Icelandair is recruiting a COO, why I applied

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Icelandair is actively recruiting for its Chief Operating Officer in Reykjavík, Iceland and I applied, here’s why.

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Icelandair is hiring Chief Operating Officer (COO)

I was targeted by an ad on Facebook (I’ll call it “recruited”) regarding a vacant COO position. As they held out their hand to me, it would be rude not to take a closer look. I found some details on the Icelandair website (the first thing I will change once I take the helm) but I found the job posting on LinkedIn.

Here’s what they’re looking for:

Icelandair Group is looking for a strong and experienced individual to lead the operations of the company. We are looking for a leader who is passionate about working with diverse groups of people to ensure efficient and responsible flight operations. Operations is the largest division within the company, consisting of crew, technical and maintenance operations, airport services and other support functions.

The Chief Operating Officer (COO) is the head of the company’s flight operations, responsible for management and safety systems appropriate to the scope of operations. The COO provides a motivating and pleasant working environment for employees, allowing them to give the best of themselves.

The Chief Operating Officer reports to the Chief Executive Officer, is a member of the Icelandair Group Executive Committee and contributes to the implementation of the company’s strategy to achieve its short and long term objectives.


  • Postgraduate training adapted to the position (for example in the field of engineering, flight operations or finance)
  • Flight operations experience
  • Experience in managing quality systems or other management systems
  • Exceptional leadership ability and interest in interacting with others
  • Strong ability to organize, lead and encourage diverse teams
  • The passion to achieve success with a clear vision and goals.

Applications are being accepted until the end of today, October 3, 2021.

Why i applied

By way of full disclosure… I do not meet all of the qualifications for the role of COO – at least not according to Icelandair’s COO job description. I do not have direct experience in flight operations, which you would think would be key for a member of the management team responsible for the day-to-day operations of an airline. I think HR and I can both agree that this is a minor factor.

The position is also located outside of the US, and while I have no issues moving or working remotely, something tells me that the CEO and COO should probably be physically in the office full time.

Apart from these minor issues, I qualify for the position as a job seeker.

Part of it has been ironic, but at a quite serious level I think it makes sense that senior positions like VP, President and COO come from outside. Of the industry. My experience in managing non-aeronautical companies could benefit companies accustomed to airline business plans.

To a hammer every problem looks like a nail. Some of the challenges that companies like Icelandair (or any other, really) are not unique to airlines. Some of the tools that other companies have found to grow and prosper can be applied to the airline industry.

I think of the late Herb Kelleher, co-founder, longtime CEO and Chairman Emeritus of Southwest Airlines. He was a lawyer before founding Southwest Airlines with an oil tanker and banker in Dallas as co-founders. They knew nothing about the airline industry and found creative ways to solve the operational challenges of aviation. When asked how he expected to compete with companies like American Airlines and Braniff, he replied that Southwest was not in competition with other airlines at all – they were in competition with driving.

Analyzing, reframing the problem and looking for a solution that might be outside of traditional doctrine is what made Southwest and Ryanair so successful. The same could be said for JetBlue and Alaska Airlines too.

With Kelleher’s spirit pushing me forward, I absolutely applied for this top-level position in an industry I have never worked for (but maybe know a little about) because I think what they really need is a candidate who will look at problems and solutions differently than they have been seen in the past.


I don’t expect Icelandair to call me in Reykjavík for an interview, although you can be assured that I would definitely go if they did. But I think there is an important lesson about the industry when it posts jobs. Kudos to Icelandair for opening their recruiting outside the normal channels, but what’s the point of finding the best candidates if they can only come from those same channels anyway? As of this writing, there are 27 other applicants who have applied through LinkedIn so I might have a chance.

What do you think? Should airlines and other companies in the travel industry look outside the industry for leadership positions? Is this a bad idea? Are you going to apply for yourself?

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