How to Address the Top 4 Challenges Faced by Most Flight Departments
How to Address the Top 4 Challenges
Faced by Most Flight Departments
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How to Address the Top 4 Challenges Faced by Most Flight Departments

Jim Lara

By Jim Lara
Principal and Founder, Gray Stone Advisors

If your flight department operates one-to-three aircraft, you’re likely facing resource constraints. And depending on how you manage them, they can make or break your operating success.

Because a lack of resources is such an important issue to a growing number of operators, NBAA’s Small Flight Department Subcommittee identified these four challenges:

  1. Budgeting
  2. Communicating with corporate/owner
  3. Human resources
  4. Compliance

The Biggest Obstacles

Of the nearly 200 operators who were polled, 20 percent said their largest obstacle regarded staffing.

“It’s hard to find qualified people, maintain the top performers, find the money to compensate people appropriately, cover training costs and find time to schedule training,” noted NBAA subcommittee member Karen Henriques.

These difficulties tie back into budgeting, she said.

Asked about the single-biggest challenge facing their small flight departments in 2016, nearly a quarter of respondents identified “budgeting issues.”

Henriques said, “So many responses from those surveyed were related to getting help creating budgets for their departments, working on budgets, justifying expenses, planning ahead and managing their maintenance costs versus their staff costs.”

Tips for the Resource-Constrained

So how do you make a big impact with little to no business-related resources? Here are four helpful tips you can start using immediately:

1. Improve communications
Remember: executives don’t have the time or interest to read a manuscript or listen to a lengthy speech. If you’re presenting a summary to them, begin with a crisp recap of the assignment/objective. Next, succinctly state the answer and the suggested course of action.

  • Be strong, declarative and confident.
  • Avoid phrases like “I believe,” which convey weakness. If you didn’t believe it, you wouldn’t say it.
  • For written summaries, use bold words, subheads and bullet points to make the document easy to scan.

2. Make impactful presentations
You have less than six seconds to capture your audience’s attention. Whether you’re presenting with a PowerPoint deck or not, remember that less is more!

For written presentations, write one thought per slide (think: a bumper sticker message), and include no more than five-to-seven slides for an executive summary.

  • Start with the answer or solution. (If they want to know how you got there, they will ask.)
  • Follow that with your suggested course of action.
  • Ask for their decision and be silent until they respond.
  • Listen when someone is asking you a question. Don’t think about your answer until you have heard their entire statement.
  • Say “thank you” when the “sale” is made, then leave.

3. Negotiate for budget
Senior executives are usually bottom-line focused. Often, they don’t personally know what the bottom line number should be, but they recognize it’s their responsibility to find the most reasonable number.

They’ll react to your total budget number before anything else is examined. So it’s important to expect push back during budget discussions.

To ensure that the budget you’re presenting is the best it can possibly be, here are our recommendations:

  • Anticipate the needs of your organization or owner for the coming year. Begin by defining the assumptions that will drive the operating expenses.
  • Go through every expense and identify what will “drive” or “influence” each line item.
  • Describe the relationship between “cause and effect.” Identify the “Fixed” and “Variable” costs. (Fixed costs occur whether or not the aircraft is operated; and variable only when the aircraft is operated.)

4. Negotiate for headcount
There are a variety of factors to consider when determining the number of pilots and flight attendants needed to safely and efficiently operate each aircraft. To get the right formula for your operation, follow these tips:

  • Clarify training, development and HR policies (holidays, vacation/PTO policies and workweek schedule).
  • Quantify historic travel (is it indicative of the future?).
  • Compare net labor supply to anticipated travel demand.
  • Consider the scheduling match between labor supply and demand.
  • Conduct your negotiations based on fact, not feelings or opinions.

Considering that 90 percent of NBAA members operate three or less aircraft, these issues are quite real.

Thankfully, there are complimentary and fee-based tools to help resource-constrained managers address their biggest challenges.

Gray Stone Advisors Gray Stone Advisors

Gray Stone Advisors combines their experience both in leading businesses as well as managing business aviation operations in order to provide flight department leaders with strategies for improvement. For more than 20 years, they’ve been “simplifying the business of business aviation” by working alongside all layers of aviation personnel, senior executives and family office representatives to help them become truly adept in all of the aspects of operating a business within a business.


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