Virtually every aviation director and aviation reporting executive that we know of struggles with the same questions.
“How many maintenance technicians, pilots and flight attendants do we need on our staff to:
- Maintain the highest service levels to our travelers?
- Provide a healthy work/life balance for our aviation professionals?
- Be economically responsible?
Now there’s a trio of loaded questions!
And, there are no “pat” answers, because the operating variables are so different in each aviation organization.
The topic of appropriate staffing levels can be a delicate, even emotional, subject.
To encourage productive discussions, we suggest incorporating some of the same techniques used when formulating an operating budget.
One of the most important keys is to work with the reporting executive to define and agree upon each of the relevant assumptions that impact staffing levels.
In this blog, we’ll focus on pilot and flight attendant staffing levels.
Rethinking Industry Guidelines
Some business aviation leaders rely upon general industry guidelines to determine how many pilots and flight attendants are required to staff a department.
The difficulty with this approach is that these guidelines can quickly morph into “absolute numbers.” This doesn’t take into consideration the unique aspects of the organization’s travel patterns and operational requirements.
At Gray Stone Advisors, we prefer to use a more surgical approach. That is, we focus on each organization’s unique set of circumstances.
Let’s first discuss some important definitions and address factors to consider when scheduling pilots and flight attendants.
This is when an employer has control of an aviation professional’s day (or night).
For example, when a crew flies a two-hour trip, they really have worked a day, not merely two hours. We should think in terms of “days of work” versus “hours of work.”
This is defined as when an employee has complete control of his/her activities without them being interrupted by the employer.
For example, if employees “can only see their days off in the rear-view mirror,” their employer will have a staffing retention problem.
How to Determine Aviation Staffing Levels
To determine appropriate aviation staffing levels for pilots and flight attendants, we suggest looking at the most impactful and influential elements related to crew scheduling, which generally fall into three categories:
- Labor Supply
- Trip Demand
- Schedule Match
Step One: Determine Labor Supply
As we know, business aviation is a non-stop, service-driven function within a larger organization or a commercial business (as is the case with aircraft charter/management firms).
As such, labor supply will be based on a 365-day-per-year basis, leap years excluded. The first task is to determine how many days each aviation professional is available for a crew duty assignment.
It’s important to account for each of the different job functions separately: fixed-wing pilot, rotary-wing pilot and flight attendant, as well as management-level professionals who also fulfill a “line” role. A unique labor supply number will result for each flying role.
Step Two: Forecast Trip Demand
Next, determine future travel demand based upon past history, combined with an in-depth knowledge of the host organization’s future direction.
Conversations with the firm’s senior leadership and most prolific travelers can help create a realistic forecast of future travel demand.
Naturally, the time horizons will vary with the volatility of the host corporation’s core business activity.
Include the actual days of flying and RONs (Remains Over Night), as well as preparatory and fatigue-recovery days. This is in the case of those flight departments supporting significant international travel across multiple time zones.
Step Three: Match Trip Demand to Labor Availability
Here’s where “art meets science.”
The only real chance for a perfect match of “labor availability” to “trip demand” is if all trips are one day in duration, originating and concluding within a consistent, eight- to ten-hour period.
But that phenomenon is hard to find in business aviation!
Since Gray Stone’s practice began in 1996, we’ve only seen only a handful of operations with this trip scheduling profile.
The more common situation is represented by a wide distribution of trip durations—from one day to two weeks, combined with a high velocity of change to each trip’s itinerary.
Of course, this is characteristic of our industry wherein “Our only constant is change!”
Once these three steps are completed, the results will help determine the appropriate organizational headcount.
Insights will include how many trip days are needed, the number of labor days (per role), and the likelihood of a match between trip demand and labor availability.
Work with your HR Partner
We highly recommend involving Human Resources in this process (that is, if there’s an assigned HR partner).
It’s important to have the corporate-level support professionals involved in determining and supporting the need for proper headcount levels.
When they buy into the methodology described above, it will create greater alignment with corporate.
It will also help them achieve a more robust understanding of the staffing considerations that are unique to business aviation.
Calculating the Right Headcount
To help our business aviation clients define their labor supply constraints and trip demand, we run through each of the three steps mentioned above.
Plus, we use our innovative crewmember staffing calculator called Crew Count™.
This proprietary innovation gives our clients the ability to define assumptions that are unique for their particular operation, taking into account hundreds of variables.
How Crew Count Works
Upon the completion of our very detailed questionnaire, we process the client’s information using our software. We then provide a fact-based Crew Count report optimized for discussion with a reporting executive and other corporate-level stakeholders.
It’s been demonstrated time and again that achieving the appropriate headcount for a business aviation organization has a dramatic, positive impact on employee retention, morale and fatigue mitigation. And, all of these factors help lower operational risk and control costs.
When a leader is armed with the facts, based on agreed-upon assumptions, he or she can garner corporate support for the headcount needed to fulfill their aviation organization’s mission.