Aeronautics for the Modern World: The Work of Uma Subramanian
Throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, the advancement of digital technologies has rapidly changed the business environment, and the world at large. The aviation industry is no exception, and has deftly adapted at unprecedented rates to accommodate public health-conscious customers. Rooting her business model from thematic desires for safety and personalized attention, University of Michigan alumna Uma Subramanian seeks to deliver an elevated alternative to commercial air travel through her company, Aero.
Uma’s path to Chief Executive Officer at Aero began at the University of Michigan, where she earned a BSE in Aerospace Engineering and a BS in Spanish. After graduating, she was recruited to join Northrop Gruman to work on the NASA Project Constellation Crew Exploration Vehicle (Project Orion).
“It was 2003, and President Bush had announced we were going to Mars. I had always been passionate about space exploration – I went to Space Camp when I was nine,” she said. “I never dreamt that I would have a chance to work on the next generation vehicle.”
During her time at Northrop Grumman, Uma realized that space was not a national priority, so she went to the Harvard Business School to figure out how to change the narrative. Uma earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2008, and discovered the world was much bigger than just space exploration.
After business school, Uma worked at numerous firms ranging from consulting at Bain & Company, to Sector Development at Rolls-Royce, to General Management at TaskRabbit. The common link throughout her experience has been a sharp pragmatism and world-class innovative talent – hallmark characteristics of a great engineer. With her MBA, she creatively applies these core competencies to build smarter, more efficient organizations. In short, Uma Subramanian specializes in scaling businesses from bold ideas to profitability.
“I love bringing ideas to life; taking the kernel of a concept and turning it into reality,” she said. “My career has followed something of a non-linear path; however, every experience has been very accretive.”
The next step on her career path led her to Silicon Valley, where she took the kernel of an idea and turned it into a company: Voom. Voom began as a vision to make helicopter travel accessible through the touch of a button, at a fair price. Under her leadership as CEO, Voom thrived, and was quickly acquired by AirBus.
“Building a company is not easy. It requires clearly articulating a vision for your company, and then seeing it through. The vision is the easy part. The middle is far messier, and requires a constant recommitment to an ideal.”
However, Uma realized that the model of building an asset light network in aviation is very hard to make economically viable. Uma left Airbus in 2018 to find a business that she believed could be truly transformative. This is the birth of Aero.
“Aero aims to radically redefine aviation, and bring back the golden age of travel,” she said. “We are building a next generation airline for premium travelers, who are seeking a radically better experience than what is commercially available today.”
Aero’s mission is unique. It delivers safety to travelers looking for a premium airline experience. With only 16 seats per plane and meticulous antiviral measures, the airline provides an extremely safe alternative to mass air transit. From crowd-free airport lounges to a full concierge team, Aero strives to be synonymous with safe, easy, luxurious travel.
“Aero’s mission is to de-commoditize air travel, which has lost its luster in the past few decades,” Uma said. “We want to make the journey a part of the experience again.”
In previous decades, air travel was rare. Simply boarding an airplane was an exciting, exclusive activity. Today, seats on budget commercial airlines can drop as low as $40 – downgrading travel from an experience to a mere commodity. Aero looks to reinvigorate air travel, to help passengers relish flights and to appreciate the journey. Aside from re-energizing air travel, Uma emphasizes the importance of environmental conscientiousness when steering her company.
“We fly small airplanes, and while we aim to be carbon neutral, there are no electric airplanes yet,” she said. “For every seat we sell we plant five trees; this is actual progress. We’ve partnered with a tree planting organization to make it happen.”
Planting trees serves to mitigate the environmental costs of near-private flights. Uma Subramanian and Aero recognize the importance of preserving and bettering the environment. Supported by other powerful voices in the transportation sector Uma’s vision for a world of eco-friendly movement should be made an industry priority. To her, fuel innovation is one of the most promising areas to improve the eco-friendliness of air travel.
“There are many companies dedicated to making new jet fuels, especially organic waste and algae fuels,” she said. “We need to move away from fossil fuels, reduce emissions and create a truly carbon neutral solution.”
The importance of the environment and our human safety are further underscored with every passing week. Our world is irreplaceable, and its protection needs to be a priority. Uma Subramanian keeps these philosophies as core principles of the ventures she scales. Whether replanting trees after flights, advocating for eco-fuels, or ensuring safety aboard every flight, Uma Subramanian builds companies to meet the demands of the modern world.
“My advice to anyone who wants to be a CEO someday would be to acquire as many different skills as you possibly can. Chances are you will need them some day.”