GRAY STONE ADVISORS' BLOG

Five Ways to Get Ahead in Business Aviation
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As an aspiring leader, do you sometimes wonder how to get ahead in business aviation? Would you like to know how to move up through the ranks? Figuring out how to stick with your current employer and advance professionally is possible -- even if you might work for a small flight department where advancement opportunities seem limited. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too.

By Steve Brechter, Gray Stone Advisors

Every Pleasure Has Its Price

young man leaning on business jetIt’s often been said that we in aviation have an unfair advantage over those in other professions, in that we’re far more passionate about what we do than anyone else.

If that’s a crime, I’ll admit right now that I’m, ‘guilty as charged!’ I love being in aviation. I’ve loved every aviation job that I’ve had. I don’t know whether it’s the smell of Jet-A in the morning, the sound of a jet engine at idle or the challenge of ‘making it happen’ for the executive passengers, but on most days throughout my aviation career, I just can’t wait to get to work.

Yet, like most other things in life, there is a downside to this business. As a college professor once told us in class, “every pleasure has a price.” Flight departments are usually small, and aviation is in most cases not the core business of the parent company, so opportunities to advance are limited. Figuring out how to stay involved in an industry we love while seizing the opportunity to advance professionally usually leaves us scratching our heads. It very often feels like an ‘either/or’ decision.

But I’m here to tell you that there are ways to have your cake and eat it too. You can stay involved in what you truly love doing, yet find yourself at the head of the pack when it’s time for the next chief pilot, director of maintenance, scheduling manager or even the director of aviation to be selected.

Below are five ways to get noticed in business aviation and be positioned at the top of the succession list.

Five Ways to Get Ahead in Business Aviation

1. Be Present

If you’re a maintenance professional or scheduler, you’re likely in the office each day, so you can ignore this section. But to the pilots, if you’re rarely in the office and ‘come in, fly and go home’ is your modus operandi, good luck; it’ll never get you to the next rung on the aviation career ladder. Those days are long gone, and doing so is barely meeting minimal job requirements.

At one of Gray Stone Advisors’ client engagements not long ago, I was asked to participate in an assessment of the leadership capabilities of the pilot group. For those who ‘showed up’ and were involved in department activities beyond flying (respectful, of course, of duty and rest provisions), the task was easy. However, for those who did not, there was little insight into or evidence of their leadership abilities. There was, therefore, little insight by which to assess their leadership potential.

If you want to be in line for succession, be present!        

2. Be Engaged

Being present is only part of the deal. You also need to be engaged. Which means that you need to be active in the projects and initiatives that are driving the flight department to higher levels of performance, not just maintaining the status quo.

Step one is to ensure that you have a collateral duty for which you are the clear owner. Regardless of what your position is with the flight department, take it on voluntarily and give it all you’ve got. Ideally, connect it to your Individual Development Plan (IDP). Try to take on something you’re passionate about, so it won’t feel like work. And, by all means, create opportunities to provide status reports and updates to flight department leadership whenever you can.

To be noticed in business aviation, be engaged!

3. Be a Leader

One of the key competencies of a leader is that they always look for opportunities to improve themselves and their organizations. If there’s an identified need and nobody to fill it, take it on!

For example, a flight department we have worked with needed to select the most functional and cost-effective Wi-Fi system for the company’s super mid-sized business jet. A maintenance technician stepped forward and asked for the opportunity. He took on the task, studied the technology, prepared a report, made a recommendation and presented his findings…all the way through flight department leadership and, ultimately, to the aviation reporting executive at corporate! From that day on, that maintenance technician was sought after for involvement in many corporate initiatives.

Want to be on the map career-wise? Be a leader!

4. Be Informed

One of the pitfalls of being in aviation is that you’re physically located away from the parent company, and therefore out of the mainstream of corporate activity. It’s easy to become isolated and disconnected. The same goes for involvement in the aviation industry.

You’ve got to make it a professional priority to stay informed. Be aware of what’s happening in your company through the Intranet portal or other informational sources. Study all online media sources for company information. Industry-wise, make sure that you read the leading business aviation trade publications and are plugged-in to the latest industry developments. Whether it’s User Fees or the latest on EU-ETS, you never know when your aviation director or an executive passenger will have read something and ask for your opinion.

Want to be a player in business aviation? Be informed!       

5. Be Ready

The most important aspect of getting ahead in business aviation is to be ready when opportunity knocks. The days of, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, you’ll get the job when I retire went out with the 8-track tape player. These days, you must have all the attributes necessary for the position to which you aspire.

How do you do that? Adopt a relentless commitment to the development and execution of your IDP. The basic philosophy of an IDP is simple, and much like the Material Requirements Planning (MRP) process in a manufacturing operation. ‘What I need’ minus ‘what I have’ equals ‘what I have to get and when I need to get it.’

Construct your IDP carefully, and discuss it with your supervisor at least quarterly. Don’t let budgets get in the way. There are many ways to execute the elements of an IDP, and they don’t always require budget resources. Be creative and remember that you are the CEO of ‘You, Inc.!’

The fifth, and most important, way to get ahead in business aviation is to be ready.

An Invitation

It’s likely that you’ve made it to where you are in your aviation career by employing some of the tactics above, along with many others. We’d like to know what has helped you to get ahead. We invite you to fill out the comment section below, and share the approaches that have worked the best for you.

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