Prior to taking up new roles as the chief executive of Bluebird Nordic and its holding company, BBN Cargo Airline Holding, Audrone Keinyte was the former chief executive of Novaturas, the largest tour operator in the Baltic states. Her impressive career combines experience and expertise that spans more than 15 years in the tourism and hospitality sector. Now, Audrone is bringing that knowledge to the aviation industry.
Interestingly, Audrone was appointed in both roles during the same week when another three female executives took up leadership positions at major airlines. Marjan Rintel at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Dina Ben Tal Ganancia at El Al Israel Airlines, and Güliz Öztürk at Pegasus Airlines, the latter becoming the first female CEO of an airline in the history of Turkish civil aviation.
In an exclusive interview, AeroTime talks to Audrone about Bluebird Nordic’s plans, transferable skills and how a dedicated team and a dynamic environment are the perfect recipe for a successful business.
Travel and tourism “cannot exist without aviation”
Audrone’s move to the aviation industry was a well-timed decision as air cargo continues to recover well from the pandemic and airfreight services remain in strong demand. For Audrone, aviation was also a “natural and organic step” for her career-wise.
“Aviation is also a part of tourism,” she continues, “because traveling or tourism cannot exist without aviation.”
She continues: “After spending more than 15 years in the tourism industry, I felt that I have learned most of the parts or activities of this industry. I got to know the key players in the industry, I faced [many] challenges including the pandemic and other crises that have been happening during all those years. And finally, at a certain stage, I felt that I need more development and I would be willing to move further.”
Audrone showcased her excellent crisis management skills during the pandemic. As CEO of Novaturas, she was able to reshape the company’s business model and engage well with the team, which helped facilitate a successful recovery.
There are three main similarities between the travel and tourism industry and aviation, says Audrone.
“First of all, both industries are very much dynamic,” she says. “The situation from one day to another can change dramatically. They are very much dependent on a lot of global factors that you cannot influence.”
However, both sectors are also dependent on the dedication of its workers.
“Most businesses can succeed if the people are dedicated but, especially in aviation and in tourism, you have to have dedicated and engaged people who would be on the loop 24/7. Then you can be sure that you won’t miss any chances or opportunities and you can handle any kind of critical moments successfully,” she says. “This engagement, [the] dedication of the employees [from both] industries and the follow-up of a very dynamic business environment, [are some] of the major similarities.”
The second similarity is complexity.
“Both aviation and tourism, they have a lot of components,” Audrone explains. “The tourism industry consists of hotels, transfers, aviation and other services [and] a lot of players, which you have to combine into one to create the whole infrastructure and to make sure that you are providing a good product.”
She adds that aviation is like tourism because of the “complexity of the field itself and the product”.
“It is just much more technical, rather than service-based like tourism,” she continues. “So, this complexity of the industry, of the business and in general, the whole industry as such, is maybe the second similarity.”
The third similarity is that tourism and aviation are both global businesses. “That’s why any partnerships, business opportunities or deals that you can make, you’re always [have] the whole globe in front of you,” Audrone adds.
Career change and Bluebird Nordic
Audrone explains that the reason behind her career change was “to grow professionally and personally, and to start meeting new people, to have big challenges to cope with them and to achieve successful results.”
“That’s what I’m bringing to this company, to Bluebird Nordic, and this is what I’m aiming to achieve personally and professionally,” she adds.
Audrone has joined Bluebird Nordic during an exciting time of the airline’s expansion. By 2024 Bluebird will triple its fleet, which currently consists of one B737-300 and seven B737-400 full freighter aircraft, and will include the addition of 25 Boeing B737-800s. The company is also looking to develop the airline’s widebody cargo ACMI operations.
“Our aim is to grow the fleet by not only adding additional aircraft to our existing fleet, which is mainly Boeing 737-400s but by renewing it with new generation aircraft,” Audrone says. “We are intensively adding Boeing 737-800s to our fleet. Just within this year, we will have eight to 10 aircraft joining our fleet and then, for the upcoming years, we have many other interesting and ambitious plans.”
Bluebird Nordic “are also looking for the possibilities to expand to the other markets to the other countries,” Audrone says, adding that the airline aims to “become an even more global worldwide ACMI provider and to have a stronger [presence] in the other regions and markets.”
Audrone explains that disturbances to global logistics supply chains due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent lockdowns in China, and the turbulence caused by the Russia-Ukraine war has “fortunately, and unfortunately” created opportunities and demand for the air cargo sector.
“As an ACMI provider, our main partners and our main clients are integrators and express carriers. So, in the times when E-commerce has been growing, and it will continue growing, the demand for express carriers or integrators will just grow [as a result]. And there are optimistic forecasts for the future,” she says.
As global demand continues to ramp-up across all aviation sectors, Audrone implores aviation professionals to be prepared for any – and all – situations and remain proactive. “Get all your homework done so that you can face challenges successfully and to use them in all cases as opportunities,” she says.
Go for the challenge
Here at AeroTime, we have the opportunity to recognize and support the roles and impact of female professionals across our industry, and also take our part in and play our part in inspiring the next generation. So, does Audrone have any advice to share with women or the next generation who are looking to get into aviation?
“I would just encourage you to go for the challenge because it’s really a very exciting and very interesting industry,” she says.
“From my personal experience, I would say that even without having deep aviation knowledge, technical knowledge or operational knowledge, I was positively welcomed by my colleagues, and I have learned, and I’m still learning a lot, [and] a lot from them,” she says.
“I would say that aviation, due to its complexity, is not a one-man show. You are always depending on the team, and the team needs you. So that is why there will always be big support no matter whether it’s male or female. But there will always be big support from the team [whether] you are engaging them or if you are leading them.”