I have done some reflection on the past year. This was fueled by several conversations and sessions during the recent NBAA convention in Orlando. It has been supported by some of the consulting work I've done this year as well. I come to several recurring themes. I think all combined, they can help business aviation tell, and sell, our story.
Learn the language of business.We need to understand the languages of business as well as aviation. Acronyms and jargon shorten the conversation for "insiders" but serve to confuse and exclude those not in the group. Aviation leaders need to be bilingual in understanding the language and needs of aviation and business. An example of this is building the case to replace your aircraft. You need to explain the value of the new aircraft to the business in terms of being more effective and safe at accomplishing the mission. You better brush up on Net Present Value when talking to the CFO about the costs, too.
Run the aviation department like a business.The business aircraft adds value to the effectiveness of those who fly on it. Your customers are the passengers and the product is the transportation. You are responsible to the shareholders (CEO, Board, etc). You know you need to develop a budget. Use it like a "profit & loss." The profit is the increased effectiveness and flexibility the aircraft provides. Take care of your people and look for ways to do a better job with the assets at your disposal. Develop meaningful metrics that tie into the effectiveness and efficiency of using the aircraft. Track and report them.
First, define and agree on the assumptions.This is for both developing a budget and for discussing options for the aviation department. Before you submit your budget, first have the discussion with the users and financial team about what they expect. If the users need 700 flight hours and expect simultaneous aircraft available one or two days per week, then get that agreement up front. Then you can provide the budget necessary to accomplish that mission. You can't do that with one aircraft and two pilots. If your flying is increasing, then it is reasonable to expect that your budget will, too. If the priority is that your budget must be reduced by 15%, then users need to understand how that affects your ability to deliver. If your budget is based on $3.50 per gallon fuel, what happens if fuel costs go up next year? This works for the mission as well. If we agree that non-stop range with four passengers must be 2,300 NM, that will set up a set of requirements for the aircraft specifications. By agreeing on the assumptions, the discussion then becomes what resources are necessary to meet the obligations.
Use data, not opinions.If you need additional staffing, it can't be based on a feeling. Likewise, justifying replacing your current aircraft needs to be supported by data. Gather your facts and be prepared to develop and explain the logic used. If your assumptions are agreed to up front, and your recommendation is fact-based, then the discussion can be handled with reason. When I consult with individuals and companies about their aircraft, I keep everything fact based. The person signing the check can use emotion in the aircraft decision, but not me.
Active listening is a communication technique that requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said. Two tips for you. Remember what mom said, "Look at me when I'm talking to you." Mom was right. No checking your email or multitasking of any kind. It does not work. Maintaining eye contact in a conversation tells the other person that they are important as well as is what they have to say. The second tip is to suspend judgment while you listen. Many of us start forming our reply while the other person is talking. Talk the time to concentrate on what is being said and how the person is saying it. So often we jump to the conclusion before someone is finished talking and miss their point entirely. Think of listening like a checklist, you take each step in order and confirm that it was accomplished.
Business aircraft are productive and efficient tools. Their main value is in enabling the face to face communication we humans need in order to understand and be understood. All the above can help us be better in justifying, selling, and communicating the value aircraft add to a business.