Integrate the Right Jet Into Your Flight Department (Pt 3)

After the successful purchase of a jet, a fruitful aircraft ownership experience balances the passengers’ expectations with solid management and operational practices. Andre Fodor shares thoughts on how to achieve that balance…

Andre Fodor  |  16th February 2021
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    Andre Fodor
    Andre Fodor

    With a focused approach on global excellence and creativity, Andre Fodor has managed flight operations...

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    Snowy mountain range behind a parked private jet

    It started with a phone call to a client who had hired me to manage his aircraft. After hanging up, I felt puzzled by the lack of professional support he had received.

    I was hired only a few days before the aircraft was being released from a major inspection that had lasted two months. The invoices generated from that unsupervised maintenance visit were piled high.

    The inspection process was flawed from the lack of any organized pre-maintenance planning, and it was further weakened by the absence of an inspection induction meeting. This airplane was clearly not ready for the long-range flight to Polynesia that its owner had expected just twenty-four hours after its return to service.

    Being the new guy on the receiving end of the phone call, I listened and sympathized with the frustrated owner. His expectations had not been fulfilled. It was my hope that I would be able to make things right, turning a negative to positive, and transforming a soured ownership experience into a long-lasting, successful endeavor.

    Balancing Expectations with Reality

    Perhaps you are incredulous at the owner’s expectation to fly to Polynesia so soon after such a significant maintenance event. Your first thought might – rightfully – be that it was an unreasonable expectation. In the owner’s defense, however, and primarily because he was new to aircraft ownership, he had been misled by untenable promises and a lack of realistic guidance.

    The hardest part of flight department management is to help an owner understand what reasonable expectations are, and what is safe, legal and acceptable by industry standards. It is vital to let them know what is okay to expect, and when and where to relent.

    As managers and flight crew within our flight departments, it is all of our responsibility to provide solid, factual information so that our principals’ expectations are achievable.

    In addition to the disappointment over an unfulfilled expectation to fly to Polynesia, the owner was astonished at the final maintenance invoice. I explained that, pending a review of all original work orders and unanticipated discrepancies that were found, it would be difficult to determine whether the bill was correct.

    One thing was certain – the cost of the inspection had not been anticipated, leaving the owner exposed to a large capital outlay not originally considered during his company’s annual budgeting process.

    And, because of the lack of forward-planning, all advantages had been lost to negotiate lower hourly fees, set-price tasks, and to perform other upgrades while the aircraft was already down for maintenance.

    Asking who his contacts were at the maintenance facility, and who provided the quote or managed the inspection drew a blank from the owner. The jet had spent two months at the inspection facility with little, or no, oversight. Nobody had been available to make the crucial decisions, or to manage the flow of new write-ups, and the increasing labor hours.

    This was a painful lesson that long-term, proactive relationships are crucial for effective management and cost savings in business aircraft ownership.

    Build your network, get to know people in the industry, be a good customer – your service providers will respond in-kind with outstanding service.

    So, what was the end result of this experience? It was clear that I would not meet my new client’s immediate travel need. With an airplane coming out of such an expensive maintenance event, I explained we needed time to review the paperwork making sure that the airplane was legal.

    A thorough visual inspection and a shakedown flight would also be needed to verify that the airplane was indeed ready to return to service. I explained that the airplane would not be ready to fly extended operations without some reliability validation flying in less remote airspace.

    Well-Grounded Truths Win the Day

    After receiving some hard truths with a good foundation in reality, my new principal was energized to get on-board with what I was telling him. He was back in charge, being savvy, and he saw that we were now moving towards an efficient and organized operation.

    This was a man who understood professionalism, and preferred to make informed decisions. We arranged for him to charter while we took the time needed to get the airplane right. And once we had done so, we picked him up and flew him home from Polynesia.

    When providing a dose of realism, never offer problems without solutions. This way, the owner can be empowered, placing them at the core of the decision process.

    The tenets of good aircraft management are simple: Safety, economy, reliability, transparency and truthfulness. As flight department managers, our directive is to deliver great experiences. And, as experts in our field, we become educators of what is reasonable, attainable and deliverable. And that includes managing our passengers’ expectations.

    As you perfect your aircraft management style into a well-oiled operation, consider the scenarios discussed:

    1. Be a great communicator
    2. Develop outstanding forecasting techniques
    3. Anticipate looming problems (and their solutions)
    4. Deliver excellence, and 
    5. Set high standards.

    Once that new jet is operational within your flight department, the sky is the limit. Dig deep to achieve the best!

    Have you missed something? Find Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

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