- 11 Jul 2023
- Andre Fodor
- Flight Departments
If you fly more than 200 hours per year, the economics tend to favor having an in-house Flight Department. But how should that department be staffed, and how do you select the right flight crew? René Armas Maes reviews...Back to Articles
What are the manpower requirements needed to set up a professional Flight Department from the ground up? Must all staff be full-time, or are there opportunities for part-time contracts and outsourcing in some areas of the operation? How can the operation be created with lower cost options without compromising on operational safety, control and flexibility? René Armas Maes shares insights that aircraft owners should understand and get involved with...
While maintaining an in-house Flight Department provides aircraft owners with the highest levels of flexibility, security and control over their aircraft’s operation, careful attention still needs to be given to hiring the right personnel.
Assuming you are a start-up Flight Department planning to operate a single aircraft and seeking to run a lean operation from Day One, you will need at least two pilots (either two Captains or a Captain and a highly qualified Co- pilot).
Typically, the Captain will perform the responsibilities of Director of Operations and Chief Pilot while the other pilot takes care of the roles of Director of Safety and Quality Assurance in addition to their flying duties.
According to AOPA, hiring of pilots increased exponentially for corporate and airline positions in 2021 and 2022, and the pilot recruitment markets continue to be very hot today, as confirmed by JSfirm.com, which observes that pilots, mechanics, avionics, and technical positions remain the hardest to fill.
Instead of trying to recruit pilots yourself it is recommended you use a third-party company, examples of which include CAE, Jet Aviation and, of course, JSfirm.com which offers services ranging from pre-screening and evaluation assessment to final recruitment.
Many of those agencies provide personalized services working hand in hand with clients to find ideal job candidates based on specific requirements which often go above and beyond the typical technical qualifications, and expand to management areas such as budgeting, cost containment, strategic planning and hospitality to name a few.
Technical qualification requirements will vary, depending on the type of operation you’re looking to staff (e.g., domestic vs. international flying) and aircraft type.
Assuming you opt for the third-party recruitment route, you can expect to work through the following processes:
The ideal is to assemble a team of dedicated professionals to work with you in the air, in the hangar, on the ground, and behind the scenes to meet and exceed your flying expectations.
Though we have considered the recruitment needs of a small, one aircraft operation, for larger flight departments operating – say – three or four aircraft, beyond a Captain and Co-pilot you will need to recruit dedicated maintenance personnel, additional flight crew, flight attendants and perhaps a scheduler and dispatcher, at a minimum.
On the accounting side a firm budget will be needed for the Flight Department, and should include not only salaries and bonuses for the full- or part-time employees that you plan to hire, but also the number of hours to be flown each year, and solid estimates of the variable and fixed costs per hour for running the aircraft (including fuel and maintenance costs).
Fuel is the largest single component of an aircraft’s variable cost, so special attention should be given not only to fuel procurement procedures but also aircraft operational processes – including bulk purchasing (particularly at the aircraft’s home base), fuel card selection, and standard operational procedures, to name a few.
These reinforce the need to hire beyond a pilot’s technical qualifications and acumen. Pilots with managerial expertise will come in handy when evaluating the multiple options, such as fuel cards and FBOs, and negotiating the best deals.
Ultimately, they should be capable of operating your aircraft as efficiently as possible, including the lowest hourly operating cost, and optimizing the aircraft’s availability throughout the year.
Operational budgets should be reviewed at least twice-yearly, and projections should run between three and five years. Thus, beyond the typical technical requirements for the basic job outline, you might want to consider pilots with an MBA and/or demonstrable managerial expertise.
To help operate with the leanest management structure, contract pilots can be hired to meet specific peak demand times, or cover sickness and vacations. Private Jet Pilots (PJP) is a great place to start your search.
To fully understand the requirements of part-time associates, a normal distribution graph (sometimes called a bell curve) will help you to identify those headcount needs during a year.
Maintenance, especially for a single-aircraft operation, should also be outsourced. Contracts such as hourly engine and/or airframe maintenance programs enable operators to confidently forecast maintenance costs and avoid unexpected expenses, which is ideal for any operation, let alone a start-up one.
Again, hiring the right personnel with the right combination of technical and managerial skills is what a new aircraft owner should be aiming to achieve in order to set-up a lean, successful operation for the ground up.
The most important element to establishing a successful in-house Flight Department is laying the foundation with the right appointments, equipped to get operations off the ground. They should come with the proper technical, managerial and soft-skill sets.
After attracting the right employees with competitive salaries, the next most difficult element will be retaining them. Multiple mechanisms can be used to help retain values Flight Department employees, though, and not all of them are monetary.
Ultimately, achieving the benefits of a well-oiled, efficient, highly functional Flight Department comes down to finding and recruiting the best candidates. It is key to invest time in this process, understand and define specific roles and responsibilities, and ensure a productive, attractive environment for them to work in and fulfil their ambitions, including training and learning.
Ultimately, a Flight Department should be run like any other business unit within a company. It should have clearly defined goals, objectives, and talented personnel ready to deliver excellence.