July 29, 2013

Do you know the people who run the airport where your operation is based? Often, business aviation professionals can work out of a hangar for years without knowing the airport’s management or operations staff.

“A lot of times, airport tenants don’t know what the operations crew can do. They see us driving snowplows, fixing lights and signs. But what we do is often above and beyond,” said John Dorcey, a former airport operations manager who is now a consultant for Skyword Communications in Oshkosh, WI.

That lack of familiarity with just what an airport operations director and staff can do often leads to misperceptions, he said.

“When I was flying full-time, I would never have thought to ask ops for a hand. There was a little fear that once we ask a snowplow driver to give us a hand, he might turn out to be a bull in a china shop,” Dorcey explained. “But once I got to know him and the rest of the staff, I was fully aware of their skill set and felt a lot more comfortable in asking for help.”

Emphasizing just how productive can that relationship be, Dorcey recalled the story of a Citation X pilot who, in driving snow, taxied off the edge of the runway while preparing for departure late one winter’s night. The aircraft was mired in the mud, yet the passengers still had to get to their destination on schedule. The pilot was able to procure another aircraft to get the passengers on their way.

Then he called Dorcey, who was the airport’s operations manager.

“I got a couple of my guys and an end loader, hooked it up to their tow bar and pulled the Citation back onto the runway,” Dorcey said. “We wouldn’t have gotten near that airplane if it wasn’t someone we knew. He was aware of what I could do because we developed that relationship over several years.”

The moral of the story: Dorcey said taking time to develop a strong relationship with airport staffers pays off in times of trouble. Trying to get acquainted in the middle of a disaster, no matter how big or small, he said, is usually too late.

Breaking the ice might not be as hard as you think – especially if you are trying to establish the relationship after working at the airport for years.

“It’s as easy as going to the airport management office, finding out who the players are and giving them a call,” said Dorcey.

But do not stop at shaking hands with the airport director and the operations manager, Dorcey suggested.

“For instance, have them bring their snow removal equipment over to your flight department. Sit in their trucks. Have members of your department meet the crew,” he offered. “Then have them sit in a Lear or Citation. You’ll find a lot of commonalities.”

The relationship goes both ways, Dorcey continued.

“Share your observations,” he said. “You may see things the operations staff doesn’t see. Perhaps you find a runway light that looks dim. If you tell the operations manager, he’ll go out and perhaps find some burned out bulbs he wouldn’t have seen without your help.”