Elixir Aircraft
AERO 2023

How Elixir attracts young people into aviation

Rachel Ramsay talks to Elixir Aircraft co-founder Cyril Champenois about how his company has achieved an average workforce age of just 34, and what the industry as a whole needs to do to attract and retain young people

How do we get inspire the next generation into aviation? That was one of the major themes emerging from a panel discussion led by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) on the first day of AERO Friedrichshafen 2023 last week.

On the panel was Cyril Champenois, co-founder of the La Rochelle-based manufacturer Elixir Aircraft, who made the point that exciting new innovations such as sustainable aviation fuel are key to bringing young people into aviation. I caught up with Cyril at the Elixir stand afterwards to get his thoughts and find out how Elixir has achieved a workforce average age of just 34.

“As a brand new manufacturer [Elixir was founded in 2015], you can’t afford experienced people – you have to select young people at the start of their career,” Cyril begins.

“So economics comes into it, but we’ve been able to design and certify the aircraft with that team. Because they are passionate, they can do the job no problem.”

So the passion of his young employees compensates for their relative lack of experience?

“Definitely,” Cyril agrees. “They want to learn, they want to understand, they are very dynamic – they’re reading everything, they’re pushing to move forward.” He believes that bigger companies, where people often work for decades, lack the advantages to be gained from an enthusiastic young workforce.

Cyril Champenois and the Elixir two-seater his young team have created from scratch and certified with EASA

Sowing the seeds early

Understanding where that passion comes from is key to knowing where to look to attract younger recruits. With that in mind, Elixir conducted a survey of its workforce.

“The idea was to understand why and how are they passionate – where is it coming from?” explains Cyril. “If it’s coming from a common denominator, it may be easier for us to try to contact those people.”

“Maybe it started at an aero club, maybe it was a school project, maybe it was watching aircraft taking off and landing at an airport. The survey gave us some very good information, especially on when that passion starts – everyone was below 15 when they decided they wanted to be in aviation.”

The question is, if young people are making this decision at this sort of age, how and where does the aviation world plant the seeds?

“It might be an aircraft project at school, inviting youth to visit the factory – not just Elixir, but all the other manufacturers,” says Cyril. “The Americans are good at that, with the EAA especially, and we need to do something similar in Europe.”

Elixir Aircraft
Elixir's factory, where the average age of staff is just 34

The environment, and the working environment

Of course, it also helps to be the kind of company that young people want to work with.

“In France, or maybe in Europe or the world, there aren’t many projects for new aircraft, especially in certified aviation,” Cyril observes.

“In the French market back in 2015, there were no brand new manufacturers, so when we showed up, journalists started to talk about our project and this brought young people to us. We didn’t advertise it, but thanks to this we have been able to grow the team, because it’s a small project and a cool aircraft and young people want to work with us.”

Tackling environmental concerns is, needless to say, a key focus for the next generation. “When you look at the issue of hiring people today, if you’re not at the front of the battle for the environment, you’ve lost already,” Cyril says.

A point that emerged loud and clear in the GAMA panel discussion at AERO was that General Aviation is key to innovation in the industry as a whole – and sustainability is a crucial focus. Working for a small manufacturer like Elixir, young people know that they’re not just working on this aircraft – they’re contributing to pushing the limits of what’s possible for the sustainability of the wider industry.

Investing in the level of R&D needed to innovate on sustainability is costly, but it’s a choice that Elixir have consciously made, both because of the energy problem the whole industry is facing, and because it directly serves recruitment of young people. That feeling of being able to shape the future of the industry, and particularly to make a difference to environment, is key to attracting and retaining them.

In reality, there’s naturally a little more to it than pure aspiration. In the case of Elixir, because it’s a small company, its young workforce is able to get more deeply involved in the project as a whole.

“They’re doing structural things, systems, electrical,” says Cyril. “They’re not stuck in a small box designing the bolt of the left landing gear. We’re also in a pretty nice place, on the west coast of France in La Rochelle – we want to make sure people love to live here. It’s one aspect of a better working environment.”

As well as a basic trainer, Elixir Aircraft has also produced a higher performance version powered by the Rotax 915iS for IFR training

Playing catch-up

Yet even as a small, dynamic company, Elixir is still facing a labour shortage, which Cyril attributes to a lack of investment in aviation in the last couple of decades that he believes has led to young people feeling “lost”. “When you look back at the 60s and 70s, states were putting a lot of money into aviation – it was booming. It’s not the case anymore.” 

For example, “Back in the 1990s and 2000s, there was less investment in purchasing new aircraft in aero clubs so that young people could fly, or in gliders for a cheaper cost per hour,” Cyril continues.

“In the end, it means that today, there’s a shortage of candidates. We have a whole generation who started flying in the 70s and 80s who are now driving the entire industry. We need to think about that and see how we can push in that direction.”

He points to the situation in France today, where he believes there’s the potential for big manufacturers such as Airbus, Safran and Dassault to lead the way in inspiring the next generation. The question is, how long will it take for the industry to play catch-up – or will we, as Cyril worries, lose a whole generation?

What do you think? Comment below or in the FLYER forum here


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