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New NBAA Resource Helps Small Flight Departments Communicate with Management

Feb. 10, 2017

NBAA’s Small Flight Department Subcommittee has released the first in a series of resources offering flight department managers guidance on a variety of issues affecting their operations.

The first entry in the series, “Communicating with the Aircraft Principal,” provides strategies for effectively conveying aviation priorities to business owners or senior management.

Dave Keys, chair of the Domestic Operations Subcommittee and chief pilot at a small flight department, said the objective of the “Managing the Business of the Flight Department” series is to provide new or prospective business aircraft managers with answers to their most common questions.

“Our goal is to provide tangible tools that will help them be better managers,” said Keys. “Hopefully, this series will assist anybody who is looking to start a flight department, as well as experienced managers looking for ways to improve their operation.”

“Communicating with the Aircraft Principal” focuses on negotiation tactics that can help managers bridge communication gaps that potentially undermine flight department objectives. The resource’s content is adapted from an industry panel held at NBAA’s 2016 Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE), during which consultants from Gray Stone Advisors and other industry leaders offered advice on managing the “business” of business aviation. 

This subject was selected as the first resource because its information can be applied immediately to help managers “equate flight department needs to dollars and cents,” according to subcommittee member Karen Henriques, the primary author of the resource.

“What [aviation professionals] do every day is incredibly difficult – flying complex aircraft, and training pilots, as well as other members of the flight department,” said Henriques. “But when it comes to communicating with a senior executive, it’s a totally different skill set. You need to have the technical skills to run the flight department, but you also need to be able to communicate with the owner in a way that will keep the department safe and functioning optimally.”

The resource offers advice on contextualizing items within the flight department budget – such as the cost of contract pilots or safety training programs – into a business model that will align with the priorities of the owner or senior management. For example, experts recommend approaching negotiations about personnel needs from an empirical perspective, rather than personal one, using the average $150,000 to $200,000 cost per pilot turnover as a data point to stress the importance of maintaining positive morale.

“If you don’t know how to communicate why it’s important to have a certain amount of staff or allow people to have a certain amount of time off, you’re probably going to have increased turnover, and that’s going to hamper your ability to deliver what your principal needs,” said Henriques.

Keys said that subcommittee members are already working on additional resources for the series. Future topics may include establishing flight department goals to be in line with those of the company, best hiring practices and seeking letters of authorization.

Learn more about the Small Flight Department Subcommittee.