David Wyndham adds to his observations regarding how best to obtain value from a business aviation consultant. His recommendation? Start by having a good idea of why your company seeks expert advice…
In last month’s issue of AvBuyer, we discussed the usefulness of a business aviation consultant and emphasized that his or her recommendations should be objective and focused on the choices your corporation needs to make. Since the consultant works closely with senior-level management or the company’s aviation manager, a professional relationship must be established.
This month, let’s look at the nuts and bolts of that relationship and answer the common questions that corporations can expect when dealing with aviation consultants.
Before looking for an aviation consultant, its best to start with why a consultant is needed. What is the problem you want solved and what will a successful outcome look like? Is the question one of financial justification, personnel staffing, operations or another area of concern?
Management and financial problems touch on the aviation department’s style of operation and can include a variety of issues.
Identifying the kinds of answers being sought helps qualify what type of aviation consultant is needed.
If you don’t have prior experience with aviation or aviation consultants, word of mouth is a great first step for locating assistance. Having a Board Member with exposure to Business Aviation may be helpful, since that person may have a reference or two and can give you the benefit of their impressions - good or bad.
Your aviation manager should also be a good source of information. Hopefully he or she has been involved in professional education and attended meetings and conferences where there were opportunities to network with other managers who used consultants.
Many subject-matter experts as well as generalists in aviation management publish articles in trade magazines; that source provides readers with a good feel for a consultant’s style and business outlook.
At Conklin & de Decker, we receive numerous referrals via current client recommendations. Some clients come to us having been familiar with the cost data that we publish and from reading articles such as this one. While our website serves an advertising function, potential clients for our consulting services often start with the Internet and then check recommendations from their own network. A phone call works as a great first interview.
In working with any outsider, make sure they understand your expectations. When first discussing your requirements with a consulting firm, ask questions regarding their experience and their work with similar clients. Seek questions they have for you.
Clients who engage Conklin & de Decker are often the Aviation Manager or the manager’s direct boss at corporate headquarters. When an in-house flight department does not exist, the hiring tends to come from the main decision-maker (owner/CEO) or a financial executive like the CFO. It is rare, but possible, for the aviation manager to lack the confidence of the main decision-maker. In those instances, the consultant clearly is working for the executive team.
At my company, our jobs are mostly closed-ended. We have a specific set of questions to address and areas where guidance is sought. For such assignments, we quote a fixed-price for the project. On occasion the questions are open-ended and not confined to a specific decision. Then an hourly retainer is more appropriate.
As with any hourly billing, make sure both the consultant and the client understand expectations and have a rough budget or not-to-exceed limit on costs.
Regardless of a closed- or open-ended relationship, both parties must have clearly defined goals and anticipated deliverables.
Many of our clients seek assistance with costs of owning and operating business aircraft. We look at operational concerns related to selecting the right aircraft and can help with the competitive process associated with an acquisition. Taxes related to ownership structures often arise, prompting us to serve in an advisory capacity, usually short-term in nature.
Consulting arrangements can be long-term, however, such as assisting an aviation department to obtain a safety accreditation from an outside authority such as the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), which developed the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO). The IS-BAO protocol is an industry code of best practices developed by the international Business Aviation community for the benefit of its members and typically requires many months for a flight department to achieve. There are ongoing as well as periodic commitments to acquire and maintain IS-BAO accreditation, and the services of a consultant often are required.
Other consulting engagements, such as addressing a maintenance issue, may be a long-term or “on again, off again” relationship. The type of job determines the length and frequency of the consultant’s contract.
Assisting a client in acquiring a business aircraft may involve several functions, such as evaluating competitive offers, assisting with various inspections pre- and post-purchase, as well as sourcing expertise to manage and monitor the new aircraft completion process. Whether new or pre-owned, there should be a competitive process.
When you purchase pre-owned you may wish to upgrade the systems or repaint the exterior and refurbish the interior. In a case of significant refurbishment, a consultant may provide aircraft “babysitting” to help stay within the allocated budget.
Selecting a consultant is similar to selecting an aircraft: Identify the mission your firm wishes to fulfill, specify the requirements of that mission, and understand the problem to be solved and the goals to be achieved.
Then you will be on the right path for choosing a consultant who is right for your firm.