Communication is key to managing a flight department

 - May 21, 2008, 10:48 AM

Communication is key to any organization, and aviation departments are no exception. Without communication, nothing would get done–no aircraft maintenance scheduling, no budgeting, no flight scheduling, no crew scheduling, the list goes on. Yet little thought is usually given to planning and implementing information and communications systems in the flight department.

A flight department with good information and communications systems will be ready for each and every flight, from scheduling to maintenance to having the limo ready at the destination. This makes the aviation department a valuable and seamless operation within the company, solidifying its role as an asset.

This is where CE 224-3, Operational Assessment, steps in to help aviation managers improve their department’s communications workflow to increase opportunities, efficiencies, effectiveness and utilities. The 10-hr course includes four units–information systems, communications systems, information planning and financial decision making for capital expenditures.

After finishing each unit, the student is required, via the course Web site, to answer an essay question relating to the topic studied. Additionally, the student must complete two case study assignments. One case study entails analyzing the information system (IS) at a fictitious flight department and drafting a recommendation for a new IS plan. The other case study involves developing a capital investment decision-making plan of action.

The first chapter explores information systems for the corporate aviation department. It starts out by defining IS as a “combination of work practices, people and technology organized to accomplish certain goals.” A good information system creates a competitive advantage over rival services, handling travel requests, storing passenger preferences, budgeting flight activities, producing invoices, scheduling activities and optimizing logistics, as well as coordinating aircraft, crews and schedules.

The next unit explores communications technology. And good communication is vital to effective management, good employee morale, passenger relations, intra- and inter-departmental coordination and safe flight operations.

Today’s business communication varies in form, content, time, place and direction. And the primary goals of a communication system are access, accuracy, usability, efficiency, flexibility, expandability and security. Telecommunications systems in organizations support telephone use, fax machines, Internet connections, intranet use and computer networks.

Unit three explores a variety of commonly used methods for ensuring that the information system leads to the maximum benefits for the flight department. The IS plan should be consistent with and supportive of the flight department’s strategy, goals, organization and operational plan. Therefore, IS planning should be an integral part of business planning.

The final unit covers capital investment decision-making applied to the corporate aviation investment. Examples in the course book use corporate aircraft, “because most of the large capital expenditures will probably be for aircraft,” but the techniques are the same for evaluating acquisition options for other equipment, such as an information system. Purchasing options available to corporate aviation include cash transactions, financing, leasing and fractional ownership.


The Web discussion for unit two brought up an interesting question: do you believe that telecommunication and electronic communication in general, by reducing the need for personal meetings, are a threat to corporate aviation? The majority answer was a resounding no. In fact, these forms of communication are actually increasing use of the corporate airplane–better communication between the flight department and parent company increases aircraft use, and more communication between the company and its customers often leads to more business deals that require travel.

Therefore it is vital that the aviation manager understands information and communications systems and how they fit into the operations of the flight department. And for those managers who can’t tell the difference between a local-area network and a fax machine, this course can help bring them up to speed. Those who are somewhat familiar with information and communications systems will probably benefit from the information on how to plan and implement these systems in a flight department.

However, it took a bit of a stretch to apply the last unit on capital expenditures to buying information and communications systems equipment. The chapter was exclusively dependent on explaining how to acquire aircraft, leaving the student on his or her own to figure out how to tie the concepts learned to the purchase of these communications systems. Even the capital expenditures case study leaves students out in the cold since it pertained to buying an aircraft, not a communications system.

A small section could be added to explain how to apply the lessons learned to capital investment in smaller equipment purchases. After all, there’s a huge difference between buying a $35 million business jet and a $5,000 computer server.

Overall, I learned a lot from the course, which took me almost exactly 10 hr to finish, and I recommend that managers strongly consider taking it. Unfortunately, I took CE 224-3 a month after we upgraded our network server here at AIN; the information gleaned from the course would have been really useful in that decision-making process.