When and why should you outsource your flight planning? Aviation Director Andre Fodor offers insights on the value of using a flight support company to manage international trip planning…
It was a typical Middle-Eastern day; hot and bone-dry. The crew stayed with the airplane to complete the fueling, pre-flight preparations and to cool the cabin down while I returned to the FBO to greet the passengers. A few minutes before the limo carrying our principal pulled up, my phone rang.
The first officer was calling to inform me that he could not fuel the aircraft to the required load. High ambient temperatures and fuel expansion had caused the aircraft’s computer to limit the fuel intake. We would now require an unplanned fuel stop en route.
My first call was to our international trip handler. They asked pertinent questions and developed a new plan that included an interim fuel stop. In less than 45 minutes, they had re-arranged our flight plans and managed to secure new clearances that included overflying Iran.
We experienced only a minimal delay to our planned time of departure, the fuel stop was quick and efficient and our handler even arranged a gift basket delivery for our passengers to help minimize any inconvenience.
Upon landing at our destination, customs had already been informed of the delay resulting from the fuel stop, the handler had re-arranged our ground transportation and everything moved seamlessly towards the conclusion of a successful flight.
Flight Planning: In-House or Outsourced?
For domestic Flight Planning, a Flight Department can quickly learn to optimize its operations and extract maximum benefits from fuel and services required. But flying internationally can be a very different ball-game, for a plethora of unexpected reasons such as the one highlighted above.
For international flight, using a handler can also provide value beyond the obvious. For example, the complexities of international flying don’t end as the hangar door closes on a trip. Invoices for overflights and airway charges can be overwhelming, arriving at multiple destinations (office, local airport and home) and at different times (sometimes months after a trip was completed).
Failure to track and pay one of these could result in denied access to airspace or landing rights on future missions.
Using a handler as an agent for handling airspace invoices can help alleviate any potential problems, while providing the Flight Department with trip-specific invoices that clearly itemize the charges.
So how does a Flight Department source a handler that can offer the high level of service they need on their international travels?
Flight Support: It's All About Synergy
If your Flight Department could benefit from outsourcing its international Flight Planning and trip support to an experienced organization, the next question is which service provider to choose? Regardless of the Flight Department, a strong global presence from the provider is a must. Beyond that, choosing the right handler is all about synergy.
The manager of a larger flight operation might prioritize the need for efficiency under pressure above personalized service. Their need will be for a larger handler that is staffed to fulfill the higher service demand. Smaller Flight Departments may prefer boutique-style handling with a personalized touch.
Ultimately, the final choice comes down to what a specific Flight Department needs, where it can have those needs met, and the regions covered by the handler.
Once the right provider is selected, the establishment of a long-term relationship with the one company will prove beneficial to the operator. As the service provider becomes more familiar with the needs of the Flight Department, it will remember hotel preferences and have all the necessary aircraft, passenger and crew documentation readily available on file.
With an established relationship, the dispatch team will also prove more sympathetic to the many changes that occur as the trip plan changes and evolves. The handler should demonstrate willing to learn how your Flight Department operates and almost anticipate what will be requested as a trip comes to the planning board.
Why Outsource Flight Planning?
Once the handler receives a proposed schedule, they build a trip package. This may be downloaded to a digital tablet and the aircraft’s Flight Management System. Naturally, however, updates, changes and additions (such as ground transportation and hotel logistics) are further refined and updated as the final details of the trip are established.
The handler with whom you have built a relationship should prove flexible to your needs, from initial planning, through to following the flight from the moment of departure, all the way to the hotel check-in at the destination.
Indeed, as a trip begins your handler obtains overflight permits and proposes re-routes and fuel stops. Monitoring weather, politics and fuel prices, a handler with global presence will offer local knowledge of the regions you’re travelling to.
Having somebody to watch the details that can change on a moment’s notice allows the crew to get the adequate rest before a long-haul flight, knowing the finer details of the flight are in good hands.
(It may seem a minor point, but your long-term dispatcher should also be cognizant of when to refrain from interrupting pre-flight rest times, unless the matter requires an urgent response.)
A Flight Department might try several Flight Planning and support providers before finding the one best aligned with their operation, and there will undoubtedly be a learning curve in doing so. Build the relationship, invest in polishing the processes and set reasonable expectations. You’ll be rewarded with direct routings, optimized flight levels and many smooth flights.