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Promoting Ethics and Integrity in Business Aviation

Management must take a top-down approach to promoting ethical behavior at all levels of the company.

Sept. 4, 2017

Are professional ethics and integrity cornerstones of your organization? How can you encourage ethical behavior throughout your aviation department, charter operation, maintenance facility or other aviation-related business? Simply put, ethics are standards that govern the conduct of members of a society or group. Integrity is adherence to those standards. Those are broad, abstract concepts, sometimes difficult to specifically define and apply to real-life challenges. How can an organization establish a culture of ethical behavior and integrity?

DEFINE EXPECTATIONS

Whether dealing with a human resources issue, choosing a maintenance vendor, negotiating the purchase of an aircraft or even just determining appropriate travel expenses, it is important to establish and follow guidelines to help employees act with integrity.

Set expectations for your organization’s employees, consultants and vendors regarding ethics. These policies should include a general code of conduct, as well as policies for travel, conflict of interest, confidentiality and social media practices.

Conflict of interest – or even the appearance of conflict – can be particularly challenging to define. Managers and leaders must explain that “income“ does not just mean cash. Income or earnings can also be in the form of gifts or other considerations.

Likewise, “employment“ – typically meaning receiving a W-2 from an organization – is not the only way to “work for“ an entity. The key point is – whose interests is the individual really representing? Whose interests should the individual be representing?

Define “conflict of interest“ and provide several hypothetical scenarios that your organization would consider a conflict.

  • Perhaps you establish a policy that requires an employee to disclose any work – with or without earnings (not just “employment“) – from a competing interest.
  • If you are a charter operator, consider requiring your pilots to disclose if they earn income from another charter company or charter broker.
  • If you’re an aviation manager searching for a new airplane, require your broker or salesperson to disclose if they are also working for the seller.

A conflict of interest might exist if an individual employed by your aviation operation is also representing (and being compensated by) an aircraft seller or broker of an aircraft your company is acquiring.

Another example of conflict of interest might be an aviation organization hiring a contracted service, such as aircraft cleaning, owned by an employee of that same aviation organization or an employee’s relative.

Once you have established standards or norms for your organization, be sure to review and update them often to help your employees act with integrity.

“Integrity goes hand-in-hand with ethics,“ said Tim Peace, CAM, aviation department manager for PB Air, LLC, and a member of NBAA’s Business Aviation Management Committee. “Ethics evolve over time, and technology can blur lines of integrity,“ partly because identities and relationships can be veiled or unclear.

PROVIDE ANNUAL TRAINING, OTHER EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES

Employees of large flight departments are often required by their parent company to complete ethics training annually, but such training is less common in smaller firms. Once you establish ethics policies, be sure to train your employees on those policies.

“Company ethics training with annual recurrent requirements is so important,“ said Chris Broyhill, CAM, who is with business aviation consultancy Mente Group and is a member of NBAA’s Business Aviation Management Committee. “It reminds employees about conflicts of interest, travel policies, confidentiality, social media, discretion and other ethics-related topics.“

Broyhill also advised that conducting ethics training annually, and documenting that training, can help the company enforce ethics policies and better manage personnel matters related to ethics violations. Leaders should consider offering employees professional training and certification programs that teach ethics and promote integrity.

PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH

Of course, ethics must be demonstrated from the top down. Setting expectations for ethical behavior, and training employees on those expectations, is critically important. Top management’s actions must be beyond reproach and serve as an example to all.

“As leaders, we need to demonstrate and reinforce this every day,“ said Chris Adams, regional sales manager at FlightSafety International and chairman of NBAA’s Business Aviation Management Committee. “Ethical behavior is an overlying governing principle in my organization. We are held to the highest standards and are expected to be trustworthy, reliable and honest. We are respectful of confidentiality and aim for constant self-improvement and self-development. Ethics and integrity aren’t just buzzwords – they are an integral part of our culture."

These traits are demonstrated by each member of management to ensure ethics and integrity aren’t just slogans – they become the company culture.

Set expectations regarding:

  • Conflict of interest
  • Code of conduct
  • Travel expenses and conduct
  • Confidentiality
  • Discretion
  • Social media
  • Intellectual property
  • Proprietary information

NBAA offers several programs and courses that focus on ethics and integrity.

  • Professional Development Program (PDP) Courses – Several PDP courses address the topics of ethics and integrity. For example, HR Management: Law and Ethics is offered online by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
  • NBAA Leadership Conference Sessions – A key element of leadership is serving as a role model for ethics and integrity. NBAA’s annual Leadership Conference offers sessions on these topics. The 2018 conference is scheduled to be held Feb. 26-28 in San Diego, CA.
  • The Certified Aviation Manager (CAM) Credential – The CAM certification program, which assesses an individual’s knowledge and skills on an array of topics relevant to business aviation management, stresses the importance of ethics and integrity. The CAM Governing Board uses surveys of subject matter experts to determine the standards expected by employers, including ethics and integrity. The CAM program also includes management learning objectives, such as code of conduct, discretion, social media best practices, intellectual property and proprietary information policies.

Mentoring Can Help Define, Reinforce Ethical Behavior

Business aviation is a close-knit industry. It is common to know and socialize with vendors and other colleagues, even competitors. That camaraderie can blur ethical lines, particularly for those new to the aviation industry.

For example, it is not a conflict of interest if a flight department employee recommends a maintenance provider because they personally know the owner or manager of the company and know the facility does excellent work. It’s the result of networking and experience with various providers. But recommending a maintenance provider because they give the employee a referral fee or gift is a conflict of interest.

“You can’t assume we all come with the same ethical perspective,“ said Chris Broyhill, CAM, with Mente Group and a member of NBAA’s Business Aviation Management Committee. “Everyone comes from different backgrounds and we approach ethical problems differently.“

Is accepting a referral fee from a vendor an acceptable practice, or is it a “kickback“ that should be rejected or, at the very least, disclosed to your employer? If you’re new to the company or industry, you might not know the answer.

By establishing mentoring relationships for new employees, you give them a responsible, experienced resource within the organization with whom to discuss these types of issues.

“Ethics and integrity have a lot to do with perspective and what lens you view a particular scenario through,“ said Tim Peace, CAM, aviation department manager for PB Air, LLC, and a member of NBAA’s Aviation Management Committee. “You have to be self-reflective to determine if there’s a conflict or other ethical issue you should disclose to your employer. This is not a one-size-fits-everyone subject. Circumstances are rarely the same, as this industry is very dynamic and each application must stand on its own merit.“

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This article originally appeared in the September/October 2017 issue of Business Aviation Insider. Download the magazine app for iOS and Android tablets and smartphones.