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Who ‘Owns’ the Aviation Department?

The key to serving many masters…

David Wyndham   |   23rd February 2016
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David Wyndham David Wyndham

As an Instructor Pilot in the U.S. Air Force- Dave's responsibilities included aircrew...
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Identifying and serving the ultimate boss via Business Aviation provides the greatest benefits for company shareholders and maximum longevity for aviation personnel, observes David Wyndham. But who is that ultimate boss?

Aviation Managers and CEOs have a challenge in common—they serve many masters. A CEO needs to be concerned with the shareholders and their returns. He or she must listen to the Board of Directors, yet communicate effectively with employees. The CEO who cannot motivate employees to see the corporation’s Vision and pursue its Mission will face difficulties in meeting corporate goals. For officials of public corporations, there are regulators who also have oversight. Yes, a corporate CEO has many masters.

The Aviation Manager also has many bosses, even if the Aviation Department’s sole purpose is to be the CEO’s transportation. At the end of the day, it is the corporation and its shareholders who must be served. The Aviation Department must integrate with the corporate structure and understand how it supports external and internal business units within the entire enterprise.

While it’s tempting to cater to the CEO, the enlightened Aviation Manager focuses on addressing the goals and objectives of the company as a whole.

A Fortune 500 CEO’s tenure varies, but according to the Wall Street Journal the average tenure is less than 10 years and almost a quarter of departing CEOs leave as a result of dismissal. Woe to the Aviation Manager who seeks the favor of a single executive.

A key to longevity of the Aviation Department is how well it is enmeshed into the activity of the corporation. I have seen Aviation Departments downsized or closed when their sole-benefactor retired or was let go.

Serving the Entire Company

How can the Aviation Department benefit the entire corporation? Quick answer: It can add value at three levels:

  • The Shareholder Level: profits, market share and returns are examples;
  • The Enterprise Level: quality, asset management, cost control;
  • Executive/Employee Level: productivity, team collaboration, product development.


One recent client’s experience shows all three levels being met by the effective utilization of the corporate aircraft. The company had a goal to double the number of retail locations in the Northeast US. The Aviation Department used the corporate aircraft to transport corporate teams to the Northeast to oversee and manage the opening of the new locations and to coordinate the training needed for the new managers and employees.

It flew senior management to speak at the regional meetings. Other times it flew sales and marketing teams to train new employees at multiple sites over a few days. The use of the corporate aircraft allowed this company to maximize its employees’ time, accelerate the opening of the new retail locations, and ensure a consistent level of customer experience when the stores opened. Thus it met:

  • The Shareholder Level: increasing market share by opening new stores;
  • The Enterprise Level: maintaining quality of service at the new locations;
  • Executive/Employee Level: maintaining executive staff productivity while training new staff.


Focus on Corporate Goals

When determining appropriate direction for the Aviation Department, managers should relate trip fulfillment to corporate goals. For the retailer cited above, the utilization strategy was supporting trips to the Northeast US during the corporation’s expansion in that region. At times, senior leaders had to adapt their travel plans in order to allow the aircraft to serve the various other teams involved in the company’s expansion.

Of course, it was the senior leadership that made the decisions on priority, but the Aviation Department knew the corporate goals and developed tactics for how aviation personal and resources would support the company.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) should be used to measure the efficacy and value-added nature of the Aviation Department. As a quick review, for a KPI to be valuable, it must be understandable, meaningful and measurable. In general, a KPI can follow the S.M.A.R.T. criteria: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. They should be directly tied into the utilization strategy and aid in the measuring of the benefits to the company.

One tip here is to beware of measuring activity rather than productivity.

One client managed the flight schedule to maximize the seating on the aircraft traveling to their main operating locations. Sometimes that strategy meant coordinating trips to fill the aircraft seats. For the Aviation Department in this example, more hours could have been flown by making every trip a priority regardless of passenger load.

Instead the strategy maximized the productivity of each trip (passengers carried), knowing that the productivity benefit to the company was maintained while managing costs. While hours flown is an important metric, the Aviation Department maximized measures of productivity that supported the executive team and thus the corporation.

While departmental costs are always under review, which is appropriate, be sure to include costs that are avoided in terms of travel expenses such as overnight stays, lost worked time/productivity and other elements of inefficiency.

Throughout the process of satisfying the CEO, the CFO, Board Members and shareholders, the Aviation Department will need feedback from the corporation’s executive leadership. In addition to focusing on corporate goals, feedback is essential to guide the Aviation Department in its quest to serve its many bosses who demand satisfaction.

Ed Note: The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), through their joint ‘No Plane No Gain’ program, commissioned a set of studies examining the value-added benefits of corporate aviation: (http://noplanenogain.org/category/studies/). If your company’s Aviation Department doesn’t have them, they need to get them!


Read more about: Business Aviation Services | Flight Department Cost | Flight Department metrics | Business Aviation Ownership

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