Service Models: 5 Steps to Serving More than One Master in Business Aviation

Author By Steve Brechter

Do you remember how to solve multivariable linear equations? I sure don’t. Truth be told, I’d have to dig pretty far into my engineering textbooks to figure it out again.

But the fact is that we live in a complex, “multivariable” world with any number of forces acting upon us, often simultaneously.

In business aviation, we are not exempt from the actions of simultaneous forces.

One very real example is the existence of multiple service expectations. This is when different constituents within our traveler base have different travel needs, and we are looked upon to solve them all.

For instance, the CEO may be a heavy traveler with a clear set of travel restrictions, often dictated by the Board.

The Board itself may be transported to and from meetings. The senior executive team may have another set of vitally important and heavy travel needs.

And there may also be the need to provide regularly scheduled service between hard to reach city-pairs for employees at various levels within the organization.

In a multi-aircraft business aviation operation, there are often sufficient assets that can be allocated to each service expectation. But what if you are a single-aircraft operator with multiple service expectations placed upon you? How do you even begin to solve for them all?

Here are five steps to help you identify the expectations and define multiple service models

This ensures you do so without feeling like you’re playing “whack-a-mole” every time the phone rings at the hangar!

1.  Understand the Expectations

First and foremost, you’ve got to clearly understand the expectations that are placed upon your aviation operation. Many business aviation organizations think they do, but in our observation it’s often unsubstantiated.

The best way to understand expectations is to go to the source. You need to “get Green,” and ask your executives what they want.

Conduct annual interviews with your executive travelers. Ask questions about value-creation and how business aviation helps them achieve their business objectives. Use a structured interview process to ensure that you get consistent feedback among all of your interviews.

When we at Gray Stone Advisors help clients with such an interview process, we always include open-ended questions to make sure we learn of the things that may be on the executive’s minds that we do not even know to ask about.

Get specific. Ask about every aspect of the travel experience. Was it easy to schedule the aircraft? How are the onboard productivity tools working, such as the Wi-Fi? Were there times that you wanted the aircraft but it was unavailable? Once you have reserved the aircraft, has it ever been pulled? These are all things you need to know to clearly understand their needs and expectations.


2.  Define the Service Models

Once you have completed the interviews, reduce the data. What have you learned from your executive interviews?

Is the travel all business-related? Is personal travel accommodated? If so, are timeshare agreements in place? What is the frequency and what are the expectations surrounding response to “pop-up” trips? Are there city-pairs that a significant number of employees are traveling to via the airlines?

In analyzing what you’ve heard, service models will begin to emerge. There very well may be a service model surrounding the CEO that includes both business and personal travel.

Another potential service model might revolve around the senior executive team, who may need a reliable, short-notice, on-demand air travel option for critical face-to-face customer meetings. Yet another could be the need to scheduled shuttle service.

Clearly define all service models.


3.  Determine the Strategy

Once you understand the service models that need to be addressed, you must develop a recommended strategy for each of them.

One of the mistakes that many aviation leaders make is to assume that every service model identified needs to be addressed with company-owned or -operated aircraft. That could brand the flight department as parochial or self-serving. “More iron” is not always the answer.

You must evaluate all the options by which the identified service model could be satisfied. Certainly that could include company-owned or -operated aircraft, but it also could include aircraft capacity available on a variable cost basis only, such as charter. It could also include a fractionally owned aircraft.

Validate the observations with hard data extracted from the scheduling system. The perspectives of the executive could be different than the reality of the travel patterns that actually exist. Everything must be backed by fact.


4.  Make the Business Case

Every service model needs a strong business case. You need to enlist the support of your corporate finance team or an external trusted advisor to help build the financial model and develop the business case. Start with a clear set of assumptions for addressing each service model.

Another mistake that many flight department leaders make is to debate a course of action with the numbers.

Instead, any discussion of this kind needs to be focused on the input assumptions. The numbers are strictly a result of the assumptions.


5.  Recommend Solutions

Once the service models are identified and the business case has been made, carefully package the information into a crisp presentation for senior management. Keep it brief and to the point. State your conclusion up-front to get the CEO’s attention.

While further investment in aviation assets may not be “top of mind” for many CEOs, none that we know of would refuse to listen to a well-constructed business case with solid payback to the parent company.


What do you think?

The above approach is one that we have used with great success in many different corporate settings. We’re interested in what you have to say. Feel free to let us know in the comments section below.