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New Year's Resolutions

by Jeremy Cox 1. December 2005 00:00
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Our traditional opportunity to make some changes.

Okay so I need to lose weight this year. I successfully stopped smoking last year, so using the traditional excuse of a new years resolution does seem to work for me. I promise you that I am not going to berate you with how, like me, you yourself should make life altering resolutions this month and live in accordance with them, all through out the coming year. Instead I am merely going to make ten suggested resolutions that will benefit you as a professional, as they pertain to your aviation operations. This approach may make it easier for you to adopt some of these ideas as your own. Ultimately it's your choice whether you do or not. I did read somewhere that if you truly want to modify a behavior, you must live out the desired changes for at least 30 days, then your modified behavior will become habit and therefore permanent. Here are my suggested resolutions for you in no particular order:

Resolution Number One: Read your Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) again. Okay so maybe you go to Type Refresher School every six months and then again, maybe you don't. Either way, when was the last time that you read your AFM? I am pretty willing to wager that no matter how many hours you have in Type and how often you go to school, you will still learn a tidbit of wisdom that you would not have known without reading the AFM again.

Resolution Number Two: Write an Accident Plan. No-one wants to admit that things can go horribly wrong. I personally like the catch phrase: ‘Safety is no accident' but if an accident does occur (god forbid) while on your watch, does everyone within your flight organization know what to do in the event of the unthinkable occurring? Don't wait until it is too late. Instead take some time and write yourself a cogent and realistic Accident Plan. What do I mean by this? Well to start with a ‘chain of command' must be established with specific jobs identified and assigned. Who will talk to the NTSB and the FAA, and who will talk to the media? Do you have an up to date and accurate list of the ‘ICE' (In Case of Emergency) telephone numbers for everyone attached to your operation? What about insurance coverage? Do you have adequate and appropriate coverage for the type of operations that you conduct? I think now that you have probably got the picture.

Resolution Number Three: Get a new Rating to expand yourself. I will never forget when I managed an FBO and Repair Station in St. Louis and a client's chief pilot dropped off his Sabreliner off for maintenance while he went off to get a Gyroplane Rating. It turned out that he was on a quest to obtain every possible Rating including an Airship Rating (which he already had.) It turned out that sixty miles away from St. Louis unbeknownst to me there was a nationally renowned Gyrocopter school. I was fascinated by his quest and asked why he really felt it was necessary for him to achieve all of these ratings. He told me that every time that he learnt a new skill, both his piloting/airmanship skills saw improvement, along with him feeling a deeper sense of professionalism. Those were some heady words, but if you think about it, there is quite a lot of sense to this. I am sure that if ever you are faced with a double flame-out after takeoff, the knowledge and abilities learnt to gain your Glider Rating will be invaluable.

Resolution Number Four: Personally clean your aircraft at least once this year. And yes, I do mean you! Okay I know that this sounds a little bizarre, especially if your everyday stead is anything bigger than a Beech Baron, but I contest that you will always learn a lot about the current condition of your aircraft by physically connecting with it by running your critical eye and hands over it (with a sponge, chamois or cleaning rag.) Not only will you learn things like: ‘Hey the line crew have not been paying enough attention to the protection of my paintwork when they perform ‘over-wing' fuelings for me. Look at all of the damn scratches!' (You now have learnt that you need to keep a watchful eye over all future fuelings), or ‘I didn't realize that the nosewheel had been picking up stones and throwing them up into the belly and gouging the belly skin while the mainwheels have been kicking stones up into the flaps and denting them?' (You have learnt that maybe those trips into the gravel strip at the company mine should be reevaluated.)

Resolution Number Five: Take Up-Set Training. Accident and incident reports make interesting reading, and years ago I remember reading a report from the late seventies about an airliner that lost a leading edge slat while in cruise flight. The subsequent aerodynamic imbalance caused the aircraft to enter into what could be considered to be an ‘abrupt snap roll.' Fortunately the captain was a seasoned recreational aerobatic pilot and he was therefore no stranger to inverted and rolling maneuvering in an aircraft, albeit a lot smaller craft. With this type of piloting experience he was able to control the snap roll by feeding sufficient positive ‘g' into the roll to keep all of passengers and crew in the cabin in the seats or on their feet, while he slowed the aircraft and rolled it back into straight and level flight. The loss of a slat is extreme and highly unlikely to ever occur to you, but imagine how you could get caught in the wake rotor vortex from a 777 or similar, one day on an approach, and you find your aircraft rolling upside down. Up-Set training will probably help you out of this potentially fatal dilemma.

Resolution Number Six: Call on the Managers of the FBOs that you visit regularly and introduce yourself. You know how intriguing it can be to put a face behind a voice, and this works both ways. You end up spending both a lot of time and money at FBOs around the world. There are probably a lot of things that niggles you at some of these, but you have never really taken the time to tell someone in authority, i.e. someone who can make the necessary changes to make your future FBO experience a pleasant experience. Introduce yourself to the manager, tell him your thoughts and never forget to tell him about the good experiences that you have had at his/her FBO as well as the bad. I am pretty sure that that the manager will be only too delighted to receive and act upon the valuable feedback that you have provided; also you might even find that you will start to receive some preferential treatment from the line and counter staff and you may even get a better fuel deal than you are currently getting. Whatever you get out of this face-to-face or telephone meeting, you will better off for having it.

Resolution Number Seven: Analyze and fully understand the actual Operating Cost of your aircraft. There are several different independent companies out there that try to commercially track, calculate and report aircraft operating costs. However no matter what you fly, where you fly and how frequently, true operating costs are as unique as one's own fingerprints. You may not have to pay these costs out of your own pocket, but someone in your company has to, and in my experience ‘he who holds the purse strings is pretty much in control.' With this in mind, and for you to control as much of your own destiny as you can, a firm grasp and understanding of your true operating expenses are vital.

Resolution Number Eight: Learn how to use your FMS to its full capability. A fully integrated Flight Management System is a truly marvelous thing. I have met very few pilots who have completely mastered the FMS in their aircraft. The whole purpose of an integrated system is to reduce workload, provide the most efficient flight path and maximize the amount of ‘heads out of the cockpit' time available to you. Learn how to use it and all of these benefits will become yours. If you don't take the time to learn the system you will always be at a loss and maybe even a little behind the aircraft, which is never good. This resolution also applies to some of the latest generation GPS units as well.

Resolution Number Nine: Write a Customer Service Mission Statement. Unless you fly a single seater purely to punch holes in the sky for the hell of it, you most likely have to operate to the continued satisfaction of other people. As this is the case, wouldn't it be a good idea to have a plan in place that pretty much specifies how you will strive to always satisfy the people that you fly for? A Mission Statement may be old news from the late 1980's and early 1990's, but I believe that it is still relevant today. Sit down with a blank sheet of paper, a pen or pencil and an open mind. You will be surprised at how engaging it is to go through this exercise. Once you have framed a mission statement that best describes the service that you are only too proud to provide, you may next find yourself working on a full-blown customer service manual. Both good and bad service is contagious. Isn't it time that you recognized the fact that you are instrumental in controlling the level of service that you and your company consciously chooses to provide? Everyone knows that ‘the cream always rises to the top.'

Resolution Number Ten: Look out of the Cockpit and re discover the Joy that got you started in this business. Keep a road atlas in your cockpit and start looking down at the beauty that is constantly sliding beneath you. If you are flying above an overcast then take some time to marvel at the splendor of the mountains and valleys that the clouds naturally and uniquely form. Socked in by hard IMC? then pay attention to the way the sun or moonlight is refracted through the microscopic water droplets. You are extremely lucky to spend time in an office that travels through time, space and the third dimension. Never lose this wonder or joy of aviation because if you do, maybe its time to hang up your wings and get an everyday, earthbound job like most terrestrial creatures who fight to put bread on their families tables.

I hope that I have been helpful to you with my list of ten suggested resolutions for 2006.

So what resolutions can you think of that you might try to implement into your own flight operations?

Any input that you care to make will be of great interest to all of the readers here at Globalair.com. So please don't be bashful and go ahead and write your comments and suggestions here.

Until next month, please try and keep the shiny side up and the joy of aviation in your heart. Happy New Year!

When Costs Occur

by David Wyndham 1. December 2005 00:00
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First off, I'd like to send wishes of peace (http://www.columbia.edu/~fdc/pace/), compassion and understanding to everyone. Not just in celebration of the season, but because these things always seem in short supply. If we can preach "peace on earth" we can achieve it.

I've talked a lot about costs this year and in previous years as well. How about one more time! Picture this; your eight year old aircraft was in for engine heavy maintenance this year to the cost of about $500,000 for engine overhauls of both turbine engines. While doing that, you also refurbished the interior and repainted the aircraft and installed some new avionics and took care of a few optional service bulletins. Total for every thing came to $750,000.

Of course, all that took time – let's say 45 days. So your normal yearly utilization of 480 hours dropped to 420 hours for the year. Last year, your total operating costs (variable and fixed) were $1.1 million, and having flown 480 hours gave you an average cost per hour of $2,291 per hour ($5.73/nm). This year, with the engines and refurbishment, your total operating costs were $1.80 million and with 420 hours flown that gives you an average cost per hour of $4,285 per hour ($10.71/nm). That's an increase of 64% in terms of your hourly or per NM cost!

Wait, things get worse! You have a new CFO and she's not familiar with aviation. She looks at the data and is certain that (a) airplanes are too expensive and (b) you are mismanaging the company's money! That, combined with disappointing fourth quarter results leads her to conclude that getting rid of the airplane is financially justified. Next thing you know, your fighting for your job. Not a pleasant New Year's thought.

What need to be done is not to get a new CFO, but to educate the CFO, and any other C-level executive, just what the nature of costs are in aviation. The best time to do this is before the above events occur. The first thing you can do is to educate yourself about how costs behave in general and then look at your aviation operations. Then, when you meet with the CFO you have a basic understanding as to their point of reference.

The big thing the C-level executive needs to know is the cyclical nature of aircraft maintenance costs. Maintenance costs can be significant, and they are viewed as something that is totally under your control. Let's look back to the pair of engine overhauls above. While the $500,000 expense was realized this year, how long did it take to accrue that expense? With a 4,200 hour overhaul interval, and our 480 hour per year average utilization, it has taken almost nine years to get to the point where the overhaul was required. So the accurate way to allocate that $500,000 is to spread it over the 4,200 hours it took to get to the overhaul, or less than $60 per engine per hour ($120/hr for both engines). Compare that to the $1,000 per hour for fuel (that occurs with every hour flown) and those engine overhauls aren't such a bad deal!

Similar arguments can be made for most heavy maintenance items. Major maintenance items such as overhauls or airframe checks are cyclical. They occur infrequently but tend to be a major expense. Rather than allocating them to the year they occur, they need to be taken in context to how long it took to accrue that expense.

One way to ease the burden of those major maintenance items is to evaluate guaranteed maintenance programs such as those for the engines, airframe and even avionics. In those programs you pay a set hourly fee. That amount is put into a reserve account from which you pay for maintenance. Those programs also include allowances for unscheduled maintenance, with some restrictions. You pay steadily into the account and withdraw as needed. No spikes in cost. That's fodder for another article, but suffice to say that if your CFO is the nervous type, that might not be a bad idea.

If your aircraft has a guaranteed maintenance program available (for the engines, airframe or avionics), do you use it? Why or why not? If you haven't succumbed to an excess of eggnog or Figgy Pudding, send me an e-mail and let me know.


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