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Implementing change in the Norwegian civil aviation industry

‘Avinor’ was created as a government-owned private company from the government administered civil aviation authority (Luftfartsverket) in response to economic challenges in the whole of the aviation industry. A major change initiative ‘Take-off 05’ was implemented to promote the survival of the business. The plan was to make some structural–technical changes such as reorganisation of administration and management structures and systems, reorganisation of some service areas and downsizing, and in addition to make changes to air traffic control which also involved downsizing and the closure of some operations. The context was one of predicted decrease in air passengers.

This initiative had broad support from employees including the air traffic controllers and the air traffic control union, who understood the dire situation that the organisation was in. They appreciated that this service was overweight, poorly structured and increasingly bureaucratic. The change process began as participative in terms of identifying the changes needed, and there was much cooperation and communication with staff and unions, producing a good level of engagement. Many cost savings were identified.

However, this consensus did not last because, when senior management unveiled the implementation plan, employees were shocked at the magnitude, speed and depth of change with 25% of employees being lost in the first two years, and more air traffic control centres to be closed than in the original plan. None of this matched expectations. Trust was breached and employee representatives who had participated felt undermined. The change had now become top-down driven and was no longer participative. One part of the organisation – the air traffic controllers – had more power and had a history of resisting change; the union first asked for a delay to investigate and discuss matters, but senior management ignored this and pressed on. This led to resistance, yet the senior management became increasingly committed to the change in the face of this. Feeling overwhelmed the air traffic controllers said they no longer felt capable of operating safely and air traffic control over most of Norway ceased, stopping air traffic. At this point passenger numbers were actually increasing rather than decreasing as predicted, and this put increasing strain on the system which was being slimmed down. However, senior management had the support of the government and continued to push ahead with the changes. The only communication between the parties was through the media.

The situation changed dramatically when a new government was elected and ordered an independent investigation. The project collapsed in respect of the changes to air traffic control, although many of the other changes had been implemented successfully in a top-down manner (around 80% it is claimed with revenue savings). The director of air navigation services resigned and the CEO of Avinor was forced out.

Questions

1 Analyse the way that implementation was carried out and identify what caused the problems.

2 What recommendations would you make for the way that further changes should be implemented in Avinor?

 

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