Freedom creates opportunities

Frans Leijtens - Commander of 981 Squadron in Royal Netherlands Air Force

In his role for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, Frans Leijtens is responsible for the smart maintenance of components for Air Force main weapon systems. But working at the Main Support Base Woensdrecht also meant that he was confronted with non-military partners. How did he manage such a job and what new challenges did he face? Frans Leijtens tells us how the freedom and trust that he was granted led to incredible results for both Defense and Aeronamic.

Frans Leijtens started out as an aerospace engineer. After he joined the Royal Netherlands Air Force, he gained experience in the field of F-16 generation and maintenance. For the last three-and-a-half years, he was in command of the component maintenance squadron, and he will soon be transferred to the department responsible for operational readiness and force generation at the Dutch Department of Defense in The Hague. But before he does, let us reflect on what we have achieved together. 

Blending both worlds

Frans Leijtens: “The ways that governments and companies work have very different tones, but it’s great when you can blend those two worlds together for the common good. That’s exactly what we did. My own job was to expand the use of our maintenance and repair facilities. At the same time, I was responsible for making sure that we did everything as economically as possible, which meant working together with commercial partners. Beyond the services the partners provided, we learned that there were even more dimensions to this partnership than we first thought, such as the need to exchange knowledge and to work together as one team. Our initial ideas revolved around having just one commercial partner. That was already a big step! But now we recognize that it’s possible to work with multiple civil partners and we have discovered how the squadron can serve as the main hub for all of them.”

Keys to success

“Realizing that you can learn from each other doesn’t happen overnight. You first have to let go of the idea that outsiders are something to be afraid of! It may sound silly, but this was our initial way of thinking and we as Defense need to be cautious. But letting go of our presumptions resulted in new benefits. One example: we always regarded quality requirements as a difficult, time-consuming undertaking, but Aeronamic showed us ways to meet those requirements that were easy and hassle-free. Aeronamic kept delivering on its promises, every single time. Its people truly walk their talk, like the time they set themselves up here in one of our maintenance facilities. They told us their plan, then stuck with it and made it happen. We made our biggest leap forward at the beginning of our partnership when we started exchanging our own vision with each other. That meant sharing the way we saw the bigger picture, without holding things back or being strategic or political. And my advice for anyone in a similar position is to let contracts be contracts and to look for common ground, not based on your commercial beliefs but in terms of your perspectives!”

Coming next

“The Royal Netherlands Air Force really gave me the freedom to carry out my role. When you branch out to something totally new, like entering into partnerships with civilians, pioneering becomes part of the job. But you can only be a pioneer when someone honestly trusts you to do what you believe is necessary. That is the point when you can create opportunities.

There are quite a few achievements worth mentioning: the successful start-up of all F-35 MRO activities, successful cooperation between 981 Squadron and commercial partners, and the research on upcoming repair techniques based on 3D technology. The team and I reached some great milestones. And now, as I move on to a new role in The Hague, I leave this project in the capable hands of my successor, Major Ruud Heij. I wish for him the same freedom I had, so that he can achieve new milestones. For there will surely be obstacles and tough times to face, but it will all be worth it.”

We are always eager to learn. What other successful partnerships come to mind when you read about how freedom creates opportunities? 

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