Dec. 31, 2019

The world’s most ubiquitous electronic device is increasingly playing a role in business aircraft operations, bringing efficiency and transparency benefits, but also new questions about the role of personal technology in a professional setting.

In the 12 years since the iPhone first hit stores, smartphones have revolutionized the way people communicate, do business, share information and generally interact with the world. In a 2019 study, Pew Research found that more than 80% of Americans currently use a smartphone in their day-to-day lives, spending nearly three hours a day on the device.

Business aviation has embraced the possibilities of this technology, from flight planning and weather apps, to e-manuals and instant access to FAR-AIM.

Nate Heiselt, director of maintenance with a Part 91 operation, is among those who increasingly rely on their phones for work responsibilities. Beyond basic communication apps, his department is using phones for a wide variety of functions that “saves them hours almost every time.”

“I can physically sign on things, look at archived records, research the part that needs to get replaced, look up inventory, place an order, process the order, do everything literally from my phone – the smartphone is huge in what we do on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

In addition to programs and research capability, Brett Melcher, aviation maintenance technician with Encompass Health, praises the ability to quickly disseminate visual information.

“Being able to take a picture with your phone right there on the spot of anything that may be detrimental to the safety of the airplane, and able to spread it to anyone who needs to see it is absolutely crucial,” he said. “When a pilot is able to immediately show us any anomaly with the plane, that picture really is worth a thousand words.

The ease of quickly transmitting information – from AOG photos to technical questions – can also have positive effects with regard to employees reporting issues, noted Timothy Wade, environmental health and safety manager with Constant Aviation.

“Showing people that you have the comfort with [sending appropriate information via smartphones] opens up reporting capabilities a lot more,“ he said. “The easier and more relaxed you make reporting, the better for the organization.”

When it comes to texting, however, Wade encourages good judgment and deference to traditional communication methods for critical matters.

“If I feel like it’s important enough for a paper trail we’ll switch to emails – you wouldn’t want to have to prove to OSHA with a text message,” he said.

Texting also shouldn’t change what would be considered appropriate professional communication, said Jessica McClintock, vice president of global account management with FuelerLinx.

“The boundaries of professional texting can get tricky – maybe someone feels comfortable sending you online jokes when they work with you, or sending you something you weren’t prepared to see,” noted McClintock. “It’s a whole different world of things you need to be considering.”

Smartphone usage in business aviation will be one of the many timely topics explored during the Emerging Leaders Conference, taking place Feb. 26-27 in Orlando, FL. The conference will bring rising industry leaders together for tailored professional development content focused on enhancing high-level leadership skills that deliver tangible benefits to their organizations.