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Managing an Aviation Operation in a Socially Responsible Manner

Nov. 17, 2021

Customers and employees are increasingly demanding that organizations adopt socially responsible policies. But for the uninitiated, successfully applying new business practices can seem daunting. However, through continued education and by taking small, measured steps, every aviation organization – be it a single pilot, company flight department, or FBO – can improve safety, increase productivity, boost profits and contribute to the industry’s embrace of sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).

“Socially responsible policies must now be part of the fabric of any industry, and business aviation is no exception,” says Jennifer Pickerel, vice president of Aviation Personnel International and co-chair of NBAA’s DE&I Working Group.

“Generation Z is more diverse than any previous generation, and they have a completely different philosophy on the relationship between employer and employee and consumer and provider,” she explains. “Today, if a business aviation operation does not live its culture as described, it will certainly be less competitive, not only with customers, but even more so when comes to attracting and retaining young talent.”

For Pickerel, the first step in managing DE&I in a socially responsible way begins with awareness.

“This knowledge is not necessarily intrinsic in all of us,” she asserts. “In fact, unconscious bias impacts everyone, so any operation that has an earnest interest in DE&I has to first educate itself on the true components and facets of diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as its benefits. Thankfully, there are lots of resources available, and industry associations like NBAA are here to help. Just be open to learning, and seek resources that you trust.”

Bringing the Team Along

Incorporating DE&I into an organization’s policies can begin with the team already in place, be it a small aircraft operation or a large flight department, says Josh Mesinger, vice president of Mesinger Jet Sales and co-chair of NBAA’s DE&I Working Group.

“Work with existing members of your team,” recommends Mesinger. “Be more inclusive of their perspectives and ideas, and be more equitable with pay, benefits, education and growth opportunities. Once your team understands the potential that exists if we are more diverse, equitable and inclusive, this will foster a desire to create change and to be part of that change to bring different perspectives and backgrounds into the workplace.”

“Social responsibility and inclusion include being open to other voices, learning how to listen and acknowledge them and not be dismissive.”

Josh Mesinger Vice President, Mesinger Jet Sales

Inclusion extends beyond the immediate workplace, too, explains Mesinger.

“Social responsibility and inclusion include being open to other voices, learning how to listen to them, acknowledge them and not be dismissive,” he says. “This applies beyond the members of your team to include voices throughout your organization, from across business aviation and from other industries and communities. If the only voices you hear are from people with similar backgrounds, you are likely to get similar perspectives and not new ideas that increase safety and spur innovation and growth.”

This diversity of thought may not come from traditional talent pools, so organizations seeking new voices may have to look to communities not typically targeted by the business aviation industry, says Mesinger.

“When it is time to hire, identify ways to ensure that your job posting can be received by and attract the greatest, most diverse pool of talent from which to draw,” he suggests. “When evaluating potential employees, be open-minded and desirous of trying to bring in people that meet the requirements of the job, but also bring a fresh perspective to what you’re doing.”

Recruitment is also a good point to introduce meaningful diversity policies, says Pickerel.

“The interview process can be revised to reduce the effect of unconscious biases,” she suggests. “You can mitigate this with some small changes, either by omitting names from resumes or, if you use panel interviews, allowing each panelist to submit their views independently of the other interviewers to avoid indirect influence. You can also review how you source interns or disburse scholarships.”

Moving Toward Operating Sustainably

Small, low-cost changes can also be meaningful steps toward establishing a viable sustainability policy, says Scott Cutshall, CAM, senior vice president, development and sustainability at Clay Lacy Aviation.

“Addressing sustainability can be overwhelming because there are so many options out there,” says Cutshall, who chairs the Ground and Facilities Subgroup of NBAA Maintenance Committee’s Environmental Subcommittee. “The key is to not be frustrated and take your time to develop what is right for your organization. Start with small, achievable wins; there is usually some low-hanging fruit that can help build momentum.

“To begin with, look at your ‘scope one emissions’ and ‘scope two emissions,’ which are emissions directly from owned or controlled sources and purchased energy. Replace incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs. Install low-flow water fixtures. Put motion sensors on all your light switches and use Energy Star-rated appliances. These are easy, low-cost options that will have an immediate effect and encourage larger steps,” he continues.

“Scope two emissions – those related to the generation of energy you use – can also be approached the same way,” adds Cutshall. “A lot of people can’t just install a solar array because they don’t own their buildings, but many power companies offer green-rate programs where, for a few cents extra per kilowatt-hour, you can purchase all or a portion of your electricity from renewable resources. If you start buying 10% of your electricity this way, you are certainly moving the needle.”

“Reducing your environmental impact is important, but it must be done in a way that doesn’t sacrifice safety or the economic viability of the firm. You must balance environmental and economic considerations.”

Scott Cutshall, CAM Senior VP, Development and Sustainability, Clay Lacy Aviation

To successfully employ a sustainability strategy, you must appreciate that this encompasses much more than an emissions footprint, says Cutshall.

“Reducing your environmental impact is important, but it must be done in a way that doesn’t sacrifice safety or the economic viability of the firm,” he explains. “One could easily reduce emissions from ground service equipment by simply driving them less, but that would hurt the business financially and lower service levels, so you must balance environmental and economic considerations.”

“Then there is the social aspect of sustainability,” he continues. “If you don’t invest in your people, in their growth and in their needs, you won’t be able to create an operation that is sustainable in the long term. And, as with the application of diversity, equity and inclusion, these core elements of sustainability are intrinsically linked.”

As with DE&I, awareness is fundamental to employing a sound sustainability policy, says Cutshall.

“If you are in a flight department, find out if your [parent] organization has a sustainability policy and align yourself with that. If you are not in that situation, seek out professionals and have them educate you and your organization on how to approach sustainability in a way that is best for you,” he notes.

Sustainability, as with all socially responsible policies, must also become part of the company’s culture.

“Everyone must feel that they participate, either through ideas or actions. Without that commitment, that buy-in, it just won’t work,” asserts Cutshall. “This is also not a job for a single person. There is a lot to learn, a lot to communicate and a lot to measure, and that is a heavy load for one person,” he warns.

It’s All Worth It

The benefits of sustainability are clear. Starting a sustainability program now prepares your organization for compliance with future regulations. Europe has been a leader on sustainability, and there will be carbon reporting regulations in the U.S., predicts Cutshall.

“Being socially responsible also gives you a competitive edge,” adds Cutshall. “Consumers and workers increasingly are looking for companies that operate sustainably. And it is the right thing to do. Who doesn’t want to contribute to a cleaner environment, who doesn’t want to provide a better quality of life and better training for their employees, and what organization doesn’t want to be stronger and more competitive?”

New policies can take time to take effect, so business aviation organizations should not be discouraged if sustainability, DE&I or any other socially responsible policies do not have an immediate impact, says Pickerel.

“Be realistic about the change you can achieve. Social responsibility is a major undertaking, but understand that every step in the right direction brings us closer to where we need to be.”

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