Ready to Lead ? Business Aviation Directors Offer Advice

Author By Kim DiMetro
business aviation directors offer advice to newcomers

Are you ready to lead a flight department? Perhaps you’ll be better equipped to answer that question about your read advice from four aviation directors. In fact, you’ll find many common themes between flight departments.

All four leaders that I interviewed for this blog agreed that there’s no ‘Aviation Director 101’ course or on-the-job training. Nothing completely prepared them for their current position.

It was through their own volition and take-charge attitude that they have become successful in their positions. And there are still a variety of responsibilities that continue to challenge them.

Four Business Aviation Directors Offer Advice

Mentoring—These aviation directors want it! Each director stressed the importance of personally mentoring and coaching individuals on their team. They emphasized that this is part of their daily job responsibilities and didn’t see it any other way. Each is actively engaged in mentoring at least one person within his organization. However, not one of them felt he had a ‘real’ mentor when it came to his own executive position. Who should they, themselves, turn to for guidance? Should it be the reporting executive or someone outside the organization? To learn some tips on finding an executive mentor, I suggest reading this blog on how to find an executive mentor.


They had these questions: “How do I promote the use of the flight department within corporate?” or “How do I show shareholders the value of the company’s investment in business aviation?” or “If my company needed to increase the aircraft usage, how could I help them justify that mission?” If you’re in the same boat, here’s a post that might help.


Financial skills

“Someone help me with Budgeting/Finance 101!” Most aviation directors don’t have prior experience with preparing budgets. It’s a function that needs to have more exposure in the flight department, but how? Where do you begin? For starters, you might want to read this.


C-level executives

Most aviation professionals have worked their way up in the flight department ranks to their current position, but it’s a whole different world when working with corporations! They speak a different language, and, no doubt,their needs and expectations are different. So how do we bridge the lines of communication with corporate?  Where do we learn the languages of HR, Finance, Treasury, etc.? This blog on ‘leading up’ might offer some insight.



I admired the shared perspective among the interviewees with regard to leadership development. All of them exhibited an underlying direction of, “How can I be better in my role, so the flight department excels at serving the company?”

Many of us move from a management role into a leadership role and then what? Do we know how to shift into being a leader and not ‘doing’ in our flight departments?

The director’s role is one of leadership, not hands-on management.If you’re performing the work, you’re not leading. As a leader, your job is to empower the team, providing growth opportunities for all involved. Seeking resources for personal growth is ongoing.

Here’s some food for thought if you’re wondering whether you have what it takes to become a transformational leader. And, furthermore, some additional information if you’d like to know how to become one.


HR 101

Building a relationship with human resources (HR) can be challenging! Oftentimes there’s a struggle with understanding both party’s needs and how to make it work.

I heard feedback such as, “How do I identify talent and cultivate it within my organization?” and “How do we hire for our flight department with requirements that are sometimes ‘foreign’ to HR?” and “Is there a common ground between the flight department and HR?”

I think so, but I won’t sugarcoat this; it’s going to take time and work to get there! We’ve addressed ways to partner with HR and how to hire in this post, but we will definitely be addressing HR-related topics in the future.

Recommended Education and Skills for Newcomers

Having had these conversations, I’ve learned that there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to landing in the role as aviation director. Each professional rose up through the ranks on a different path. The commonality was their strength in people management and relationship skills, along with a strong desire for knowledge.Interestingly, each interviewee wishes they’d had a better understanding of the expectations for the position from both corporate and their predecessor (if possible).

Below are skills they wish they’d acquired before landing the role:

  • MBA – An MBA would provide the foundation for budgeting, financial processes, metrics and other functions that challenge those directors who have moved up in the ranks with little exposure to them in the flight department. In the meantime, this Web page might help.
  • Maintenance 101 – We all know that the Maintenance Department is responsible for keeping the aircraft airworthy, mechanically sound and safe. But do you really know what that entails? Have you had exposure to functions within the Maintenance Department, such as ‘warranty battles,’ contract items, etc.? Brushing up on them can be helpful.
  • Negotiating Skills – If you think about it, we negotiate every day. But do these everyday skills apply to the selling of an aircraft or the negotiation of a pre-buy? How many of you struggle with adding headcount, such as a pilot, maintenance tech or scheduler? When it comes to ‘high-ticket items’ or needs, you have to be at your best in negotiating.
  • Responsibilities—It’s amazing how varied and numerous an aviation director’s responsibilities are! And it’s impossible to truly know how many ‘hats’ this position will require on a daily basis. Just think about the ‘brush fires’ that pop-up, or what we like to refer to as the ‘tyranny of the moments’ daily. There’s never a dull moment!
  • People Skills—If you’re in a leadership role, such as aviation director, you most likely know how to work with various personalities. But do you find it easy to recognize and develop talent in your flight department? Have you mastered the art of ‘reading’ others or handling disruptive personalities? People are unique, and leading them is an ongoing learning process.
  • Executive Interaction—Foremost in their minds was that these directors would like to have had prior exposure to interacting with the reporting executive and those at corporate headquarters. Of course, these men knew how to communicate with executives on a routine flight, but they didn’t necessarily know how to speak the language of business in the context of business aviation.

Their Previous Experience and Capabilities

So what made these four gentlemen successful in their role as heads of their flight departments? Several expressed already having certain virtues, such as patience and humility (that is, being able to check their ego at the door). Additionally,the previous experience and capabilities that they brought to their current roles include:

  • People/Relationship Management
  • Presentation/Writing Skills
  • Public Speaking
  • Meeting Organizing/Planning
  • Financial Acumen
  • Mediation

Advice for Lifelong Learners

I’d like to thank my colleagues for helping me on my journey as a lifelong learner! I’m grateful that these directors are so approachable and willing to help others to become better. I’ll close with some pieces of advice they shared with me that I found particularly insightful:

  • “Have a thirst for knowledge.”
  • “Ask for unique projects.”
  • “Learn every facet of the business.”
  • “Actively seek a mentor.”
  • “Get involved!”
  • “Do it because you care about the company and your people; If you’re trying to do it to make a name for yourself,it won’t work.”
  • “Know yourself and know what you’re getting into.”
  • “It’s a 24/7 responsibility; it doesn’t go away.”
  • “Resolution requires the ability to hear and see all sides. Don’t make a ‘knee-jerk’ decision.”
  • “Give back to your company and truly have an interest.”
  • “Take advantage of your company’s tuition assistance.”


Your Turn

While we’ve already covered several of these topics in previous blog posts, I’ve obtained some great editorial content to share with our readers in upcoming months. In the meantime, I’d love to know what you wish you would have known before becoming an aviation director. Please share your advice for newcomers in the comments section below. Don’t be shy! People are seeking guidance, and who better to turn to than someone who has experience? Thank you for stepping up to the plate!