We ensure the satisfaction of our employees through their participation and engagement

Established in 2014 as a Sino-Nepal joint venture and commencing its inaugural flight in October 2016, Himalaya Airlines has made big strides as a Nepal-based international airliner. In this relatively short period of time, Himalaya has expanded its operations to different destinations in South Asia, East Asia and the Middle East with its fleet of Airbus A320 and A319. Noyo Singh, who is the Head of Human Resources of Himalaya Airlines since 2015, attributes this success of the company to efficient people management. In a conversation with the HRM, she talked about Himalaya’s approach to better managing its staffs, how the company faced the Covid-19 pandemic, training and development activities, among other topics. Excerpts:

In just six years of commencing operations, Himalaya Airlines has earned itself a name by successfully operating flights to various international destinations. How has people management contributed to this success of the company?
We were involved with Himalaya Airlines even before the planes had arrived in Kathmandu. Our entire H9 team has worked together to ensure the safe operation of H9 destinations. As good leadership is key to any accomplishment, efficient people management has greatly aided in achieving our goals. We aim to offer employees unwavering support and the ideal direction while also providing them with the best resources required to operate an international airline. The employees are provided with unfettered assistance, optimum resources, and a clear grasp of each employee’s scope of responsibility. We promote a highly distinctive culture, including flexible holiday policies. Our team has access to seven days of choice holidays, including the chance to enjoy their own birthday. In order to establish innovative human capital planning, we have based our HR strategies on the five company guiding principles of the company which have equally helped us to be a pioneer in crew employment. We have established ourselves as one of the Safest Airlines in Nepal as published by the Flight Safety Standard Department (FSSD) as a result of the sincere efforts of the whole team.

What key objectives does Himalaya Airlines follow in people management?
Safety, Customer Service, Team Spirit, Winning Spirit, and Performance & Proper Practice are our five guiding principles for our team management and business operation. By adhering to these five guiding principles, we aim to prioritize safety, advance customer service, highlight teamwork and winning spirit and encourage the right procedure. Although H9 fosters a very unique culture, we constantly update our standards to match the demands of our employees. In order to manage and maintain the most competitive human capital in an industry that is so dynamic and vulnerable to changes, we must adapt to the new paradigm while committed to being the most desirable employer in the national aviation sector.

The two years after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic were very tough for the aviation sector due to disruptions in both domestic and internal travel. How did Himalaya Airlines manage to face the challenges in people management at that time?
The situation at that time was extremely challenging, especially for airliners. However, we strictly refrained from dismissing any employees or reducing their compensation. But we did adopt some measures to change the existing salary structure, which is actually more lucrative for the workforce.
Furthermore, we implemented a group rostering system so that group A wouldn’t intersect group B. The group rostering helped us to solve the critical manpower required to operate 24/7. The virtual sessions were limited to the back-office team whereas we required manpower to operate flights physically like Flight crew, operation control office, airport office to assist passengers and a lot more.

In addition, to supporting our employees, we also developed a new approach to helping their immediate family members; when necessary, we used to offer our company’s resources including door-to-door medicine supplies or even oxygen supplements. As a result, our bond with subordinates became stronger.
The management even provided cash incentives to all of the employees who had a high risk of contracting coronavirus while performing their duties. The cash incentive was extended to all non-colored employees in addition to courageous front liners.

What changes in people management has the pandemic brought into the aviation sector? How has Himalaya Airlines responded to these changes?
The pandemic-induced crisis has been one of the worst nightmares for the global aviation industry. The first and the worst affected industry was aviation forcing big airlines to lay off the maximum number of their employees and were on without pay for months.

Fortunately, we avoided fretting and actually managed to adopt such cost-cutting measures. Instead, we decided to change the current compensation structure and implement a flexible work schedule to meet our operational needs. However, we have adopted workplace safety with full compliance to ensure that our employees were safe and less exposed to the risk of Covid-19 during the pandemic and post-crisis as well. Workplace safety is embraced per the company’s Covid-19 SOP manual.

How do you see the prospect of people management in the aviation sector post-Covid?
As with other sectors, it has altered how we perceive occupational health and safety assurances. Even before the pandemic, the aviation industry was well prepared for crisis situations. But following the pandemic, personnel management and its constructive role has received high priority. A further lesson we learned from the pandemic is the significance of human safety. Evidently, we began taking precautions on February 7, 2020, even before the nationwide lockdown from March. If the countries open their borders and reduce barriers to cross-border travel, the industry will be remunerative over some time.

How different is people management in the aviation sector from other sectors?
Although there are specific requirements, personnel management is quite demanding and different as compared to other sectors. Conducting training and up-to-date licensing of pilots and other crew members, operations at the ground (airport) and outstations apart from the head office, aviation-related safety and management protocols, etc. require various kinds of expertise. Therefore, managing people is challenging since we must adhere to regulations, for which aviation companies generally follow extensive training plans that are then followed by recurrent training and multiple audits by the governing organizations. Such trainings are connected to the operating crew’s and position holders’ licenses, which if they are out of date in any way will prevent the airline’s Air Operator Certificate (AOC) from getting renewed. We’ve designed a suitable organizational structure and disseminated the job descriptions in a well-thought-out manner to keep up with every aspect necessary for managing personnel in the aviation business.

How is the availability of human resources in the sector at present? How is Himalaya Airlines fulfilling its workforce needs?
It’s challenging to explain the availability of human resources in the aviation industry in plain terms. We require personnel who have received specialized training in the relevant aircraft type. As airlines are governed by regulatory bodies, experienced manpower must undergo type training in accordance with fleet requirements. Our fleet at the moment comprises Airbus A320 and A319 planes. Therefore, we recruit and develop our own human capital through vigorous training. We have a different mechanism for recruiting pilots which starts from the COMPASS test and Simulator Assessment where cabin crew screening starts with physical assessments followed by various screening processes. We do, however, pursue company-standard HR selection practices, including security background checks, for all non-technical and operational staff after they successfully complete the technical screening. At the moment we have around 300 Nepalis and 45 expats as employees from 10 different countries who are based in Kathmandu excluding the manpower from our destination countries. The recruitments are centralized in Kathmandu.

What specific set of skills Himalaya Airlines seeks while recruiting employees?
We provide equal opportunities for experts as well as freshers depending on the position and tasks to be performed. We are one of the companies to recruit employees from an exclusive diverse background where we respect everyone’s culture. We seek candidates with expertise, academic credentials, practical skills, a strong commitment to the company’s guiding principles, innovation, and the ability to contribute to the business while also advancing personally and professionally.

How is your company working to enhance the skills of employees? How much priority is given to training and capacity enhancement programs?
Himalaya offers a variety of training to every employee on a routine interval beginning with orientation when an employee first joins the organization. We are required by law to keep track of the training schedules for all staff members who hold independent licenses, including pilots, flight attendants, engineers and flight dispatchers.

The operational manpower is provided with Airbus Type Rating Trainings. Our type trainings used to take place in France, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Indonesia. Now we send our non-type rated pilots to Turkey. We also have in-house instructors for ground classes. As a result, our Safety Department handles trainings connected to safety, and our AVSEC department handles trainings related to aviation security on the ground, but the trainees must travel to New Delhi for safety drills in order for the training to be complete. There are many more such in-house trainings. Each department has its own respective training manual and the annual training plans have the all details which have been designed carefully as per regulatory requirements. The annual training plan for each pilot, cabin crew and every technical manpower is prudently monitored by the Training Managers of the concerned department and HR. Additionally, the nominated Training Managers must be accepted and authorized by CAAN. We provide rigorous and frequent trainings for the administrative staff. These trainings are very costly, but we are determined to provide the best.

How does Himalaya Airlines ensure that its employees are happy and satisfied?
We ensure it through the participation and engagement of employees. We have created the best possible incentive programs, and we do everything in our power to encourage our team members by acknowledging their hard work and recognizing achievements. The door of the HR department is always open to all employees at H9, and we have established an efficient system for processing complaints. In order to prevent favoritism and groupism, we have developed a number of measures that improve group decision-making within departmental management. About 88 percent of Himalaya Airlines’ employees expressed respectable satisfaction in the company’s internal employee satisfaction survey conducted in January 2022 and we aim to make it 100 percent.

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