Conversations with Jillian Chan

By Donovan Sim and Valerie Tan 

Jillian Chan is currently working in the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore. She is a manager at the COVID-19 Airport Transformation Office in the Airport Operations Regulation and Aviation Security Division. In this article, she talks about her experience in the aviation industry and how her past experiences have helped her in various aspects of her job. She also tells us about how the aviation industry is adapting their operations during a pandemic.

I am currently working in the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS). I am in my third year of work now and
I am a manager at the COVID-19 Airport Transformation Office in the Airport Operations Regulation
and Aviation Security Division. Before this, I was with the Hub Strategy and Connectivity Team in the Air
Transport Division in CAAS. In Hub Strategy, as the name suggests, I played a role in developing strategies
to strengthen Singapore’s competitiveness and connectivity as an air hub. My current role deals with
operations policy, and involves assessing and improving the airport experience for the passenger,
especially in the new COVID-19 operating environment.

I wanted to work in a global, fast-paced industry; I felt that the aviation sector fitted the bill perfectly. I still
think there are opportunities for growth and development in the aviation sector, despite COVID-19.
Finally, I also find it very meaningful to serve the nation through my work in the public sector.

CAAS works with MOT to develop policies, and CAAS often interfaces between the Ministry and the rest of the aviation eco-system e.g. airlines, airport operator, ground handlers, etc.
Most of the significance of what I learnt in University was how it shaped my thinking. For economics, some concepts, for instance, market competition, can be applied to the aviation industry. But I think you can learn some of this on the job. Economics also helped in training me to grasp concepts quickly and then frame them through modelling and analysis. I did my Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering. In engineering, we often think about building solutions to problems. It was very hands-on – a lot of experimentation; that influenced how I thought about my work, like in building a data dashboard of air hub metrics.
Pre-COVID, my time was divided between doing data analysis, interacting with stakeholders, and delivering presentations. Now, my job is more operational, and involves a lot of going on-ground to monitor flights and identify ways to improve the passenger experience. I also do a lot of operations strategy, involving coordination with various stakeholders such as border control authorities, airlines, and airport management.

What I find most enjoyable is the innovation and execution of operational solutions and watching the
solutions come to life. On a related note, what I find challenging is the coordination between
stakeholders, who may have different viewpoints and objectives, to develop such solutions. I would say
this is a good challenge, as I am exposed to a wide range of perspectives. I learn to negotiate between
them and integrate these viewpoints into a cohesive and considered operations policy.

The aviation industry is very diverse. Some aspects of aviation include international relations, aviation engineering, airport operations, and air hub strategy. Given the broad scope of work at CAAS, the many stakeholders we deal with, and the different functions we are in charge of, CAAS has a culture of ‘thinking big picture’, and encourages cross-divisional and even cross-cluster collaboration.
COVID-19 has shown me how vulnerable the aviation sector is to global crises and pandemics. At the same time, it has shown me how the industry is very resilient and moves very quickly in response to crises.
We could get to a state of recovery in a few years’ time. If another pandemic similar to or worse than COVID-19 hits us, we could be set back by another few years. That being said, the industry is building in safeguards now to mitigate risks posed by future pandemics, so I am optimistic about the overall recovery of the sector.
Singapore is taking a risk-calculated approach in reopening our borders gradually to air travel, for instance, through schemes like the Air Travel Pass and fast/green lanes for business travel.
We are using more technological tools in our work, for instance, Tableau for data visualisation. This is very helpful for metrics tracking, and for the organisation to keep pulse on the health of Changi Air Hub. From the start of the pandemic till today, the observation of rapid changes in traffic volumes was made possible with efficient data visualisation. Singapore is also exploring the use of digital health credentials, such as digital and easily verifiable COVID-19 test and vaccination certificates, to facilitate a more seamless passenger experience.
At CAAS, anyone can drive innovation no matter what role they are in. There is support for innovation across divisions.
It is important to assess if you are a good fit for a job or an organisation. I would advise students to seek out opportunities to learn more about themselves and the organisation they intend to work for. For personal and professional growth and development, I would advise each individual to take the initiative to learn and contribute to his or her environment, no matter where that may be, because I believe that ‘you get what you give’!