Creating a Flight Department (Part 1)

Basic steps to establishing a new private flight operation

Fred Haap  |  15th June 2015
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    Fred Haap
    Fred Haap

    Fred Haap is an IS-BAO accredited auditor and past Chairman of NBAA. During his distinguished career...

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    Business jet on the apron of aircraft. Dawn at airport

    Fred Haap joins forces with Jack Olcott to author AvBuyer’s new series on establishing a flight department from scratch…

    AvBuyer recently received a reader request that mirrored an often cited question: How does a company create a Flight Department? What are the steps that must be considered when contemplating the operation of an acquired business aircraft?

    Perhaps your firm has chartered business aircraft or purchased a fractional share, but now is considering buying a company jet or leasing options. Possibly your company aircraft is operated by a management company, but the time is right to bring all Business Aviation activities in-house. Or you may desire to benchmark your existing flight department’s structure against a proposed process AvBuyer will present during this series, which starts by identifying basic transportation needs and moves, step-by-step, through the creation of a Flight Department that functions as an integral unit of the corporation.

    To address these questions as well as the inquiries of the first-time acquirer, AvBuyer launches its ‘Creating a Flight Department’ series. We trust that the topics addressed will prompt response from the many experts within the readership of AvBuyer, and we welcome your comments.

    Focus on the Objective

    First and foremost, Business Aviation is a transportation option. A company elects to use business aircraft to satisfy a travel need. Decisions regarding aviation department structure must address the company’s requirement for effective, efficient and safe movement of personnel and property. Thus the first step in developing a Flight Department is an objective analysis of need.

    Companies need to travel more efficiently, spending less time navigating the maze of airline check-ins and connecting flights as well as using travel time productively. Today’s business aircraft, particularly those with links to the internet and other elements of cabin-ground communications, are truly “offices that move”.

    Some travel needs are obvious, such as having several customers that require frequent face-to-face meetings at their location in an area where airline service is not suitable or non-existent, and charter is inappropriate. A typical example is a manufacturer of equipment used 24/7 to produce widgets; the provider’s ability to have maintenance specialists dispatched immediately upon receiving a customer’s call for help is an essential part of the firm’s ability to obtain and keep customers.

    Another example is a series of client visits that must be conducted routinely, but the duration of each visit is such that scheduling is very difficult, if not impossible. A third use is a requirement to bring customers to the home office, which might be located in a rural area, in order to experience first-hand the culture and traditions of the provider.

    Other needs are less obvious, but no less important—such as implementing a strategy of market expansion, or possessing the ability to respond to rapidly developing market opportunities before the competition is able to “pitch” the prospect. Don’t overlook the hassle factor of commercial travel as it exists now. Even the most conscientious executive may find a latent excuse not to travel commercially, thereby slowing the firm’s ability to visualize and address new lines of business.

    Perhaps the task is establishing a Flight Department for a high-net-worth individual or family for personal transportation. The HNW person and relatives want the advantages that business aircraft provide; they understand the costs involved, and they wish to structure a Flight Department suitable to their requirements. The task of defining need is no less important simply because the cost will be borne by individuals rather than a corporation.

    Develop a Plan

    Management’s most powerful and meaningful tool is a short statement of Vision, Mission and Values (VMV Statement). Note: Values are referred to by some leaders as Governing Principles.

    Most well-run corporations, regardless of size, expend considerable effort in establishing a meaningful VMV statement—a concise document, typically less than a page in length, that serves as an easily recalled directive and conceptual guide for addressing the objectives to be accomplished. When staff and management have the same Vision of what they aim to achieve, everyone will be looking in the same direction and focusing their energies on satisfying the organization’s Mission.

    When individuals understand and accept the same Values or Governing Principles, they know how to act when faced with challenging situations.

    Vision, Mission and Values form the basis for corporate culture, and culture is what the individual does when no one is looking.

    Corporations establish the VMV statement and usually encourage individual business units to create their own directives that align the departmental VMV with the overall corporate ethos. Such a statement provides the foundation upon which a well-run department can be built. All involved parties within the department and the broader corporation become aligned.

    For a Flight Department to function at the highest level of effectiveness and efficiency, it must be integrated within the corporate organization as would any other business unit. Flight Departments that regard their function as separate from the corporation’s objectives, isolating themselves at the airport and maintaining a veil of mystery, diminish the true value of the company aircraft and risk elimination when top management changes.

    Thus, care must be taken at the onset of departmental development to establish Vision, Mission and Values that align and support the corporation’s overall business objectives. Creating a meaningful and compelling VMV statement requires analysis of the transportation needs to be addressed by the Flight Department. The executives, managers and specialists who will be the department’s passengers should be consulted—remember, the Flight Department is designed to serve their obvious and not-so-obvious needs.

    Departmental personnel—those who will be tasked to carry out flights and maintain the aircraft—also need to be part of VMV creation. At the end of the process, all parties who will contribute to the department’s success or demise should feel ownership of the VMV statement and agree to its direction.

    Next month: The business plan, including how best to create a statement of Vision, Mission and Values.


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