IACAC Online Conference Report

The IACAC Annual Conference has always played an important part in the life of the association. It was the opportunity for members to come together to renew friendships, learn from each other and share their stories. Each year the conference was hosted in a different country and was a special time for all those able to attend.

2020 promised to be no different with anticipation high at the opportunity to visit Kenya and join the Nairobi airport chaplaincy team as they planned to host the 53rd annual conference. But the COVID19 pandemic stopped us all in our tracks and locked the world down as high rates of infections spread across many countries.  After much prayer and consultation the Nairobi Conference was cancelled for 2020 and rescheduled for 2021. However the desire to come together in some way was still strong and the idea of an online conference through the wonders of digital technology gained momentum.

It took some planning and on the 20th October our first online conference took place. One hundred and nine chaplains registered but for various reasons about 85 eventually logged onto the conference itself.

The theme chosen for the conference was “Challenges Of Chaplaincy In The Changing Aviation World” and each speaker and presentation explored the challenges facing both chaplains and the aviation industry as a whole. Two keynote speakers were featured. Professor Grace Davie, a British Sociologist, spoke on the role of chaplaincy in the context of a secular world. Airports are secular places and so are most airlines but many people who fly often have a strong religious identity, which is not always recognised by the aviation industry. Religion can either be seen as a scapegoat or a huge source of practical support and pastoral care.  COVID19 has provided many opportunities for connections in a digital form as well as personal contact. Anxiety, profound sense of loss, restrictions on movement and job expectations have led to high levels of uncertainty in our workplaces.  Chaplains are often the first responders in these situations and it becomes necessary to find a way to mitigate the most painful moments in such a way that is realistic for all concerned. In their role, chaplains are standing between the secular world of the airport and spirituality of the people. These challenges can provide new opportunities for everyday well-being and practices, which shape life.

The second keynote speaker, Kathy Malcolm Hall, talked on the “Griefs and Uncertainties of Airport Chaplains in 2020” She described grief as a constellation of many things and divided her session into three parts-

‘The What”’ – the concept of what is being suffered worldwide through loss of freedoms, safety, past security of employment leading to grief in its various forms.

‘The  Why’ – the neurobiology of grief and loss . The brain has three sections, which can be trained to interact together to avoid mental illness, stress, chronic pain and problems in the nervous system. COVID has made us rediscover the reality of death and loss. This has been shocking and confronting for many as they face situations such as redundancy in the e airport resulting in grief at the loss of job and job security.

The How – on how to deal with grief and the reconnection with b. Providing a presence to and for each other and helping build supportive communities.

The challenges facing the aviation world as it rebuilds and recovers from the devastation wrought by COVID19 was clearly articulated by Geoffrey Thomas, Editor-in Chief of “Aviation Ratings” The aviation industry has lost more than $85 Billion world wide and is in a very dire position. Of the 26000 passenger aircraft world wide, 13000 are grounded.  Most airlines are losing money at a frightening rate. The main driver for growth will be low fares and domestic travel will recover more quickly than international flights. Airlines are looking at enhanced procedures to reassure passengers and planes are probably cleaner and safer than ever before but passengers are frightened to travel before a vaccine is developed.

Three leaders in aviation agreed to be interviewed on what they saw as the challenges facing aviation and their views on the importance of the chaplain in their airports.  All were confident that aviation is a resilient industry that will bounce back and find new solutions by adapting and being innovative. They believed that aviation faced two challenges into the future – managing Covid 19 and ‘green’ air travel. To succeed it will be necessary to do business differently to achieve a safer, cleaner, greener environment for airports all across the world.

Each believed the chaplain was an integral part of their airport and had been the face of hope during the COVID crisis. The chaplain was seen as someone who offered solace, support and compassion throughout these difficult times

Presentations from the keynote speakers and the interviews with the leaders in aviation can be watched at https://www.iacac.aero/conf-prep/

Do take some time to either watch them for the first time or maybe revisit them again. There was much to learn from each one.