Feb. 9, 2021
New guidance from the NBAA Small Flight Department Subcommittee offers advice for small-flight department managers about how to speak to their top executives and help close any communication gap on crucial topics such as safety and budgeting.
The “Speaking with Your Principal” members-only white paper covers three areas where conversations might be difficult: expectations, safety and budget. The document incorporates results from an NBAA membership survey that highlighted frustrations small-flight managers voiced about talking with principals, said Dave Keys, chair of NBAA Small Flight Department Subcommittee.
A key challenge can be getting face time with the principal, beyond the 60 seconds of interaction as the executive rushes from car to plane on the tarmac. “It really comes down to finding that one person who has the time and the bandwidth and the interest to come out and spend that time with you to understand things,” said Eric Canup, vice-chair of NBAA Domestic Operations Committee.
Once on the principal’s calendar, the aviation manager should set clear expectations and drop the use of acronyms only an aviation insider would know, advised Keys.
Regarding safety, there may be different calibrations of what the term means, said Lou Sorrentino, CEO and managing director of AvMaSSI. The principal might have limited or no knowledge of safety management systems, leaving it to the aviation manager to explain what safety program to put in place and why.
“We have to assume a certain amount of risk. What risk is that, and how do we assess that risk?” said Sorrentino, adding the aviation manager may focus on improving acceptable behaviors or addressing lagging indicators.
Being upfront, especially if there is a problem, is also crucial because executives don’t like surprises and bad news does not get better with time. For budgets, Angel Houck, co-founder of Houck and Christensen CPAs LLC, advised drilling down to determine where the aviation department can get the most bang for the buck and focus on high-expense items like fuel and maintenance instead of small-dollar spending such as pilot per diem.
Then, she advised developing a plan to present to higher-ups so they know how dollars are being spent. “They want to know it’s not going willy-nilly,” she added.
Principals will likely be well versed on financials but may take different approaches – some may want the manager to account for every dollar, while others will have no interest in the details; most executives will fall somewhere in between. The manager should understand the principal’s expectations to communicate budget details appropriately, while giving reassurance they have captured material items, Houck said.
Explaining recurring costs is also important, Sorrentino noted, so the executive understands what spending will be in three or five years. Houck emphasized being realistic – for example, the executive needs to understand costs were still incurred while planes were grounded due to COVID-19. She also advised adding a buffer to budget line items.
“You can make it dynamic as you go,” said Houck.