June 20, 2016

Leigh Ann Beckett faced a dilemma. Beckett, the flight operations scheduling manager at Xcoal Energy and Resources, realized that the only other person in her department would soon need to take maternity leave. How would Beckett cover all flight operations without her? Already, each of them worked 24 hours on and 24 hours off, handling flights for the Pittsburgh-based flight department. Their principal spends more time abroad than in the United States. That means the people who need flight services often call at all hours of the night.

“If I’ve had a long or difficult night, I can’t cover the office during the day,” said Beckett. “If one of us is sick or on vacation, the other has to cover. If there’s only one of us, it’s almost impossible to do.”

Realizing she had to find someone long before her other dispatcher needed to take maternity leave, Beckett began her search for a temporary replacement. She quickly found her solution in Justin Short, the sole proprietor of Dispatchers on Demand. With nearly two decades of experience and a dispatcher’s license, Short is one of a number of qualified contract scheduler and dispatcher professionals who offer their services to flight departments across the country.

“My experience with large companies made me think I could fill in for schedulers or dispatchers on vacation or long-term leave, and they wouldn’t have to come back to piles of paperwork. Time off should be time off, not time worrying about what’s happening on the job,” Short said.

At first, Beckett was skeptical. But after meeting Short and going over his resume, which showed he had extensive experience with international operations, she started to believe he just might fit in. When she found out he was extremely familiar with the dispatch software her company uses, she was sold.

Selling the Admins

But Beckett was not the only person who needed to be convinced. She introduced Short to the administrative assistants of frequent passengers – the people with whom schedulers and dispatchers most often interact – who were also impressed.

Another critical part of the process was training. Although an experienced aviation professional, Short had to become familiar with the company.

“It’s just like hiring a new employee,” Short said. In the four days he spent in training, he learned the company culture and how Xcoal uses its aircraft.

Corporate security was a paramount concern, Beckett added.

“We were concerned about how to communicate proprietary information to the contractor while he was on duty, but ensure that he couldn’t troll us while off duty,” she recalled. That was accomplished through minor changes in the company’s email password policy.

Beckett also brought Short up to speed on the company’s standard operating procedures and provided him details about passengers’ travel preferences. With that, she said, he was ready to work.

Defining Expectations

Creating conditions for a contract scheduler or dispatcher to succeed depends a great deal on what companies like Xcoal expect from the relationship, said contract dispatcher Amy Roy, former chair of the NBAA’s S&D Committee.

“This can be difficult at times. You have to trust the person you’re putting in your shoes. Don’t be afraid to let them in” on proprietary information needed to do the job, she advised. On the other hand, “You have to step into a contract role as if you were a permanent employee.”

While some contractors need a great deal of inside knowledge to operate effectively in positions where they are heavily immersed, in some cases, companies can bring in contractors with less experience when the position itself is less demanding, or is to be filled at a less demanding time, said Beckett.

“If you just need to cover the phones, you might consider contacting your scheduling software provider,” Beckett suggested. Her company uses FlightApps, which offers a la carte contractor services for its clients.

Learn more about independent contractor best practices by referring to the NBAA Management Guide.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of Business Aviation Insider.