Introduction: Constructing a Research Question
Emirates Airline is one of the companies of the bigger Emirates Group. Having more than 200 aircraft and planning to increase the number of planes in the fleet, it demonstrates the tendency towards growth and strengthening influence and presence in the civil aviation industry (Emirates 2016). It means that the company faces the necessity to involve more flight crew personnel.
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Employing new people should follow a particular procedure – granting licenses to potential cabin crew personnel. This process is managed by the Flight Crew Licensing Department that gathers all the necessary documents and preserves their copies. The process has remained unchanged since the foundation of the Emirates Airline in 1985. Even today, in the era of the newest technologies, everything is done manually, and all documentation is kept in paper form.
In 2015, the United Arab Emirates Government decided to simplify the procedure and launch an electronic licensing platform offered by the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA). It aims at making the process of receiving permission to work as a cabin crew member in the UAE easier (General Civil Aviation Authority 2016).
Nevertheless, the transition towards a paperless environment and embodying the electronic system is not a compulsory measure, so each company is free to choose whether it needs to follow the overall tendency. For this reason, it is necessary to investigate the issue and decide whether it would be beneficial in the case of the further growth of the Emirates Airline.
That is why the proposal is to focus on the following research question: how would the transition towards a paperless environment affect the performance of the Flight Crew Licensing Department at the Emirates Airline?
To find the answer to the central research question, the investigation is aimed at achieving such research objectives:
- to provide the theoretical background for the subject under investigation, i.e. to distinguish the major advantages and disadvantages of a paperless environment, to speculate on potential limitations of such shift, to make estimates of the popularity of this approach to managing operation of the airline companies, to formulate transformations required to bring it to life based on the experience of other firms involved in similar business activities;
- to determine the primary functions of the Flight Crew Flying Department at the Emirates Airline and the procedure of licensing flight crew members;
- to define the key performance indicators used for assessing the productivity of the Flight Crew Departments;
- to suggest how setting up a paperless environment would change the performance indicators;
- to gather the opinions of the Flight Crew Licencing Department employees and analyse whether they are interested in implementing the changes and how they will affect the effectiveness of the procedure;
- to hypothesise on the possible ways to accomplish the transition towards a paperless environment based on the experience of other companies involved in similar business activities and specificities of the Emirates Airline;
- to speculate on the potential advantages and disadvantages of launching a paperless environment with regard to the specificity of the Emirates Airline;
- to calculate the potential costs of the move to electronic systems of licensing;
- to draw the overall conclusion about the influence of the potential switch to a paperless environment on the performance of the Flight Crew Licensing Department at the Emirates Airline.
Literature Review: Paperless Environment in the 21st Century
This literature review aims at providing a theoretical background necessary for a better understanding of the nature of a paperless environment and determining the level of the subject investigation. It will focus on such areas of research as defining the essence and peculiarities of a paperless environment; determining the industries that actively implement it in their activities, i.e. estimating the popularity of the approach to organising business; speculating on the advantages and disadvantages of going paperless; finding out the specificities of a paperless environment in aviation; and communicating the limitations of the electronic systems of doing business.
There are no restrictions in the geography of researches. However, to achieve the maximum level of accuracy, only the studies published no more than sixteen years ago, i.e. later than 2000, will be taken into consideration.
The nature of going paperless
The idea of going paperless emerged in the 1960s with the invention of computers. Then, it was a dream that one day, people would be able to put aside their piles of paper reports and various documents and have them gathered in one place – at their arms’ length. However, five decades passed for the dream to become a reality. It was not before 2001 that the companies started implementing e-services to their business activities (Technological comebacks: not dead, just resting 2008).
This approach is as simple as it sounds. All printed reports and sources of information are digitalized. Information and documents are stored in the computers’ hard drive memory or with the help of the cloud services that has become possible recently. The only thing that should be kept in mind is that it is nearly impossible to become absolutely paperless if a company functioned on a paper basis; this transition just offers the potential of using less paper (Friedman 2005).
Advantages of a Paperless Environment
Going paperless offers numerous advantages. First and foremost, it is a perfect opportunity to cut the company’s operational costs and free some space in the office because of getting rid of paper piles and eliminating the need to replenish the supplies of paper and printer consumables. Second, going paperless helps save the environment by slowing the pace of deforestation through minimizing the amount of paper consumed in the working place and decreasing the overall demand for paper in the global economy (Akwukuma & Obi 2013). Third, it guarantees the safety of the documents in the case of natural catastrophes that would easily destroy printed information.
Of course, the computers would suffer too, but the opportunity to store the information with the assistance of the newest cloud services solves this problem (Mongeon 2008). Finally, it offers an opportunity to keep cooperation and reaction time to a minimum by creating a single database of corporate information that can be accessed from anywhere around the globe and manage the documents easily (Keary 2000; Polimeni, Burke & Benyaminy 2010).
Disadvantages of Going Paperless
Nevertheless, there are still some disadvantages. Going paperless requires vast investments in upgrading software and hardware of an organisation. However, evidence proves that it guarantees paybacks in the nearest future (Medina & Andrews, 2009). In the case of small companies, it might be close to impossible to implement an e-system because of its high price. Moreover, most e-services require a subscription, i.e. permanent payments.
In addition to it, e-storage is not always the safest place to store corporate information because of the danger of hack attacks (Laise 2007). For this reason, there is a need to develop a perfect security and verification system that would grant access to information only to those who can be trusted.
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Limitations of Introducing a Paperless Environment
There is a broad range of limitations to introducing a paperless environment. First of all, there is a psychological barrier that should be overcome. In fact, an organisation’s management should realise that most people are used to paper, so it would take some time to make them change their minds and investment in training them to use the newest technologies (Veazie 2012). Second, the transition to a paperless environment requires a comprehensive strategy and a strong leader to be successful and effective. Third, it requires time and much effort to be accomplished because it not only implies scanning the printed documents but also developing a single policy that would cover all actions of an organisation’s members (Notte & Skolnik 2010; Seale 2007).
Finally, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for implementing e-systems (Stapley 2013). It means that every company should understand the need to design a unique plan for moving to a paperless environment with regard to its resources, employees, and needs because one might need to run totally paperless companies while the others might be satisfied with a partial embodiment. It also implies the need for selecting the right software that can be challenging bearing in mind a great variety of similar applications (Hattingh 2001).
Scope of Implementation
Going paperless has become a common practice since the generation familiar with the Internet and newest technologies became involved in business activities (Technological comebacks: not dead, just resting 2008). Moreover, its popularity was strengthened with the growing green consciousness and the desire to save the planet. That said, it has gained popularity in nearly every industry from automobile construction to air conditioning companies, providing healthcare services, and fighting fires (Simpson 2014). It is used not only for storing corporate data, reports, and schedules but also patients’ medical information and prescriptions (Zagami 2014).
Educational institutions also choose to go paperless providing learning materials as well as scheduling and test results online. That said, electronic systems for storing data and information are used in every sphere of human activities. What varies is the range of their implementation from its partial to absolute embodiment.
Paperless in Aviation
Aviation industry has not become an exception to an overall tendency of going paperless. However, the scope of implementation of a paperless environment in this segment is still not broad enough and, for the most part, is limited to e-tickets. It should be noted that the transition towards the electronic tickets has not been accomplished yet because of the psychological factor mentioned above. Simply speaking, customers prefer paper tickets and do not trust electronic systems (Rice 2014). What gained momentum in the aviation industry is a transition towards a completely paperless cockpit (Wagenen 2014). This breakthrough was motivated by the safety issues and the need to save data in the case of fires or catastrophes (Gamauf 2008; Wagegen 2014).
As shown, literature on setting up a paperless environment in aviation is scarce and limited. It can be explained by the fact of scares implementation of e-systems in aviation. That is why there is the need to conduct additional researches that would cover the impact of e-services on aviation in general and flight crew licensing in particular.
Methodology: Research Philosophy
This section of research proposal will focus on defining the research philosophy with a special attention to ontology and epistemology, their peculiarities, and potential limitations of the chosen research methods.
In general, research philosophy is defined by a researcher’s worldview, i.e. what he or she finds significant and wants to investigate. It affects the choice of research methods and data collection tools (Saunders, Lewis & Thornhill 2012). Research, in most cases, centres on ontology and epistemology that are interconnected and help understand the researcher’s position.
Ontology, generally speaking, is the way a researcher sees the world and reality. It is what an individual believes is a nature of all things and developments, how they operate and interact (Saunders et al. 2012). Epistemology, on the other hand, is knowledge. It falls within the cumulative literature and data on the subject under investigation and the general accomplishments of all researchers (Scott 2014).
Epistemology is based on two perspectives: positivism and interpretivism. Positivism centres on collecting and analysing data while interpretivism rests on estimating people’s feeling and beliefs on the subject under investigation (Raddon n.d.). They are both effective tools for conducting research.
This research will be pursued as a deductive research. It means that I will start with theory and experience of implementing a paperless environment in big companies, finding out how it affected their performance, and then move to a potential solution suitable for the Flight Crew Licensing Department of the Emirates Airline. So, I will proceed from the general theory to the specific practice (Saunders et al. 2012).
This research will be conducted based on pragmatism and critical realism. Pragmatism is a valuable tool because it might be used for determining the implication of theory on practice (Agerfalk 2010; Baskerville & Myers 2004). It means that this method will be exploited to define the primary ways of implementing a paperless environment in industries and drawing potential channels of launching it in the Flight Crew Licensing Department of the Emirates Airline. It will be supplemented with the application of critical realism. This method is beneficial for distinguishing the possible limitations of embodying a paperless environment in the department under investigation (Mkansi & Acheampong 2012).
My idea about the research is that only a mixed approach can help succeed in pursuing it because it will help determine valid knowledge and find the ways to apply it to practice. Moreover, because I have some experience of working with the Emirates Airline, I cannot ignore it. In fact, this experience can be beneficial for determining possible ways for the transition to a paperless environment because I know how the company operates from the inside.
Crafting a Research Design
This section of the research proposal aims at designing a research with specific attention to choosing research methods and data collection tools that will help address the research question and research objectives.
There are two methods of conducting a research – qualitative and quantitative. Quantitative aims at collecting statistical data and drawing conclusions based on analysing this information. It is often referred to as positivist. Qualitative centres on particular qualities of an organisation, its characteristics. It is a method of interpretivism (Saunders et al. 2012). Each method has its advantages and disadvantages as well as limitations with regard to the specificity of my research.
Qualitative method, for example, is beneficial for estimating the structural changes that the companies usually undergo when they move to a paperless environment and the employees’ perception of this transition. However, it cannot be used for calculating the costs of such shift. It is where quantitative method could help solve the problem. Its primary advantage is that it can be applied to analysing solely statistical information and drawing conclusions based on it. However, it does not take into consideration internal changes; all it views is numbers. For these reasons, choosing only one method is limiting because it would not benefit me in reaching the final objective of my research.
It is also possible to apply a combination of these two methods and convey a research based on a mixed approach. It is just the way I plan to organise my work. To find the answer to the central question of my research, I should accomplish numerous research objectives. The answer to the research question (“how would the transition towards a paperless environment affect the performance of the Flight Crew Licensing Department at the Emirates Airline?”) cannot be given using only qualitative or only quantitative approach because it aims at addressing both statistical and emotional implications of the transition towards a paperless environment.
The work will be divided into three parts. First, I will gather all necessary statistical information. It can be achieved through analysing the reports of the Flight Crew Licensing Department. Significant attention will be paid to the number of currently employed cabin crew personnel and the workers of the department. What is more significant for the objectives of the research is the average speed of gathering information necessary for being licensed and the time for analysing it.
This data will be compared to the data of other companies operating in the aviation industry that have already implemented a paperless environment to find out what is its influence on the productivity rate of the Flight Licensing Crew Department. The primary focus will be made on determining whether the use of the electronic systems accelerates the process. This part of the research will be conducted on a quantitative basis. The data used for it is reliable because it will be taken from the department’s official reports.
The second part of the research will focus on assessing the emotional aspect of the transition towards a paperless environment. It will be based on designing questionnaires with close-ended questions that will be sent to every employee of the Flight Crew Licensing Department of the Emirates Airline. The primary objective is to define whether people are interested in such transition and willing to learn how to operate the new system. The emphasis will be made on the age of the workers, how often they use the newest technologies in their everyday lives, what is their level of knowledge about a paperless environment, and some more similar questions. The objective is to obtain as many answers to the questionnaires as possible to define the general mood in the department.
The final part of the research will focus on drawing the overall conclusion for the chosen company taking into consideration the information obtained in the course of the first two stages of the investigation. It will include two aspects – financial calculating the costs of the potential transition and the ways it will influence the statistical performance of the company and emotional providing the tendency in the employees’ moods and whether they are interested in the changes. The conclusion will state whether the costs outweigh the potential benefits in the case of the Flight Crew Licensing Department of the Emirates Airline.
Reflection and Resources
Conducting this research and interpretation of its results both statistical and theoretical will require additional skills and knowledge. It might be advantageous to apply the Kolb’s Learning Cycle to make reaching the research objectives and answering the research questions possible.
Kolb’s experiential learning system rests on breaking the learning process into four distinct stages generally referred to as doing, reviewing, concluding, and planning. The first stage is ‘doing’ or the stage of concrete experience. It implies that an individual either faces a new experience or reinterprets the existing knowledge. In the case of this research, it can be viewed from two perspectives – first, employees face the challenge of the transition towards a paperless environment and, second, they could reinterpret their existing experience to cope with the potential difficulties. The same can be said about me as a researcher – I face the necessity to develop new skills required for conducting the research, but I can re-evaluate the knowledge I have and find the ways to use it in my investigation.
The second stage is ‘reviewing’ or reflective observation. It comes down to reflections on the new experience, i.e. studying the peculiarities of a paperless environment and possible difficulties I might face in the course of the research. The third stage of the learning cycle is ‘concluding’ or abstract conceptualisation. This phase is about crafting new ideas based on what I have learned. It means that I will search the channels of applying new knowledge to constructing the ways of solving the research question. Finally, there is the stage known as ‘planning’ or active experimentation. It is taking practical steps to reaching the research objectives, i.e. conducting the research itself (Schultz, McEven & Griffiths 2016; Abdulwahed & Nagy 2009).
There are some ethical considerations that should be kept in mind while conducting a research and drawing conclusions. They are applicable to both qualitative and quantitative parts of the research. First and foremost, it is necessary to obtain the consent of the senior management to convey the research, use the official data, and communicate with the Flight Crew Licensing Department of the Emirates Airline personnel. The plan for obtaining consent is providing the senior management with the research proposal and making them realise that this research might be beneficial for the company’s further prosperity.
Moreover, confidentiality of the obtained information and objectivity of estimations should be guaranteed. It means that the answers to the questionnaires will be stored in confidentiality, so no one will know the names of the respondents. Surveys will be conducted with respect to human dignity (Milton 2013). In addition to it, all estimations of the company’s statistics and drawing general conclusion will be made objectively ignoring my personal experience of working with the Emirates Airline. Finally, it is vital to guarantee that my research is original, with no plagiarism, and all ideas are either mine or properly cited if borrowed from other researchers (De Vries, Anderson & Martinson 2006).
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