In the first of The Emerald Network’s driving a sustainable workforce initiative, Nick Danner, aerospace engineering undergraduate at the University of the West of England, Bristol, interviews Stefan Murphy, CEO and Founder of Up & Away Aviation.  

Nick has been working at Up & Away’s Bristol Airport base as a part-time Airside Operative since September, gaining valuable experience at the very heart of an airport’s operation.

Stefan founded Up & Away in 2006. From humble beginnings valeting cars, he quickly moved on to cleaning and detailing private aircraft and in March 2019 expanded into the commercial airline sector. The business has come a long way in a short time.

Through its aviation detailing arm, Up & Away serves the UK’s private aircraft industry offering a full range of valeting and detailing services at airports across the UK including Farnborough, Luton, London Biggin Hill, Stansted and Oxford. Its aviation services business serves the commercial airline sector where it has secured airline contracts with clients including easyJet, Ryanair, Jet2, KLM and most recently, TUI, across 10 UK bases.   One of the new bases is Bristol Airport, where it has created 65  jobs.

What do you love most about being the CEO of your own business?

I love aviation but it wasn’t always a passion of mine…it’s a newly found one. What I like most about being a CEO is meeting different people in the team, seeing those people working in a happy environment and getting to know them by name. Where possible, I spend time coming to the bases. I like to be approachable, go into a crew room, sit round the table, eat lunch with the team and share a joke. People don’t expect it. That’s what I enjoy. It’s that sort of camaraderie that gives off a good vibe and makes what sometimes can be difficult job, good fun.  I am also proud of what we have achieved, the growth and the brand we have built. It’s been fantastic really and…yes, I also still enjoy cleaning an aircraft!

What is the biggest obstacle facing you with Up & Away’s growth?
The biggest obstacle and challenge has been staffing. We grew the business at the perfect time but when the business scaled back up following the pandemic, everyone else was scaling back up.  Ours is very labour-intensive business and we need a good number of people to clean 10 aircraft for example, plus a team of night workers. You need a certain headcount to do the job.

The process for obtaining security passes has also been challenging. Over the past two or three years it has been difficult to get five-year work histories and gather the six or seven references needed as people have (because of the pandemic) been out of work. There are a lot of different people involved in the pass process, it makes it more challenging, but it’s a very important process that can’t really be streamlined.

What advice would you give to a young person looking for a career in aviation?

For anybody with a passion for aviation, I would recommend starting at the grassroots, at a company such as Up & Away. Cleaning is really hands on and you couldn’t get any closer to the aircraft doing any other job. It’s a privilege to be able to access the aircraft and work in this environment. For anybody who wants to get into aviation, it’s a fast track to finding out about the industry and progressing. For some that is remaining with the company and for others it’s a steppingstone to another aviation role within the industry. We had a member of staff at our Bristol base who was cleaning aircraft, a nice guy who loved aircraft and loved the environment. He decided that he wanted to do something more so he trained to be an aircraft mechanic.  We  frequently see him on the line at night now doing aircraft servicing. It’s great when you see that. We also have people who leave and return as they love aviation and love the environment. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like work as it’s fun. You also see the beating heart of airport operations that you never see as a travelling passenger, it’s incredibly interesting.

What qualities do you look for in recruiting new staff?

Being a team player is important – probably, the number one priority. If you aren’t a team player, you are unlikely to stick at a role.  It’s also important to understand that it is hard work and to respect the fact that sometimes others aren’t going to be as hard working as others. That’s where the importance of teamwork comes in.

Looking back what would you say to your 21 year-old self?

I would probably say, not waste so much money on the sport I was involved in and passionate about – racing quad bikes. It did help with motivation and made me quite competitive though, qualities that have helped in business. Secondly, I would have got into this business five years earlier. Thirdly and importantly, and this is true today, work hard and rewards will come.

Who was your role model and why if you had one?

I had multiple role models for different reasons with different qualities. When I look back at the opportunities I’ve had and what I’ve done, I am pleased with my achievements. If you can use that as your benchmark, you can thrive on that and continue to better yourself.