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Training To Be An Aviation Manager

Management has nothing to do with flying. Though your specific aviation expertise as a pilot or maintenance technician is important, it is actually more important as a flight department manager to be a generalist and familiar with the ways of business and handling people.

AvBuyer   |   1st January 2013
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Training to be an Aviation Manager: Managers, pilots and maintenance personnel need different skill sets.
By Walter Kraujalis

Management has nothing to do with flying. Though your specific aviation expertise as a pilot or maintenance technician is important, it is actually more important as a flight department manager to be a generalist and familiar with the ways of business and handling people.

Your ability to fly an ILS to minimums with a 20-knot crosswind may make you a great pilot, but such proficiency does not make you a great manager. Similarly, your ability to troubleshoot engine issues may offer job security in the maintenance department, but such skill does not assure that you will have a successful career in management. Specialized expertise should give you a strong appreciation of the need for flight standards, training and proficiency among all your pilots; and respecting a maintenance expert’s knowledge of OEM specs, equipment operation and safety practices is highly useful for managing mechanics.

When leading people with technical skills, knowing in general what they do and respecting their special talents are valuable tools for a successful manager. But skills needed to manage a flight department are different than those required to implement day-to-day operations.

TRAINING REQUIRED
No one expects you to be a natural-born leader and manager. It takes training. What information should a manager know? A good place to look for that answer is within the Certified Aviation Manager (CAM) program, currently hosted by the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), See http://www.nbaa.org/prodev/cam/overview/. There are five general areas of knowledge:

• Business Management,
• Human Resources,
• Leadership,
• Operations, and
• Technical and Facilities Services.

Each of these areas is further broken down into more specific topics of knowledge and skills necessary to be a successful flight department manager. Don’t try to go it alone. You can avoid frustration and mistakes by seeking help and support from those who have gone there before you. Start by joining your country’s Business Aviation association or any regional Business Aviation association if available. All of them have three essential resources that you need: information, training and networking opportunities.

Business Aviation organizations distribute information in various forms of publications such as websites, newsletters, articles and management guides. Read all you can. You don’t have to commit everything to memory thanks to the benefits of Internet search engines, but at least have a familiarity of the issues within the industry.

Their information is particularly relevant because associations typically only share what comes from the top experts or from one of their working committees. Take as many training courses on leadership and management as you can find and afford. The NBAA offers a two-day ‘Management Fundamentals for Flight Departments’ Workshop twice a year, as well as dozens of other short courses. Your employer may also provide its own short courses in management, leadership and human resources. Taking these company courses not only helps you in your overall knowledge of the topic, but also exposes you to your company’s perspective on the issues and how they wish for you to deal with them.

Learn from other’s mistakes and experiences. Networking is a way for you to meet your peers and compare your experiences. Attend industry conferences. Join a working committee of the association that best fits your career objectives. Get to know several managers of flight departments, and ask them if they have encountered whatever situation you may be experiencing.

Though such a patient approach may be hard for many of us ‘Type A’ personalities in aviation, don’t be standoffish or just swap flying stories. Be bold, show a little vulnerability and ask potential mentors your questions. It may be a little awkward at first, but it is definitely worth the effort.

MENTORS—VALUABLE RESOURCES
Seek out and develop a relationship with someone who can be a mentor to you in your career. A mentor is someone with relevant and extensive experience who you trust and who will guide you in positive behaviors. Select someone who is dependable, engaged, authentic and tuned into your needs. Since it has already been said that management has very little to do with flying per se, your mentor can be someone you respect and trust within another industry.

An alternative to a finding a mentor is to hire your own professional coach. Even the best athletes continue to train with a coach to improve their game. It is the same in business. Professional coaching is popular among aspiring as well as top managers in many industries and is gaining interest among aviation managers.

A professional coach isn’t someone who just calls or emails to nag you about your schedule or meeting your goals. Once a coach gets to know you, your abilities and wishes, he or she can help create a personal development plan. They help you to probe more about a situation, present more than one perspective on issues, and help you set and fulfil expectations in your work environment. They are professionals who will listen to your concerns and offer ideas without embarrassing you, and all communications are kept in strict confidence.

If your goal is to manage a company flight department, seek management education. Just as it is not possible to fly a business jet safely and efficiently without specific knowledge and skill, those aspiring to run a flight department successfully require mastery of a unique set of business tools.

Read more about: Management

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