November 1, 2016

A panel of business aviation experts moderated by David Keys, chief pilot of Peace River Citrus Products, took on the unique challenges facing small flight departments in an education session titled “The Changing Face of Small Flight Departments” held on the first day of NBAA-BACE. Small flight departments — that is, those with two or fewer aircraft — represent approximately 80 percent of NBAA’s membership.

A recent NBAA survey of small flight departments indicated managing owner expectations, pilot scheduling, sourcing/retaining pilots and regulatory forecasting are among some of the top concerns facing small flight departments.

Panelists encouraged small flight department pilots and managers to educate aircraft owners and other principals on resources necessary to properly staff a flight department. The speakers emphasized the importance of running a flight department like a business, including collecting data to effectively demonstrate the needs of the flight department.

“Create an alignment within your organization,” said Jim Lara, founder and principal, Gray Stone Advisors. “You do that with numbers. For example, every time you turn over a pilot, the cost is anywhere from $150,000-200,000 per hire. That includes recruiting, training and so on. That’s the story you need to share with your owner or organization.”

Panelists also addressed the long-term need to build the professional aviation pipeline.

“We’re seeing more and more people moving out of our sector and going to the airlines, perhaps now more than ever,” said Al Mann, senior director safety at Wheels Up. “We have to solve the problem at the root by reaching out to small kids and getting them interested in our industry. We have to ask ourselves: what am I doing to reach people in my sphere of influence to help develop future talent?”

Panelists shared several strategies for the overall management of small flight departments, including the possibility of working with a professional management company. Some flight department managers are hesitant to bring this option to aircraft owners for fear of losing autonomy of the flight department or even a management company eliminating the need for the individual flight department manager.

Other panelists were Dennis Fox, senior vice president for flight operations, Executive Jet Management; Chris Nielsen, chief pilot fixed wing, Avalon Capital Group; and Dave Weil, founder and CEO of Flight Department Solutions.

A number of related resources are available on the NBAA Events app, including a sample budget, the small flight department survey and a primer on flight department accounting principles.

View more coverage of NBAA-BACE education sessions and other event highlights in the NBAA-BACE 2016 Newsroom.

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