As an Instructor Pilot in the U.S. Air Force- Dave's responsibilities included aircrew... Read More
Successful Business Team
When it comes to selecting key leaders for the corporation, the Board is usually very assertive. Among the many duties of the Board, acquiring leadership talent may be the most critical for the success of the corporation.
This same level of care and concern should be applied to the selection of the flight department leadership as well. At a minimum, the flight department head must be someone who can advocate the use of business aircraft in the accomplishment of the corporate mission. Applying the unique advantages of Business Aviation to satisfy the diverse needs for each business demands skilled management.
Note: It takes more than being a good pilot or maintenance tech to lead the flight department.
Flight department leaders must show an understanding of the corporate mission. This mindset often involves stepping away from the airport and spending time downtown. In order to advocate for the effective business use of the aircraft, the aviation manager must appreciate where in the future of the company the aircraft can best contribute. He or she must communicate with the flight department’s customers - the users of the business aircraft – to understand their needs.
Negative perceptions of business aircraft exist even within corporations that operate aircraft. The flight department leader needs to be proactive in selling the benefits of the aircraft as an essential, strategic asset.
Aviator and/or Manager
While knowledge of Business Aviation arguably is essential, leading the flight department is not a flying job. It is a management job. The head of the aviation department must work with the corporation’s administration, legal, human resources, IT, finance and other business units. These departments can facilitate the flight department’s success by providing their expertise and enabling aviation to be integrated into the corporate structure. Thus an aviation manager must be able to communicate effectively with others in the corporation who may know little about Business Aviation and have minimal appreciation for this unique business tool.
Budgets are essential in business. While flight department leaders do not need to be accountants, they do need to work with the appropriate financial entity concerning costs of operating the aircraft. While managing costs is important, the flight department leader must do so while maximizing the benefits of the business aircraft to the corporation.
Staff development is another job function of the aviation manager that goes beyond an aviator’s classic skill set. Fortunately, techniques for selecting, hiring, and relocating personnel can be acquired by aviation managers through education, such as undergraduate or graduate degree programs as well as professional development courses and certification offered by the National Business Aviation Association.
Professional development of staff should be encouraged by department leaders. An educated staff better serves the corporation and provides a path for advancement within the department as well as within the corporation.
Pitfalls of Promotion
I have seen several illustrative cases in recent years. In one, the individual (let’s call him Tom) had been with the corporate flight department for over twenty years. First as a skilled line pilot and then as a senior training captain, Tom mentored the new pilots and stressed safety and piloting skills. He was well liked by those in the aviation department and by the executives he flew.
When the aviation manager retired, Tom was the unanimous choice to be the new manager, even though he had no management education and limited management experience. Unfortunately, Tom was not particularly fond of his office at the corporate headquarters. His favored roles were piloting and mentoring, not being the boss. Tom lasted less than a year as the aviation manager. Fortunately, he was able to return to the cockpit in his old job and also became a close associate to the new aviation manager.
I'm working with another client (let’s call her Jane) who is planning for the future of her flight department. Jane has been working on her bachelor's degree in aviation management, and she is in the process of upgrading the aviation department's technology to incorporate a paperless cockpit and identify a future aircraft the company will need. Jane is comfortable communicating with the senior leadership of the corporation and is active in promoting the uses of the aircraft. Within all those duties, she still finds time to enjoy flying.
Selecting the right people for leadership roles is critical for the success of any organization. When selecting a leader for the flight department, the Board should insist on someone who knows and appreciates the vital role that an aircraft has within the corporation.