Jessica van Zeijderveld completed the Airport Planning and Management MSc in 2020. In this blog post, she talks about her experience studying at Cranfield, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how her career has taken off since graduating.
What’s your academic background and why did you choose the Airport Planning and Management MSc at Cranfield University?
I undertook a Bachelor of Science degree in Commercial Economics – Digital Marketing at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. I enjoyed it, but I thought it was a bit generic and social media is not really my thing – apart from LinkedIn, I don’t have any personal social media accounts. So, doing my Erasmus year at Edinburgh Napier University, I thought I would go in a different direction, and I studied airport management. I enjoyed it so much that when I came back, I decided to look into pursuing a master’s degree in this area, and that was when I came across Cranfield University.
I had never heard of Cranfield before, although I could see that it has an excellent reputation. I emailed Jos Nijhuis, the former CEO of the Schiphol Group, whom my parents used to work for, asking his advice as an expert in the aviation industry. To my surprise, he replied to my email and invited me to meet with him for coffee to discuss it. Then one of his colleagues said to me, you really need to go to Cranfield, that’s where you need to be for aviation. So, I made up my mind and decided that’s where I was going. I applied for the Airport Planning and Management MSc and got a place and I felt really excited to have the chance to pursue something I’m really interested in and branch out into a more specific field.
How did you find the course?
My classmates all came from aeronautical engineering or aviation management backgrounds, so I was the odd one out, coming from a business administration background. For me, everything was brand new – I remember, during the first week, we had a general introduction to aviation and learned a lot about the engineering behind it. What’s an angle of attack? How does an aeroplane get up in the air? We were in this big auditorium, and I remember looking around and thinking that everyone already knows this and here I am taking notes! However, it made the course more immersive, and I really wanted to go to every class and try to get as much information as possible.
With airport management, you get to know a little bit of everything about an airport and that’s what I really enjoyed. The Airport Planning and Management MSc is quite a small course, so we had a lot of interaction with the teachers as well, and we were able to meet a lot of professionals from the industry, who came to Cranfield, along with various consultancies. So, you get the chance to network a lot, which helped me to get where I am today.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your student experience?
I made a really close group of friends at Cranfield. As it’s not in a big city, the University is such a close-knit community and you get to know people really well – it’s a unique experience. I remember that some of us had planned to go to Saint Petersburg in the spring. We’d booked our tickets as we had finished our final module and we had a week off before our group project started. Some of our final visiting lecturers were having to cancel as the pandemic started, but Copenhagen Optimization were still able to come in and they delivered our final lecture.
Then everything changed because of Covid-19. At first, I thought that I would stay in Cranfield, but then the Dutch Prime minster announced that they would be closing the borders, so I had to leave. My Eurostar train was cancelled, so I flew home, and I had to throw away lots of things, as I couldn’t bring them with me. It was a very surreal experience. I remember being with two of my friends in the dining hall at Cranfield and we were having to say goodbye to one another.
We did our group project online but, in the end, it worked well because we already knew one another and were comfortable with one another. In fact, we’ve all remained friends. In 2021, I went to Costa Rica for one of my fellow student’s wedding, which was amazing, and some of us spent last New Year’s together in Dublin as well.
What has your career path been since graduating?
I tried to find a job in the aviation industry after completing my MSc, but Covid-19 made it almost impossible, as there weren’t many jobs and lots of airports were cancelling their graduate schemes. So, I decided to study for another master’s degree and undertook the International Marketing and Brand Management MSc at Lund University.
However, I had remained in contact with the network that I had acquired at Cranfield, including Copenhagen Optimization. When I applied for my second master’s degree, they said that they needed a part-time student assistant for sales. I applied and got the job, and I am really grateful for that. They then said that they had a full-time position coming up and I successfully applied for that and started my role as a Business Development Manager in April 2022. It all comes back to my experience at Cranfield.
In my current role, I reach out to airports and tell them about our airport optimisation solutions – for example, if an airport has a queuing issue, we can offer a solution where passengers can prebook a timeslot and use a QR code to check in. It’s all data driven.
What do you think the future holds for the aviation industry?
During one of my lectures at Cranfield, I remember one of the guest lecturers saying that it’s a very privileged thing to just say that we should make flights more expensive, or we should have less flights, to help combat climate change. For example, there are a lot of people who have family in different countries, and they can’t afford high prices. I think a lot of people don’t think about the fact that we will always need to fly, because flying is not just for pleasure or for work. Covid-19 showed the impact of not being able to fly – couples separated, grandchildren who had never met their grandparents, etc.
But of course, we do need to look at what we can do to help the environment, such as more sustainable fuel. Also, from a business point-of-view, we don’t always need to fly somewhere for an introductory meeting; we can conduct them online instead, which is something we’re putting into practice at Copenhagen Optimization.
In my view, transport will always exist; it’s the nature of society that humans will always want to be able to connect in-person and not just via screens. I come from an international background – my family is from the UK and Paris – so, for me, airports have always been the connecting factor to my family, and they are also going to give me that Disneyland feeling. So that’s why I think the aviation industry is so important and that’s where my passion comes form.
If you’re interested in studying Airport Planning and Management MSc at Cranfield, you can find out more about the course and how to apply here.