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Developing Your Next Aviation Manager

Do you, as a Board, appreciate the need to train your aviation personnel in the art and science of management?

David Wyndham   |   1st June 2014
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David Wyndham David Wyndham

As an Instructor Pilot in the U.S. Air Force- Dave's responsibilities included aircrew...
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Investment in Personal Development within the Flight Department is Key

David Wyndham questions whether Boards appreciate the need to train aviation personnel in the art and science of management.

Professional development is a given expectation for employees seeking advancement to a management position. Within the Business Aviation department- this expectation currently extends to aviation-specific training: Pilots get recurrent training in flight simulators and maintenance technicians get specialized education on the airframe- engine or avionics of the aircraft operated by the company. Those who do well in those technical roles and exhibit overall professionalism typically are the employees tapped for managerial positions within the flight department.

Corporate overseers do those men and women a disservice- however- when they fail to provide them with the tools needed to transition from specialist to manager. I have seen instances where a senior captain who had done an exemplary job in the cockpit was congratulated and promoted to the aviation department manager position upon retirement of the outgoing head. What seemed like a logical move turned sour when the pilot- an outstanding aviator and master of crew resource management- found himself facing a budget cut- a problem employee- and OSHA regulatory issues in the hangar. None of those situations had been addressed during his engine-out training! Like some other aviators in his situation- he became frustrated and resigned for another flying position with no management duties.

The loss of a great employee such as illustrated above could have been avoided by providing flight department personnel with a track for managerial professional development. A great maintenance technician becomes skilled through training and experience. So does a great leader. Future aviation leaders need training and experience in the managerial arts.

Although commanding a second person in the cockpit takes special management skills- those skills need additional development for managing a large team. Corporate aviation leaders need to understand the Vision and Mission of the corporation and how aviation is an essential business tool. They need to know how to align their aviation department goals with the corporation's overall goals. Flight department managers need to develop a leadership and communication style that will inspire their aviation team.

Aviation department leaders must understand operations management- which extends well beyond aircraft operations to include business risk analysis- cost benefit analysis- record keeping and audit requirements- OSHA and hazardous materials regulations- and more. They also need to develop an understanding of all the jobs involved in running the aviation department.

Other Needed Skills
As part of their operations management the aviation leader is often a facilities manager. The skills at handling an emergency in the cockpit need to be extended to the hangar floor. If a major hurricane is headed towards the hangar- the pilot must have a plan for moving the company aircraft to a safe location.

In addition to the aviation facility- the manager also has the primary responsibility for the safety of all the personnel (and their families). The maintenance technician may know what to do for a hazardous waste spill- but may not know what to say when the press calls and asks questions.

Lastly- the aviation manager needs an understanding of business basics- since indeed he or she is responsible for running a small business. Managers should possess fundamental financial skills in budgeting- forecasting- cost management and taxes—at least to the extent of knowing when to seek expert advice. They must understand asset management of the department’s aircraft and facilities and know what records are required.

Aviation managers often are the first link in matters dealing with human resource issues- including regulatory requirements and personnel management. While an associate or bachelor degree in business or a related field is an asset- considerable time may have elapsed since graduation and being appointed to the top managerial slot in the flight department. If the appointee does not have a relevant degree- he or she will need to be taught those skills in a formal environment- preferably one that offers some sort of certification.

Professional Development
Fortunately- there are programs available for busy professionals. The local college or university likely has applicable courses for the working professional. Within Business Aviation- the community is fortunate to have a customized program geared to develop aviation professionals into management professionals: the Certified Aviation Manager (CAM).

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) has an education and certification program that offers credit for professional experience- college courses- and professional development programs offered within the aviation community. The CAM program is a rigorous professional process of certification that is designed to maximize a busy aviation professional's time in developing the skills needed to be managers and leaders.

People in the aviation department are hungry for this type of education. Professional development needs to be encouraged and supported from the top (namely- the Board). It should be clearly stated that managerial development is as necessary as aircraft type ratings- pilot certificates- airframe and powerplant licenses.

Don't overlook maintenance technicians for this training. I see the pilot career path progress from First Officer- to Captain- to Chief Pilot- to Aviation Department Manager. But all too often the maintenance technical career path ends at Chief of Maintenance. Maintenance Technicians are an overlooked source of future aviation leaders. They frequently have a significant understanding of the aviation operation beyond the toolbox that the pilots have yet to learn.

As Board Members and Executives- you need to promote personal development for flight department personnel- just as the company does for middle managers seeking career advancement- for the good and safety of your Business Aviation operation.

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