Keiko “Kay” Tsuchiya Moebus (’95) was never interested in flying, herself, but the aviation industry gave flight to her international career in human factors, setting her on a course for understanding how people behave and work while flying in a complex airspace.
“It is fascinating how the brain works and how teams resolve problems in a creative way,” says Moebus, who is currently the head of human factors at Skyguide in Zurich, Switzerland.
Skyguide provides air navigation services for Switzerland and adjacent airspace in France, Germany, Italy and Austria, guiding some 1.2 million civil and military flights in European airspace. Essentially, it is a private nonprofit that serves a similar role as the Federal Aviation Administration in the U.S.
Born in Japan, Moebus attended high school in Massachusetts, where her father worked as an aerospace engineer for Mitsubishi.
“I remember writing in my primary school yearbook that I wanted to work at the airport,” Moebus says. “In high school, I made up my mind that I wanted a career related to aviation and chose to go to Embry-Riddle.”
As an undergraduate at Embry-Riddle, she focused her studies on air traffic control and aviation safety.
“I wanted to work at an airport, and I wanted to be on the ground, so air traffic control was really perfect,” she says.
During her graduate studies at Embry-Riddle, she got more interested in human factors, which was still being established as an official program at the university. She credits her professors with teaching her skills she still uses today, like analytical skills, research techniques and both scientific and business proposal writing.
“Overall, I learned quite a lot at Embry-Riddle,” she says. “It was like on-the-job training.”
From Daytona to Vienna
She met fellow Embry-Riddle student Phillip Moebus (’98, ’14), who is a Swiss citizen, and they married and moved to Europe. She landed her first job at Frequentis, an Austrian tech company that develops communication and information systems for air traffic management, public safety and transportation.
“It was a big shock moving from Daytona to Vienna,” she says. “Luckily, with aviation, you can use English, because I did not know German.”
Despite being new in the business, Moebus says Embry-Riddle’s global reputation as an aviation leader helped open doors for her and earned her respect in the field from the start.
“Thanks to the reputation of Embry-Riddle, I think I was treated more as an expert and consultant,” she says.
Moebus started Frequentis’ human factors program, working in Austria and Germany. In 2000, she moved to RUAG International, a Swiss technology group focusing on the aerospace industry, where she worked on a project for the Swiss Air Force, then later as a project manager in air traffic management.
Shortly after her son was born in 2004, she decided to start her own consulting company, MOEBUS Aviation GmbH. Several years later, she dissolved the company in Switzerland, but her ex-husband Phillip Moebus continues to operate MOEBUS Aviation, Inc., in Canada.
“Having my own company was tough, but it was another unique challenge that I’m glad I experienced,” Moebus says.
In 2011, she was hired as a senior safety management expert at Skyguide. Later, in 2018, she was named its head of human factors. Human factors is still a new discipline in Europe, she says, but she enjoys working with the air traffic controllers and engineers and leading her team in initiatives and innovations related to automation and new technologies, such as artificial intelligence.
“Situational awareness, cognition and how humans understand information is interesting,” Moebus says. “My human factors team acts as an internal consulting team to the operations and technical departments.”
She says the toughest aspect of her job is convincing air traffic controllers and engineers, who may be resistant to change, to implement new developments and designs in their workspaces.
“You can be passionate about human factors, but you can’t always convince people to buy in,” Moebus says. “But I’m lucky, because Skyguide is really open to innovation and moving forward. Every day is busy, but it is quite rewarding.”