- 08 Jul 2022
- Mario Pierobon
- Flight Dept Mgt
With demand on pilots flying business aircraft currently being high, and with experienced pilots in short supply, how can operators of business jets strike the right balance between passenger service and pilot wellbeing? Mario Pierobon explores...Back to Articles
In today’s environment of increased flying hours and high demand for business aircraft, it is of utmost importance for flight departments to know how to balance excellent service with a positive working environment for flight crews.
Following, we’ll review the state of the industry and some inhibiting factors that flight departments can find themselves up against.
State of the Industry
Business Aviation is under significant pressure currently, according to a safety consultant operating within the industry, who wished to remain anonymous. “The big picture is very simple, the General Aviation aircraft fleet has not grown in number over the past two or three years.
“The GA fleet, especially in Europe, has perhaps shrunk a little given that not many aircraft have been delivered in the last two years. Conversely, more aircraft have been sold in the US where demand has also increased. We can say that the number of airplanes is about the same or perhaps a little less [than a couple of years back].”
So, the fact that more hours have been flown means that the use of the airplanes comprising the fleet has been rising. “If airplanes in Business Aviation fly more, it means their crews are flying more.”
Another thing that’s also impacted is maintenance, with the consultant arguing there’s a need for the maintenance workforce to increase. “However, [the number of] maintenance employees are more-or-less the same as before, if not fewer – which means there’s a need to plan for maintenance slots several months ahead of time – even for simple maintenance.”
The demand for Business Aviation over the past couple of years has come from a wider consumer base. “Much of the increased demand for flights is for leisure [travel] with family or friends”, the consultant notes, adding that this is a clientele-type that can pose challenges to operators.
“Last-minute requests, or passengers showing up with a lot of luggage to fit onboard a small airplane,” are just a couple of examples, the consultant suggests. “While operators try to accommodate these challenges, bottlenecks are inevitable given the current constraints on airplanes, crews, flight time limitations (FTL), and maintenance.”
That means operators may need to quickly hire co-pilots – potentially including those with far less experience than they might have hired previously – to avoid not having enough crews available for duty.
“Currently, it is not unusual for a small [charter] business aircraft to accomplish up to six flights daily,” the consultant says. Thus, the environment is one of high pressure.
Other Factors Increasing Pressure on Operations
With the cost of fuel almost doubling over the last six months, “to maintain profit margins some operators could be strongly motivated to tanker, which implies specific considerations for planning and conducting flights,” thereby increasing demands on flight crews.
And with the increased flight activity, difficulty in finding slots can add pressure on crews. “If the demand for Business Aviation increases further, there will be increasing pressure on ramp space to park, and also on ground handling services,” the consultant adds.
“Ground operations is a risk area in its own right,” he elaborates. As pressures build on the services offered at a known, preferred destination airport, operators may turn to alternatives that are less stringent in the way they control ground traffic, increasing exposure to risk of ground damage or hangar rash – another reason for increased stress on crews, according to the consultant.
“This year, flight crews are being subjected to more pressure than ever,” he concludes. “In this environment, some pilots are coming out of a period of very little flying, perhaps having lost some sharpness or skill not only in piloting, but also in-flight management.” Now they’re finding themselves thrust on to the front line.
Having provided an overview of the pressures facing operators and crews within Business Aviation, next time we’ll review some of the best practices that business aircraft operators can follow to manage those pressures, ensuring their pilots’ wellbeing is looked after. Stay tuned...