Flight Department Management
Understanding foundations of Business Aviation safety
One of the several foundations for safety identified by NBAA relates to the issue of professionalism within the Flight Department. But is there really a problem in this area within Business Aviation? Mario Pierobon investigates…
According to the NBAA definition, professionalism is “the pursuit of excellence through discipline, ethical behaviour and continuous improvement. It is a cornerstone focus of active safety management where professional behaviours rule and safe actions become a by-product. Professionalism is about who we are and how we approach everything that we do”.
Whether, by that definition, there is a widespread professionalism issue in Business Aviation is not an easy question to answer. There is a significant degree of variation among the different Flight Departments within this segment of the aviation community.
There certainly are Flight Departments that do not make the pursuit of excellence their main corporate goal. On the other hand there are Flight Departments that very tightly maintain best industry practices and commit to continuous improvement. Regardless of whether a Flight Department actively pursues professionalism or not, there are ways for Flight Department Managers to instil professionalism within their organizations.
Due (in part) to the limited regulatory requirements affecting the community (e.g., FAR Part 91 in the USA), there are various jobs within Business Aviation Flight Departments that do not have strong qualification criteria.
For example, ground handlers and operations control personnel (at least in Europe) are not required to have qualifications as rigidly codified as flight crews. Moreover, the business processes they are required to follow are less detailed than for flight crews and maintenance technicians. The result is that performance expectations for these personnel can be vague.
Flight Departments can ‘professionalize’ their personnel by defining qualification requirements for the positions within, making a thorough evaluation of training needs and delivering appropriate training.
In the absence of applicable regulatory requirements, Flight Departments can look at the requirements that apply to the Scheduled Airlines, tailoring them to their own scale of Business Aviation operations. There needs to be clear and solid qualification criteria as well as appropriate training.
Training and qualification are part of the initial exercise to improve professionalism. The ongoing effort will primarily concern performance management.
Employees need to know the performance targets they must achieve. These targets must be accepted by all relevant parties, and ongoing assessments of desired performance should be conducted.
While many of the performance targets need to be organization-specific, there are some generic targets that should be considered by a Flight Department, such as productive yardsticks and reviews (written and oral) on ways to improve safety and efficiency.
Most important, an employee needs to know what is expected for them to deliver adequately over a specific time period.
Performance assessment sessions should occur on a regular basis, in a semi-formal fashion to avoid year-end surprises. Feedback is needed to enable employee follow-up in a timely way.
Periodic performance reviews allow an opportunity for the Flight Department to provide feedback and communicate recurrently what is expected of its employees, thus fostering a change in behaviour where necessary.
A workforce that performs as a team in a structured and predictable fashion consistent with best practices, provides a high level of safety. Such behavior is reassuring to management.
People working together can reasonably rely on their colleagues to be doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. With this confidence Flight Department operations can run more smoothly, with a higher sense of mutual trust among colleagues.