Business aviation helps Jack Henry & Associates provide speedy onsite software support for its customers.
June 8, 2018
In Jack Henry & Associates’ hangar, the scheduling division outnumbers the pilots. The S&P 500 company employs 14 pilots and 16 travel counselors near its headquarters in Monett, MO. The travel counselors handle all airline travel for the company’s 6,500 employees, as well as hotels, rental cars – and scheduling the business aircraft fleet.
“We don’t brand ourselves a flight department; our title is ‘Travel,’ and we address all the company’s travel needs from one spot,” said Brian Hunter, CAM, travel general manager.
Requests come into the department every day, and the 16 travel counselors move customers and clients around the country using the most efficient tool: airlines or business aircraft. “By embracing that the business needs both tools, we’ve made ourselves more efficient and more valuable to the company,” said Hunter.
Since the flight department was born in 1979, Jack Henry has flown many different aircraft. Today, the company operates four Embraer Phenom 300s, which each fly about 600 hours per year. The company also leases a Beechcraft Bonanza A36 for short trips, such as to St. Louis.
As a leading provider of technology solutions for the financial industry, Jack Henry has more than 40 offices across the United States, but the airplanes travel to many more destinations.
“We fly everywhere there’s a bank or a credit union, and that’s basically every town across the United States,” said Chief Pilot Michael Whannell. “We go to so many rural airports, most weeks I have to look up the three-letter identifier because it’s a new destination.”
AIRPLANES EARLY ON
The company has had a flight operation since co-founder Jack Henry, a pilot, bought a Piper Arrow to travel to banks and install software for generating account statements. Henry and his early partners would drive four or five hours from Monett to a client and spend all weekend installing software, often sleeping on the floor of the computer room. Then, they’d drive home, exhausted, and repeat the process.
That first airplane made them more efficient, and the company grew quickly. At first nicknamed “Jack Air,” the flight operation matured along with it, quickly hiring a professional chief pilot and moving into longer-range aircraft. Hunter was the company’s 70th employee when he was hired as a line pilot in 1989.
In 2013, the company moved to the Embraer Phenom 300 because it put 95 percent of the contiguous United States within a single-leg flight from Monett. Nearly all trips on Jack Henry’s business aircraft are domestic, and none are for personal use.
The business aircraft are open to any employee in the company. Software installations are still a major reason why Jack Henry personnel travel. The other two drivers are internal employee travel between offices, including a weekly and monthly shuttle; and executive travel, including bringing clients to Monett.
IN-HOUSE TRAVEL AGENCY
In 1999, Hunter decided to combine the flight and travel departments. A few years earlier, he had hired Lisa Goode from a nearby travel agency to be the department’s first full-time scheduler and bring all the different offices’ airline purchasing under one roof in order to negotiate better rates.
“We do $7 million a year in airline travel, and we cross-check that to see if we can put any of our passengers in our business aircraft,” said Goode, who is the travel operations senior manager. “We have a process we go through at the point of booking to see if it’s more cost effective to fly corporate. And if it’s cost effective, we’ll put any employee on the [company] plane.”
When Hunter made the case to Jack Henry’s leadership to combine the flight and travel departments, he showed it would improve their visibility into the travel needs of the whole company.
Goode’s team schedules about 40 trips on the company aircraft every week. “We do not want to bring the aircraft home if we can,” she said, “If possible, we’ll have it continue to another destination, and string a lot of trips together, dropping passengers off and picking them up.”
After 17 years of running the combined travel department, Hunter says “the results have been amazing.” While the data usually shows the aircraft to be more cost-effective, no one at Jack Henry is immune from flying on the airlines, even executives.
“It ultimately comes down to getting to your destination in the most cost-efficient manner,” said Hunter. “The airlines make sense in certain situations: Going from one commercial hub to another is very economical. In many other situations, the company airplanes make more sense. If a customer needs onsite software support, we aren’t going to make them wait 20 hours when we can have a team there in four.”
In fact, handling every travel need for the whole company has made the business aircraft more efficient, increasing load factors and reducing deadhead legs.
“By having a combined travel department, we see when seven or eight passengers need to go to the same destination,” said Whannell. “If we were separate from corporate travel, we wouldn’t have that visibility, whereas that’s a perfect instance to combine trips and use the aircraft.”
By having a combined travel department, we see when seven or eight passengers need to go to the same destination. If we were separate from corporate travel, we wouldn’t have that visibility.
That visibility helped the travel team develop two well-used shuttle routes. A Dallas shuttle flies four roundtrips from Monett to Addison, TX, near one of Jack Henry’s largest offices, every week. Ridership averages about seven passengers per leg, and the Phenoms are often full.
A second, monthly shuttle makes a circuit of four offices: from Monett to Louisville, KY, where Jack Henry has a large payments business, to Birmingham, AL, where there’s a large consumer products team, on to Dallas and back to Monett. One Phenom flies the circuit over three days, then flies the reverse route.
ELIMINATING A SPARE AIRPLANE
Like trip scheduling, major decisions at Jack Henry are backed up by hard data. In 2006, the company owned five Cessna Citations, but data showed the total maintenance downtime for the fleet was more than 330 days a year.
“It was like having a spare airplane; we had five, but we could only use four,” said Hunter. “We added up all the days our airplanes were out at service locations, the time the pilots spent taking the airplane out there empty, and the fuel we were burning. We did our home-work to make a strong financial case to the company leadership for bringing maintenance in-house.”
That year, Jack Henry hired Chris Ridings as its first director of maintenance, assembled a team of local maintenance technicians and upgraded the tooling in the hangar to match everything a service center would have. Within two years, the company had limited downtime to 20 days for the entire fleet.
“It was a huge cost savings,” said Ridings. “We can do inspections or work overnight, and it adds to safety, because we do a post-flight on the airplanes every time.”
FOQA DATA FOR OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCY AND SAFETY
Jack Henry & Associates was one of the first business aircraft operators to implement an FAA-approved Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) program. The travel department uses FOQA data both to enhance safety and drive operational improvements.
“FOQA is a cornerstone of our safety management system,” said Chief Pilot Michael Whannell. “It’s always silently collecting data. And looking at the trends in that data, we can use it for process improvement.”
In 2017, Jack Henry looked at the FOQA data to see if pilots were becoming more or less consistent flying stabilized approaches, then modified the SOPs and worked with the training captain to focus on those techniques.
That makes them safer, but it also saves them money. After a fleet change to Phenom 300s, FOQA data showed high wear on the carbon brakes, modeled against pedal pressure and temperature.
“That’s the driving factor for our single-engine taxi operations,” said Whannell. “With one engine, you’re no longer riding cold brakes. We’re now the fleet leader in brake life on the Phenom 300.”
Four Embraer Phenom 300s and one Beechcraft Bonanza.
Monett Regional Airport (HFJ).
14 pilots (including a travel general manager who flies), four maintenance technicians, three line technicians and 16 travel counselors.