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Control Towers & Business Aviation

While Business Aviation is not their core expertize- Board Members are required to exercise good judgment on matters involving the company’s flight activities. Thus awareness of issues- such as the possible closure of control towers- and access to unbiased information from] professionals are essential- notes Jack Olcott.

Jack Olcott   |   1st May 2013
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Control Towers & Business Aviation
While Business Aviation is not their core expertize- Board Members are required to exercise good judgment on matters involving the company’s flight activities. Thus awareness of issues- such as the possible closure of control towers- and access to unbiased information from] professionals are essential- notes Jack Olcott.

Captains of business jets prefer to operate from airports with control towers. Only about 10 percent of the 5-000 plus U.S. airports- however- have such facilities. Furthermore- the nature of on-demand transportation is the furtherance of expanding markets and servicing clients’ calls for operations into some locations without government or contract ATC facilities. When (and if) implemented- plans to close 149 of the 251 facilities where tower operators are contract employees rather than FAA personnel will reduce the number of airports with towers to about 350.

Ramifications of tower closures- obviously- are matters for Board consideration. A company’s ability to generate revenues and serve shareholders is impacted negatively when access to airports is curtailed. Business aircraft provide a unique and vital role offering transportation to new and existing markets. Scheduled Airlines focus on less than 50 hub locations- and many cities have no service from the Airlines. Business needs Business Aviation—it’s essential.

Safety is also an issue that demands attention from the Board. Business aircraft transport a company’s most valuable resources—its employees. Their safety is paramount for a multitude of reasons. Compromising their wellbeing is neither moral nor good governance—and it is definitely bad for business.

ROUTINE OPERATIONS
Because so few airports have towers- flight departments have procedures for accessing locations where air traffic control does not extend to the immediate environment of the landing facility. Pilots announce their intensions on a common frequency that is monitored by all aircraft planning to depart- flying within in the vicinity of the airport or intending to land.

Pilots are taught to observe nearby traffic and never assume that a take-off or landing path is clear. Daytime use of landing lights during take-off and landing makes the aircraft easier to observe. Consequently- mishaps associated with aircraft operating near uncontrolled airports- although higher than near controlled airports- are very rare. The culture of safety that prevails within all aviation—especially Airline and Business Aviation—is maintained even though business aircraft have many operations at uncontrolled airports. Closure of contract towers is an unfortunate consequence of sequestration that can and will be managed safely and efficiently- if and when it occurs.

Thus flight departments are prepared to operate safely if sequestration of government funds results in the closure of approximately 60 percent of our nation’s contract control towers. It is unclear- however- when such shutdowns will occur. Closures- which were to have started April 7th- have been postponed until June 15th. Bills have been proposed for both the U.S Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives prohibiting the FAA from proceeding with its closure program. About 50 cities have offered to use private money to keep control towers in operation at their local airports.

BOARD RESPONSE TO CLOSURES
Considering that closures may occur- and recognizing that business aircraft have needs to access airports without control towers- Boards should assure themselves and shareholders that the company’s flight department or charter provider has procedures in place for operating in uncontrolled airspace near airports without control towers. Furthermore- such procedures should be well known and diligently practiced by crews- and they should be documented within the department’s Operations Manual.

It is not the Board’s place- nor its area of expertise- to delve into a flight department’s or charter provider’s operational details- however. Board Members may not know where to look- what to examine or how to interpret what they see. They should- however- ask the responsible professional managing the company’s air transportation what process he or she has in place to deal with the reality that some flight operations are now (or will be) at uncontrolled airports. If company procedure prohibits such operation- ask what will be the consequences of such restrictions if sequestration closes towers- and how will those consequences be mitigated.

WHAT- NOT HOW

Business Aviation is a specialty. Gone (or at least rapidly disappearing) are the days when a company aircraft was the royal barge of the owner or privileged CEO. Today’s flight department is a business unit- important to the overall success of the corporation.

It should be managed as other business units- with a clear Vision of the value it will bring to shareholders- a purposeful Mission that supports the corporation’s objectives- and specific Governing Principles that shape the culture of the department and foster safe- efficient and effective operations. Companies hire well-trained professionals with relevant experience in personnel management and aircraft operations to fulfill the need for on-demand air transportation. It is the profession’s job—not the Board’s—to design the detailed procedures for dealing with challenges that impact a company’s use of business aircraft.

It is the Board’s duty to state what needs to be accomplished and to develop a system of oversight to assure that policy is being implemented. With the right manager in place- with a means of communicating with that manager- and with effective oversight- Board Members can be assured that their corporation and shareholders are being well served by Business Aviation.

Do you have any questions or opinions on the above topic? Get them answered/published in World Aircraft Sales Magazine. Email feedback to: Jack@avbuyer.com

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