Selling the Benefits of Your Flight Department

 - February 2, 2007, 9:40 AM

Does a recovering economy and the rising stock market offer any assurance that your flight department will survive in 2004? Don’t count on it. While expanding corporate earnings bode well for business aviation, job security for flight department personnel is much more dependent upon delivering real value than absorbing excess profits. To survive and grow, a flight department needs to communicate the substantial benefits that business aviation provides your company.

Does corporate management fully appreciate that business aviation enables your company to maximize the productivity of people and time, a firm’s two most important assets? With the ability to access 10 times the locations served by scheduled airlines and 100 times those locations with business-useful frequency, a company that uses business aircraft can have the right person at the right place at the right time.

You know that business aviation provides the highest level of safety and security available in any mode of transportation, but is that fact well understood and appreciated by all levels of management? All the factors that affect a passenger’s well being are under the control of the company. Policies and procedures affecting safety–policies such as maintenance, scheduling of crews, dispatch of flights, diversion if conditions change adversely and appropriate response to security concerns, such as vetting crewmembers–are within the control of the company and its flight department personnel. The pilot or the lead passenger knows all passengers on a company aircraft–a significant element in establishing an atmosphere of security in today’s unsettled world of domestic and international travel.

In addition to providing palpable peace of mind, business aviation significantly reduces the time and fatigue associated with travel. How often has an employee rationalized his or her postponement or cancellation of a business trip in a sub-conscious attempt to avoid the hassle and uncertainty of using the airlines? How often has productivity been compromised because of lost time and frazzled nerves as employees work their way through a maze of connecting flights and security screeners?

Furthermore, a business aircraft is an office that moves, providing an effective working environment for discussing tactics with associates and selling your company’s products to clients. No space is more confidential–no place is less susceptible to interruption–than the passenger cabin of a company aircraft at FL410. Travel time becomes productive time.

A company that increases the productivity of its key assets of people and time generates more profits for its shareholders, and the company has the ability to expand. While economists agree on very little, they are universal in their belief that economic expansion depends on greater output of goods and services–in other words, greater productivity. When a sales team can cover a larger territory with the same number of personnel in a given period of time, productivity increases. So does customer loyalty.

The company that waits until it is rolling in profits before investing in business aviation has the relationship backwards. It fails to appreciate that a business aircraft is a tool for expanding business and profits. Would a company delay investing in modern production equipment until their outmoded and inefficient methods generated a profit?

Business aviation makes good business sense. But that truism does not guarantee that your flight department will be in existence this time next year. Nothing is so good or obvious that it sells itself–not even something as good for shareholders as business aviation. Do not assume that what you know about business aviation is well known among corporate management.

To ensure your job security and that of all who work with you, you need to sell others within the company on the ability of your department to support your company’s business model through the safe, efficient and appropriate use of business aviation. The company aircraft works for your company and its ultimate bosses–the shareholders. Everyone within the company’s policy chain, including shareholders, must know and appreciate what business aviation does to improve the company’s bottom line.

Having a handful of true believers on Mahogany Row is not sufficient. Every few years, and often at times of economic transition, change occurs in the ranks of top management. Unless all levels within the company understand that the flight department is an integral part of the firm’s process of producing sales and profits, the new management team that replaces the old may be unaware of why a flight department is needed. Build your base of support throughout the company before change occurs.

Consider the following:
• Have you worked with your peers and your direct report to generate easy-to-recite statements of vision and mission that clearly identify the place and role of your flight department within the company’s business model?
• Have you and your department personnel developed a statement of values or governing principles that are aligned with company norms and are followed by all employees within your flight department?
• Are your department’s vision, mission and values presented where they are easily seen by flight department personnel and passengers?
• Have you structured your department as a process for creating valuable products– time saved, sales made, customer loyalty retained and so on–that are measurable?
• Have you documented each step within the flight department process, preferably in a flight operations manual, so that each employee knows his or her role and so that there is continual improvement in providing safe, efficient and effective travel?
• Do you track and report to management, and broadly throughout the company, examples of aircraft trips and uses that demonstrate the positive achievements and value of your flight department?
• Do you meet with department heads to understand the travel needs of their staff and to promote use of the company aircraft to satisfy those needs so that your passenger base will grow and more employees within the company will appreciate the value of business aviation?
• Do you sell your flight department‘s benefits, or do you hide its attributes?  

John W. Olcott, president of NBAA from 1992 to mid-2003, continues to advocate the advantages of business aviation as president of General Aero Company, located at Morristown Municipal Airport, N.J.￳