How do you know what's going on downtown?
Save for a helicopter, business aviation happens exclusively at the airport, correct? Wrong. Aviation happens at the airport, business happens everywhere. To be effective, a business aviation manager needs to be wherever the company business is conducted. Having the ear of the CEO is great. But, the average length of tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is 4.6 years. What happens when there is a new CEO?
No Plane No Gain has great resources and user stories about the value of business aviation. We need that support, but it is mostly advocacy for business aviation directed to people like the press or local community. But what about within your own company? How is the business aircraft viewed? As an essential business tool or as a royal barge?
A recent client was facing a second round of layoffs. Their sales were down. They operated a business aircraft to access many of their distant operating locations. None of those locations could be easily reached by commercial air. A review of their use of the aircraft revealed that this aircraft was effectively and efficiently being used to manage their operations. But they were acutely aware that if their employees were facing a layoff and saw the senior leadership climbing aboard the corporate jet, that could have a negative impression. The board was concerned and fortunately, I provided them with the report supporting continued use of the business aircraft as the most efficient means of transporting the senior leadership. But still remaining was the optics.
Business aviation needs to be marketed and sold within the companies it serves. One way this can be done is for the aviation manager to be directly involved downtown. That's where the business is. The more successful business aviation departments have that access to the senior leadership through regular contact at the corporate locations.
In spending time at the corporate headquarters, the aviation manager can be seen as a team member, part of the company. They also have the opportunity to soft-sell the value of the business aircraft to senior leadership, and even their staffers and support employees. The aviation manager can be proactive in anticipating the future air travel needs, and also have more of an impact into the policies and use of the business aircraft.
I cannot say how many times I have heard this from the department head or Senior VP who has the flight department as part of their responsibilities: "I don't use the aircraft myself, and I really don't understand it. But, the CEO is happy." Does any aviation manager want their immediate boss not knowing what value they add to the corporation? CEO's will come and go. Board of Directors get new members with new ideas and opinions. Rather than aviation being politically connected to one CEO, it is far better in the long run to be connected to the corporation's mission and goals.
If you are not there now, start with a review of your corporation's vision and mission statement. Then develop ones for aviation that directly tie into the corporate goals. Run them by your senior leadership and users for inputs. Get this in writing and, along with the rules for use of the aircraft, have it for the CEO or other senior leader signature. Spend time downtown. It may not seem like much at first, but it can pay off for the aviation department, and corporation, in the long run.