Paj Rodriguez on Finding an Opportunity in Every Crisis: “This doesn’t come in a silver platter—You have to claw your way through” - LA Lives

“With quarantine restrictions easing, we are optimistic that foreign tourists will come back to the Philippines and enjoy the sites that have had a good break two-year break from tourism,” says the AirTaxi owner.

When COVID-19 made its appearance, aviation was one of the hardest-hit industries. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation, revenues from air transport were down 90 percent in April 2020.

AirTaxi, a premier private jet and helicopter charter service in the Philippines was, in some ways, uniquely positioned. The company’s status as a private jet charter sets it apart from public aviation regulations, so they could have, in theory, continued business as usual.

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AirTaxi’s issue, however, is being the means to get to the location, but having no location to go. Owner Paj Rodriguez says as much when he compared the situation of private and business aviation companies abroad to those located here.

“Business Aviation companies in US and EU have their highest sales on record starting May 2020 since people in US and EU have long been moving around, albeit in a more careful manner; just like how people shifted from taking the bus to taking Grab,” he says.

Despite the heavy impact on the company’s operations, they continued to persevere and find ways to get back to business, taking the chance during the early days of the first lockdown to find ways to innovate and improve. Knowing that no one would charter a flight if they had nowhere to go, Rodriguez knew that AirTaxi had to help the Philippines regain its footing.

“The best way we deemed to help the country get back on its feet was to help the DOH and other unilateral organizations distribute medical goods and items early on in the pandemic. This helped the Vis-Min region get out of lockdown sooner than Luzon in 2020,” he says. They also converted some of their aircraft to accommodate cargo missions.

In terms of their employee’s financial futures, AirTaxi had to maintain their normal high levels by looking at who was best capable to handle the ever-changing situation. “We sorted out the best of the best from our team and weeded out those that were not at the level they were supposed to be,” says Rodriguez. The ones that remained earned their financial security. “It was a team effort, and everyone had their roles to play in an orchestra that had to keep playing despite having only a few people listening.”

Rodriguez says that dealing with the variants has been the trickiest part. “Things were starting to pick up December 2020, surprise, Delta came,” he says. After a few months of high cases, they started leveling off, and it looked like things might once again get back to normal. And then Omicron came. “Hopefully things pick up shortly after Vis-Min recovers from Omicron,” says Rodriguez, adding that in any case, they are now prepared for the Zulu variant.

The news that the Philippines is preparing to shift to an endemic stage could not be more welcomed by Rodriguez. “With quarantine restrictions easing, we are optimistic that foreign tourists will come back to the Philippines and enjoy the sites that have had a good break two-year break from tourism,” he says. When that happens, he says that AirTaxi will be at the forefront of operations. “The price of safety and peace of mind far outweighs the cost of taking”

Over the last two years, Rodriguez learned many lessons, both in his professional and personal life. When asked what the most important one was, he says it was understanding that every crisis brings an opportunity. “This doesn’t come in a silver platter. You have to claw your way through. Those that did not find a way get left behind,” he says.

In his personal life, he got married. “Life needs to go on regardless of everything else going on with the world,” he says. “I am fortunate that I was able to move forward with life despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic.”

This story was first published in the March 2022 issue of Lifestyle Asia.



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