Can you give us an overview of the legal team at Air New Zealand and how you support the work of the organisation?
Led by our General Counsel, Jenn Page, we are a small team of seven (soon to be eight) experienced hard-working lawyers who work closely with all areas of our business locally and globally (with the exception of employment law and union bargaining). This includes Property and Infrastructure, IP, Digital, Competition, Communications, Marketing and Brand, Customer, Loyalty, Litigation, Fleet & Networks, Financing, Governance, Engineering & Maintenance, Privacy, Operations, ad hoc projects and corporate transactions, and other legal and regulatory advice.
Our team has been heavily involved supporting Air New Zealand through what has been one of the most challenging periods in the airline’s 81-year history. The impact of COVID-19 forced us to make fundamental changes across the entire business – including our people, network and fleet, customer processes, digital solutions, key contracts and suppliers, and our property and other asset portfolios.
What have been your most recent challenges as an organisation and how did the legal team help resolve them?
The aviation industry is complex in normal times. Since Covid, our team has advised on an incredibly diverse range of BAU and new legal and regulatory issues, often in international jurisdictions, and in a demanding and time-sensitive environment.
The legal team continues to provide commercially minded “around the clock” advice to support the Executive and the Board to navigate the airline through this turbulent period particularly in the first six months of the pandemic. We saw unprecedented flight cancellations globally, we grounded much of our fleet, negotiated with many of our key suppliers, and at its peak the company was receiving tens of thousands of customer calls a day – with legal responding to high volumes of complex customer situations often requiring analysis of global aviation conventions. Much of this crisis-related legal work undertaken by the team now forms part of our BAU as the impacts of Covid and border closings continue to be volatile.
Air New Zealand was often the subject of heightened media attention as the COVID crisis unfolded so the team also spent a lot of time assisting with review of media releases and internal communications.
Jenn also advised the Executive and the Board on key strategic legal issues and, together with our Company Secretariat team, managed a Board meeting cadence that has often extended to multiple meetings per month as business needs required. We also prepared for and held our first fully digital Annual Shareholders Meeting. In the last 14 months the airline has made over 35 significant NZX announcements relating to the impacts of the crisis and changes in our organisation.
A significant amount of legal work also went into supporting execution of the initial $900M Crown Loan Facility. This included obtaining an unprecedented 5-day trading halt from NZX and ASX, preparing a complex Related Party waiver under the Listing Rules, supporting our Disclosure Committee on various price sensitive NZX announcements, and advising on the loan and security documentation together with our external counsel. This Loan was recently renegotiated as the Company continues to work to finalise a longer-term capital solution.
Normal business revenue streams ceased or dramatically changed with Covid. Our Cargo business stepped up to play a vital role for New Zealand and for the airline when much of our passenger network wasn’t operating. Legal assisted the business on several occasions to respond to RFP processes for financial support for cargo flights under the Government’s International Airfreight Capacity scheme. This scheme has allowed exporters and importers to continue to access key markets around the world. Cargo revenue was up by 91% in February this year compared to the same period last year and is a key part of our current business.
We have also supported negotiations and variations across a range of complex aviation related contracts including aircraft fleet leasing and purchasing arrangements, and broader (and often global) asset financing arrangements. Global repatriation charter flight agreements were frequently negotiated at the outset of the pandemic. Legal continues to support critical customer focused work streams and broader strategic initiatives as well as negotiations for key contracts and support including the Government backed financial support scheme for international cargo.
What do you see as the key challenges facing the team and how do you plan to address these?
Like many businesses in NZ, one of our key challenges remains work volume and fatigue as the Covid impacts roll on. How to do more with less. To provide some balance, we encourage regular “out of the office” team catch ups, open communication, work sharing and team support, and we actively practice flexible working practices. Sarah Lloyd, Head of Legal, has been with the airline for 12 years and is well acquainted with the aviation industry being married to a Cathay Pacific Pilot. She says “this has without a doubt been the most challenging and interesting period I’ve had at Air New Zealand. There were some really dark days when we lost a large number of wonderful, talented Air New Zealanders from the business. Fortunately our team has a really strong culture of care and support and we try and prioritise fun at work while also delivering for our business partners. A sense of humour, team banter and plenty of baking has helped us get through the rough days."
As the airline has moved from “survive” mode to “revive”, we are also in involved in new and interesting projects – with a focus on digital innovation, Cargo opportunities, Sustainability and Loyalty.
Are you rolling out, or planning to roll out any innovations to support the work of the legal team?
In addition to a sustained and increased legal workload, the team found time to make innovations to its internal processes to improve efficiency, reduce paper and double handling including:
Automated NDA tool: The team has implemented an updated automated NDA tool. This tool enables the business to digitally create and execute NDA Agreements, without needing to come through the legal team (saving both the business and legal teams significant workload). It is estimated that around 200 NDAs will be processed per annum.
Legal Customer Relations roster: Our Customer care team responds to over 30,000 customer enquiries a year. On a single day in March 2020 they received 75,000+calls. An automated roster in Legal enables the Customer Care team to seek assistance from the team for challenging or complex customer enquiries. The roster utilises Microsoft Teams functionality to streamline the way in which the Legal provides this support. The tool has been used nearly 400 times so far by the Customer Care team.
Automated approval process for Securities Trading: We put in place a new digital tool to remove the paperwork from restricted staff applying for trading consent. The tool connects the consents directly into the People function and populates share trading records which are held in separate teams. This connectivity has greatly reduced processing times and captures a real time and centralised record for our business and for NZX filings as required.
Can you tell us about Air New Zealand’s Diversity and Inclusion programme?
At Air New Zealand, we value the many perspectives that arise from having a variety of cultures, races, genders, religions, national origins, ages, physical and cognitive capabilities, sexual orientations, and other ways we identify ourselves. It’s our people and the diversity of our organisation that sets us apart and helps to drive innovation.
We know this leads to a stronger connection with our customers and in turn creates better business results. Inclusion is embracing and celebrating our unique differences and perspectives. It means bringing out the best in every Air New Zealander and creating a safe environment where people can bring their whole self to work.
We have reinvigorated our ten Employee Networks including Pride, Enable, Maori & Pacific Islands Manu network, and our Women’s networks and these are active and valued communities within our business. Both our Executive team and our Board are currently 50% men and 50% women, and our Airline Leadership Team is slightly over 50% women.
Diversity and inclusion is hugely important to Air New Zealand as an organisation. Our vision is to create an organisation that is proudly representative of Aotearoa.
Our Chief Executive Officer, Board and Executive team are big supporters of diversity and inclusion, supported by leaders who sit throughout our business units.
We’re proud to have gained the Rainbow Tick accreditation in 2019, as well as the Accessibility Tick.