Flight Department Communications
Flight Department Management is More than just Budgeting
Andre Fodor’s leap from corporate pilot to flight department manager taught him not only to manage costs carefully, but to communicate effectively – a vital skill when dealing with C-Level executives…
As I pursued my career flying and eventually managing business aircraft, including being part of a management team that operated 200 aircraft and flew 1,200 hours per day, the sophistication of Business Aviation became quite clear. Schedules change at a moment’s notice, unscheduled maintenance disrupts operations and budgeting can be very challenging. In such a dynamic and at times unpredictable setting, accountants work side-by-side with managers to track closely metrics that impact the corporation’s bottom line.
My early experiences emphasized that Business Aviation is expensive and costs must be managed carefully. Pilots, schedulers, mechanics and executives each have their own priorities that impact costs.
It is the Flight Department Manager’s responsibility to harmonize, balance and ultimately decide what is the best way to operate company aircraft. Obviously, people skills are required.
The Flight Department Manager must become an expert in working with others, including C-Level personnel. Communicating effectively is imperative.
After almost 30 years of corporate flying, I still struggle with the challenge of presenting the cost/benefit story of Business Aviation. To accept the direct and indirect cost of running a flight department, executives must understand the intangible as well as the tangible benefits of a company aircraft.
Thus, I have developed strong arguments that help educate and prepare a company’s executives to back their flight operation. Good communications have been one of my most important tools.
Seeds of Ideas
People often react positively to changes when they believe an idea is their own. Planting the seeds of an idea requires patience (seeds need watering before they take root and bear fruit), but the reward can be great when you garner C-Level support for your Flight Department’s needs.
In one consulting job that I had, I focused on introducing the benefits of corporate flying to the members of the company’s executive team. The success of this project depended on high aircraft utility and each cost center paying for their airplane’s usage. My premise was that using the company’s aircraft would remove wasted travel time and increase productivity. In a busy and tight daily schedule, this capability would ultimately create opportunities for more family time and personal fulfillment for our executives.
I spent time at the main office ‘sowing’ the idea whenever the opportunity arose, showcasing the benefits of a corporate flight department. Complementary topics included efficiency, reach, expansion capability, personal and corporate safety, and growth tools.
When key executives began using terms like “time is money” and “office in the sky” while planning their business travel, it was clear the seeds had begun to take root within their thinking.
Planting valid arguments to warrant the use of executive travel is key to validating the existence of the corporate flight department and helping the board understand Business Aviation.
Empathy and Honesty
Having once been hired by a medium-size company to set up a new flight department, it became clear during my first meeting with the accounting team that there were misgivings over such a large expenditure. It was important to validate their concern – to show understanding for their position and thoughtfully explain that the decision to purchase the airplane had already been made by the principal.
By doing so, I was able to create an environment of cooperation and understanding while significantly reducing (if not eliminating) resistance.
From there we could find the right balance between a budget and provisions for a first class flight department.
Openness and honesty are important to facilitate productive discussion with an accounting team or C-Level executives inexperienced in private aviation. Discussion needs to include typical expenses associated with aircraft ownership along with some of the unusual costs associated with airplanes. When people have a clear idea of what to expect, they’re more likely to co-operate and focus on productive work.
There is no doubt that cost analysis and metrics are an important and valuable tool for managing and forecasting a corporate flight department’s operational costs. Communication of those metrics and analyses are just as important.
Without having the necessary people fully supporting your endeavor, you will have a very hard time building your dream flight department.