Why Inheriting Oversight of the Aviation Department is not a Death Sentence

Author By Steve Brechter

Many years ago, as a successful operating executive at a Fortune 100 multi-national corporation, things were going well for me.

I had a title of Vice President, thousands of people reported to me and I oversaw the quality assurance function in the design and manufacture of aerospace components used in commercial and military aircraft, as well as our nation’s space shuttle program.

The organizations for which I was responsible were humming along well.

Life was good.

The Call

Then, I got the call.

On the other end of the phone was the Chairman who asked me to come down to his office, indicating that he had “something to talk about.'”

When I inquired as to what it was, he repeated, “I think I just asked you to come down to my office…”

I duly followed the order, which is usually what is done when a hard-charging Chairman beckons. Before I had a chance to sit down, he announced, “Steve, I want you to run the flight department.”

The first thoughts that crossed my mind were: Who did I piss off? What did I do wrong? And, how do I get out of this?

The Decision

As things turned out, I took the job as the Director of the flight department and quickly began to apply the manufacturing and quality assurance expertise I brought with me.

Funny, but that’s exactly what the Chairman had in mind.

Combining my skills with the deep technical knowledge already in place at the flight department, turned into a great outcome for the flight department, the company and me.

Now, granted, this was not the Aviation Reporting Executive position, but there are close parallels and the same rules apply.

If you’re a corporate executive and have just gotten ‘the call’ to oversee aviation, if aviation is not the core business of your company, and even if you don’t know the difference is between ‘V1’ and ‘VH1,’ fear not and read on.

In this post as well as Part II and Part III of this series, we’ll give you the key steps to succeed in your new and vitally important position as an Aviation Reporting Executive.

Your First 4 Steps as an Aviation Reporting Executive of the Aviation Department

1. Connect with the Team

The first thing you need to understand about business aviation is that it’s (usually) not the core business of your firm, and the people who work at the hangar possess deep technical knowledge.

They are likely executing well despite being physically removed from the parent company, but they don’t always feel part of the bigger picture.

Too bad you can’t land a Gulfstream in the parking lot of the corporate office, but that’s the way it goes.

The mere fact that you show up makes a big difference to the aviation team.

They are used to senior executives rapidly boarding the aircraft for departure and then heading straight for their cars after returning from a flight.

Therefore, they don’t often get substantive feedback or the opportunity to be listened to.

For the professionals at the flight department, it’s much more than a job–it’s a passion. So they’ll be proud and anxious to show you what they do.

Once you get out to the airport, get to know your people and start making connections.

You would be well-served to also schedule some meetings with the flight department at the corporate office. For many, it will be the first time they’ve been there.

2. Understand Aviation’s Value Proposition

The second thing you must do is to understand why the flight department exists.

No, this is not a trick question.

You must begin to formulate in your mind:

  • What is the flight department’s reason for being?
  • How does it support the goals and objectives of the parent company?
  • Is the aircraft strictly for senior level strategic air travel? Or is there a tactical mid-level management component as well?
  • Are there plant-to-plant shuttle operations?
  • Is there an ‘approved user’ list, or can anyone get onboard with a justifiable rationale for use?
  • Are the flights ‘open’ to anyone going to a specific destination or are they ‘closed’ for use by the requestor only?

Framed by the above, you can articulate the value proposition that business aviation provides to your company.

It can be expressed in a myriad of ways, with the most obvious being that of a time-saver, when comparing the use of the executive’s time when traveling on a business aircraft versus a commercial airline.

But there are many others, such as the creation of customer-facing opportunities and the consummation of business deals using the aircraft.

These all can be expressed in terms of the dollars the business aircraft returns to the company.

3. Know the Business Aviation Industry

For most reporting executives, Business Aviation is not the core function at that organization.

So how do you get to know and understand the intricacies of Business Aviation?

Use the industry trade group as a resource. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) hosts a wealth of knowledge on its website that will help you come down the learning curve quickly.

Make a point of checking out their Management Guide for key insights into the primary functional groups in a flight department and their missions. There are also highly informative webinars which allow you to participate in without leaving your office.

Attend the NBAA Annual Meeting & Convention held every fall in the U.S., which is the place to go for an immersion in business aviation.

Between the exhibition hall, static aircraft display and a constant schedule of seminars, it provides the greatest return on the investment in your time. Many reporting executives attend the NBAA convention with their aviation directors, who serve as a guide to the industry and to meet the key players in it.

4. Understand your Role at the Aviation Department

Perhaps the most important thing to know as a newly-minted Aviation Reporting Executive is your role and your limitations.

Remember that you are not expected to become the technical expert in maintaining the fleet of aircraft that your Company operates. That’s the role of the flight department’s Maintenance organization.

Likewise, you would not be well-served taking on the task of assigning aircraft to executive trip requests. Your Dispatch& Scheduling group does that very well.

Some Aviation Reporting Executives get too involved, and in the process, they get in the way.

Empower your aviation department team and trust them to do the jobs that they are well-trained to do.

Aviation professionals will always go the extra mile to get the job done and serve their senior executive customers well.

So, when they tell you or a senior executive traveler that the trip they just requested can’t be done precisely as planned because of duty-time limits, respect that decision and back them up.

They will always propose an alternative and they need to know that you ‘have their six’ on operational and safety issues.

Finally, if there’s one single important rule for an Aviation Reporting Executive to remember, it’s to entrust your flight department team to do what they do best and to act as their advocate at the corporate office.

More than anything, this will set the foundation for a positive and productive relationship as their reporting executive well into the future.

If you enjoyed this post, check Parts II and III in this series: Know the Numbers and Know the Fleet.