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Flight Departments as Business Units

Continuing his discussion as to why flight departments should be managed like other corporate units- David Wyndham cautions that employees denigrate what they do not understand.

David Wyndham   |   1st March 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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The Impact of Optics.
Continuing his discussion as to why flight departments should be managed like other corporate units- David Wyndham cautions that employees denigrate what they do not understand.

Flight departments often get a black eye from mainstream media. The same attitude is expressed by some employees within the company who do not understand the value of Business Aviation; they join journalists in complaining about 'that private jet the CEO uses”. When the flight department is not seen and treated as an integral part of the corporation- misperceptions and poor optics can be expected. Such lack of understanding also effects the perception of the executive leadership and its commitment to serving the corporation and shareholders.

A flight department should be an integral part of the overall company and treated like other business units. Only then will the flight department be thought of as contributing to the shareholders' value.

Vision and Mission

Start by considering the ‘Vision’ and ‘Mission’ of the flight department. The corporation’s Vision statement is your inspiration as well as the framework for all your strategic planning. The flight department needs a Vision statement that aligns with these lofty corporate aims—one that is complimentary to the corporate Vision and will guide the flight department’s development.

The department also needs a Mission statement that is tied into the overall goal or purpose of the company. A department’s Vision statement should address such questions as:

• Why the company has a flight department
• How it serves the corporation
• How the flight department- through efficient and safe transportation- enables employees to achieve and attain corporate goals.

Developing departmental statements of Vision and Mission are much more than mere slogan exercises. They provoke flight department personnel to be proactive in anticipating the needs of their internal customers. Furthermore- satisfying passenger needs builds understanding and appreciation for Business Aviation.

Guiding Principles and Procedures

As a business unit- the flight department needs to follow the same standards and principles as the rest of the company. Its action plan should state how the flight department will execute on its Mission. And there must be written directives that provide the raison d'etre for the flight department and the actions it takes to serve the corporation.

Like other business units- the flight department needs a budget and budgeting process that follows the format of all units within the corporation. Its budgeting and budget cycle must match the overall corporate cycle- and allocation of resources must be presented in a format that can be understood by other managers within the corporation.

The flight department’s budget needs sufficient detail to provide guidance for those who manage and control aviation costs. It also needs to tie directly into financial management requirements specified by the CFO at the corporate level. Communication between the flight department and the financial management team at headquarters is essential.

The flight department must have reporting procedures similar to other business units. Classic measures of fiscal performance- such as periodic results and variances from budget- need to be reported. Remember- if the flight department budget gets little attention- it will be paid little attention. While some managers might think being left alone has advantages- beware. The flight department needs access to budgeting resources and support in order to complete its Mission.

Close to Corporate
In some of the best-run corporate flight departments I have seen- the aviation manager has a desk 'downtown”. While 100% of the aviation assets reside at the airport- the work of supporting the goals and Mission of the corporation takes place among the main users of the corporate aircraft- and they usually reside “downtown”. The aviation manager needs to be aware of what is happening at the corporate level. Such insight requires more than casual talk with passengers before the flight.

I once heard an aviation manager say that the last place he wanted to be was at the headquarters. His job was at the airport and he got plenty of 'face-time' with the CEO on board the plane. That worked out well until a new CEO took over and asked his executive team what use they had for the corporate aircraft. The aviation manager recounted that story as he handed me his resume.

Conversely- flight department managers who routinely spend time with the senior leadership learn better how to serve the corporation- know more about what the company is doing- and can better anticipate the future needs of the corporation. To be effective- the aviation manager needs two offices: one where he or she can manage the aviation operation and another strategically located for participating in the execution of corporate objectives. An aviation manager needs to be a manager and leader first.

For the flight department to be its most effective in serving the needs of the company and in efficiently employing the assets it has- the department should be integrated into the corporation like any other essential function. It needs to be accountable and supported in its contributions to the corporation’s overall Vision and Mission. To do so will provide the best value to shareholders- and garner the most cooperation from corporate peers.

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