Think Differently: 5 Ways to Get Ahead in Business Aviation

Author By Steve Brechter
think differently - get ahead in business aviation

Mark Twain once said,“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

What’s the message?

If you want to get ahead in business aviation today, you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone and think differently.

The most effective leaders in our industry have a greatly expanded perception of the role that business aviation plays. They have gone far beyond the concept of “transportation provider” and into the new paradigm of “strategic business partner.”

Are you ready to do the same?

If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to review our post on 5 key trends. Then read on to learn how you can leverage these forces for yourself as a business aviation leader—and for your flight department overall.

5 Ways to Get Ahead in Business Aviation

1. Align Yourself With Corporate

It boggles the mind to consider how many flight departments still cling to the “out of sight, out of mind” operating philosophy.  What good is it going to do for you to sit at the airport and remain “hidden” from corporate? Not a bit!

You must clearly define your Vision, Mission and Values and make sure that they are completely aligned with your parent company or high net worth owner. You must regularly “show up” at corporate and engage with your executive leadership to completely understand the value proposition for aviation.

What do the business units of your company need from business aviation? How can aviation most effectively and economically address the need? What creates value? How is value measured?

All these answers are readily available, but only if you actively seek them out.

Tip:  Conduct regular executive interviews to assess and/or reaffirm the needs of your key executive users.


2. Become a Strategic Business Partner

If you think the role of your flight department is simply to be the “folks at the hangar” who transport executives from A to B, think again. If that was your only mission, there are many alternatives to providing that service.

But you’re really much more than that.

Sure, you are still in the executive transportation business, but to create maximum value, you must shift as well to the role of strategic business partner. Earn yourself a seat at the strategic planning table and become fully integrated into the strategic planning process.

Is there a sales region that needs more presence by the sales force? A new campaign intended to expand international markets?

Aviation should be in the conversation early on.

Tip:  Develop an aviation-specific presentation aimed at the company’s strategic initiatives and how aviation can leverage the current strategy. Ask your reporting executive to champion it among the senior leadership team.


3. Adapt to a Lower Reporting Position

Many aviation directors of today lament that the flight department no longer reports to the CEO, that aviation has somehow lost its “preferred” status within the corporation. Now, aviation leaders must stand in line to vie for scarce resources like everyone else.

In many cases, the reporting executive is not even an authorized user of the company aircraft. The truth is that more and more flight departments are in this position. You must accept it and learn how to make the best of it.

So how do you do that?

The secret is to enable your reporting executive to be as comfortable speaking about aviation as s/he is speaking about the other functional groups that report to them. You’ve got to equip them to be your advocate among their peers at corporate. That means educating them about what aviation does, the value it creates for the company and how aviation can add even more value by being part of the strategic planning process.

And you need to do so in plain English. Leave the “aviation-ese” at the hangar.

Tips:  Provide your reporting executive with “talking points” that they can share with their peers about the value creation afforded by business aviation. That generates awareness at the top levels of the company.If your reporting executive has no prior experience with business aviation, create an educational experience “by immersion” at NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (BACE).


4. Become a Credible Influencer

As flight departments continue to report to a lower position within the corporate hierarchy, a new set of skills is required. Yet acquiring these skills is one of the biggest challenges for many of today’s aviation leaders.

Aviation leaders must now become as fluent in the language of business as they are in the language of aviation.

The problem is that many aviation leaders have a deep, but fairly narrow focused experience base. That is, they are very good technical experts as pilots, maintenance technicians or schedulers, but have not adequately developed their business skills.

Business skills are more important than ever in today’s business aviation environment.

As a result, many business aviation leaders feel uncomfortable in business settings and are reluctant to fully engage at the corporate level.

The unfortunate result is that resources are often not acquired and the value created by business aviation is not fully understood. That places the flight department in a vulnerable situation. The flight department is the big loser in such situations.

Tip:  If you are an aviation leader without significant business skills, consider enrolling in an evening business course at a local college or university. Choose a course in finance or accounting and learn to “speak the language of business.”

You should also consider engaging a “trusted advisor”to provide support and equip you with business analyses and executive-level presentations when needed. We assist many business aviation leaders in this regard and stand ready to help you as well. Just ask.


5. Lead the Flight Department Effectively  

It seems that with each passing week we learn of another flight department that is closing or is being outsourced to a management company.

To be fair, there are many good reasons that management companies exist. There are also many good reasons that companies make the difficult decision to close a flight department.

But one thing we often hear from CEOs is that “there’s too much drama at the flight department” and “they require too much effort to manage effectively.” That should never be the reason a flight department closes.

A flight department needs to be very good at leading itself as the “business within a business” that it truly is.

One of reasons that a flight department might struggle in this area is that the aviation leader might be gifted with strong technical skills, but not people skills.

The flight department leader of today needs to be able to let go of “doing” and be more adept at “leading.”As a leader, it is more important to learn how to motivate performance from the organization than producing it yourself.

Tip:  If leading people is uncomfortable for you and/or you don’t have a passion for it, consider an “individual contributor”career track. If you are unsure of the best career track for you, a self-assessment tool like The Birkman can help you figure that out.


Your Turn

What are you doing to leverage the “key trends” in business aviation? We invite you to share your comments with us below.