché as it sounds, I have always been intrigued by aircraft and the mechanism behind their working. And as I pursued my education further, I became much more interested in the larger aviation industry and the regulatory framework, which is where I shifted my focus on. My first job was with Fastjet Airlines as an operations intern at their head office in London at the time.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Leadership is not a one-size-fits-all. But I would describe my leadership style as transformative and visionary. I usually encourage all members of my team to participate and share ideas as well as to challenge themselves when it comes to problem-solving and strategy implementation.
Which part of your job keeps you awake at night?
The whole entirety of my job keeps me up at night. I can name the top three things, the first being choosing and executing the issues and projects that will make the greatest difference for my stakeholders. Each stakeholder, be it the airlines, regulator, airport operator, or government is extremely important, and creating the best synergy for the development and growth of a vibrant aviation industry is a critical task that must be done all the same. The second is how to face the challenges that come with change. As they say, change is the only constant. The third, being on a lighter and more personal note is getting through my to-do list, email overload, and meetings, but this is what I signed up for.
What challenges are Kenya’s air operators grappling with?
The aviation industry took the hardest hit with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, with many governments putting a halt on long-distance travel. The reduction in flights did not translate to a reduction in costs. On the contrary, these were still due and payable despite minimal cash inflows. The industry is very capital-intensive one with low margins and significant ownership costs for aircraft, the cost of storage and long-term parking as well as keeping the aircraft maintained following international safety regulations despite not being in use, and cost of staff among others.
As a result, the aviation industry is likely to be among the last industries to recover from the crisis. Another major challenge is tax. There is an urgent need to provide much-needed relief to the industry players to give them a fighting chance in the face of fierce regional and international competition. In the past when tax breaks were granted, the industry managed to get access to newer, modern aircraft, a fact that has played a major role in enhancing safety and efficiency standards.
Lastly, access to cost-effective long-term financing for aircraft acquisition remains a great challenge. This is an important tool to drive fleet modernisation and improve efficiency.