Nicole Noack, Head of Independent Aircraft Modifier Alliance (IAMA) at Lufthansa Technik AG joins the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) team for the first in a series of interviews shining a spotlight on notable women in the aviation industry and the diverse career opportunities in the sector.
Nicole, how long have you worked in the aviation industry?
I have been working in aviation since 2003 across multiple functions in heavy and base maintenance as well as aircraft modification at Lufthansa Technik AG.
How did you get into the industry?
I graduated in Computer Science, so my personal skills and interests have always been technical. After a few exciting years being part of the so-called dotcom era in the late nineties/early 2000s, I was looking for a challenging position in a very technical environment. Living in Hamburg, the aviation industry was not only an obvious option but also a personal passion, which up until that point was purely a fascination for aircraft from a passenger point of view.
What is it about working in the aviation industry that appeals to you?
The physics used to enable a multi-tonne aircraft to take off safely and move people through the air over oceans and continents is just fascinating. Knowing the efforts required to design an aircraft, maintain and operate it, modify it and adapt it to the latest safety regulations – and passenger demands – is a life-time’s work with very different nuances. Working with any aircraft brings huge responsibility and I am always proud to see it taking off knowing I might have touched it in one way or another.
As a woman, how do you find working in such a male-dominated industry?
I have always felt very comfortable working in a so-called “man’s world”. When I started with Lufthansa Technik, I soon switched to a position close to aircraft technics, leading a team of highly qualified inspectors in heavy maintenance. I never felt I was judged as a woman, but as a person and by my knowledge and ability to learn. I have always worked with incredible colleagues in my respective departments and I am still very much enjoying it.
Have you encountered any gender discrimination in your career?
I have always brought my own skills and beliefs to my job and while they might not always fit into the environment, I have personally never had to deal seriously with gender discrimination by myself. I have always been lucky to have very supportive superiors, especially during the time I started my family. It was a balanced give-and-take set-up and I am still grateful I got the chance to go into a management position back then. That said, I do encounter gender discrimination around me, particularly when it comes to stereotypes and prejudices; there’s always the feeling that as a woman you first have to prove people wrong before being taken seriously.
As a female senior leader, why do you think it’s important for companies to address the gender gap?
I deeply believe in the concept of diversity as a whole. Different genders, cultures, nationalities etc all bring their own unique ways of thinking based upon the experiences they’ve had in life. To give everyone a voice and acknowledge them means to see the business through a wider lens – and to develop it in a more successful way. Beyond that, I think it is a prerequisite to build on the concept of diversity, not only as a business but within society as a whole.
What do you believe has been the key to your success?
I believe in people and their individual strengths and needs, regardless of whether they are male or female. As a leader, I have found that celebrating diversity has always brought success as well as an acknowledgement from more senior management. Once given the opportunity, I felt it was in my hands to develop my career. But I still believe gaining that first trust was the key to moving forward professionally.
What characteristics do you believe women need to survive in the aviation industry?
I don’t think there is a general answer to this. There are so many different job roles in aviation, and each requires a different set of characteristics. When it comes to a career in aviation, my advice would be to be aware of your own strengths and boundaries, be confident about them, develop a certain degree of stamina and learn to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable sometimes.
In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to women succeeding in the workplace?
Usually, people feel comfortable when they are surrounded by colleagues similar to them, particularly when they are in a situation they consider to be ‘the norm’. However, women in aviation, at least in the technical field, are still not very common. It is still unusual, simply because there are fewer women than men in the business. So for me, I would say the biggest obstacle is not being visible enough.
What would you say has been your career highlight to date?
There hasn’t been just one, there have been many highlights throughout my career -from the first heavy maintenance of an A346 with lower deck facility to the B747 maintenance check flight in Manila that my team accompanied. I also worked with a senior Lufthansa captain in Beijing, integrating people into teams that no one believed in before. The most recent highlight certainly was the moment we officially launched the Independent Aircraft Modifier Alliance (IAMA) with four very different partners at AIX in Hamburg 2019.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Self-empowerment; belief in the knowledge that you always have a choice. You might not like it, but it’s your choice.
What advice would you give to female professionals interested in a career in aviation?
Go for it, do not hesitate.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing the aviation industry?
No matter how fast technologies develop or how fast the run is to lead a new market, safety must always come first. I’d say this is built into the DNA of the aviation industry but not necessarily their shareholders.
What do you believe has been the biggest development in air travel over the past 25 years?
Digitalisation – from fly-by-wire up to predictive maintenance and the digital processing for the passenger. But maybe that’s my slightly biased opinion coming from a computer science background!
If you could change one thing in the aviation industry, what would it be?
I wish the aviation industry together with other mobility providers would invest more in integrated mobile concepts, rather than inventing the next “individual” solution for transport.
ABOUT NICOLE NOACK
Nicole Noack, Head of Independent Aircraft Modifier Alliance (IAMA) at Lufthansa Technik AG, is a passionate and experienced leader with a demonstrated history of working in the aviation and aerospace industry. Nicole has held several positions at Lufthansa Technik AG, including Project Manager / Contract Manager Heavy Maintenance; Manager Design Engineering Electrical and Communication Systems; Aircraft Modification – Strategic Partnerships; and most recently Head of IAMA.
Nicole is enthusiastic about disruptive approaches in industrial environments bringing people together to enact change for good. Skilled in cross-functional collaborations and situative leadership, Nicole has a strong sense for both individual and business needs. She is a strong believer in networks, cooperation and combining the strengths of individuals and companies.
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