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Have You Prepared Your Aviation Manager to Succeed?

Posted on: October 1st, 2013 by Pete Agur


Very few Business Aviation managers are properly trained for their leadership role, asserts Pete Agur.

On one hand, top corporate executives go to great lengths to select and prepare the emerging leaders for their critical business units.  This process is enhanced by the extensive education and managerial experiences of the candidates.  The Return on Investment (ROI) of these efforts is usually considered to be obvious.


On the other hand, a disciplined approach to managing human capital has rarely reached the airport.  That may explain why most executives to whom the Aviation Manager reports state they spend dramatically more time supporting the aviation department than any other reporting to them.


There are several factors that contribute to the dilemma.


First, most aviation professionals do not have a formal education in business.  Like doctors and lawyers, aviators and technicians go through a very focused educational and skills development curriculum.  Often the degree description refers to a course of study in Aviation Sciences with, maybe, a minor in Business Administration.  And an advanced degree in business is a rarity.  In the mid-80s less than 1% of Aviation Managers had an Masters in Business Administration.  Today that ratio has risen, but it is still below 5%.  Look among your Aviation Manager’s peers within the core corporation.  What proportion of them has an MBA?  I would venture to guess   many managers in non-aviation activities have advanced degrees in business.


Second, the career path for aviation professionals is typically linear.  Their development is most often devoid of leadership, managerial and business processes.  As a result, there is little opportunity for them to gain practical leadership experience in business.  Even when it is offered, diverse education is not a natural step.  I recently interviewed a series of captains for a leadership position.  When I asked what they would do with a $50,000 budget for professional development, only one-in-four mentioned business courses.  The rest intended to spend the money on technical training.  They do enjoy their comfort zone.


Third, unlike the emerging leaders within the core company, the talent within the Aviation Department is routinely being led and mentored by someone whose heart may be in the right place but hampered by improper preparation.  This situation creates a Darwinian environment for Business Aviation leaders – survival of the fittest.  If survival is the goal for your executive development related to aviation services, you may be there.  If excellence is your objective (and I suggest it should be, since you are their passengers), you need to examine the status of your Business Aviation leadership development program.


A Test

To assist you with that examination, use the following questionnaire.  Give yourself 10 points for each “Yes” answer.


  1. Are the formal goals of the Aviation Department directly linked to and supportive of the achievement of the core business’ strategic intent?
  2. Is the time that the Aviation Department’s reporting executive spends directly supporting that department about the same as or less than his/her other responsibilities?
  3. Is the Aviation Department manager truly a peer among his or her reporting executive’s staff of direct reports?
  4. Is there a clear and active succession plan for each managerial position within the Aviation Department?
  5. Is there an individual personal Professional Development Plan (PDP) in place for each member of the department?
  6. Is time and money formally budgeted for executing the PDP?
    1. 10 bonus points:  Is the vast majority of that budget actually spent each year?
    2. Are performance reviews, consistent with the corporate model, being conducted routinely at the Aviation Department?
    3. Are the metrics used to report Business Aviation’s performance directly linked to the benefits achieved for the core business?  (i.e., days and trips flown, travel hours saved versus commercial alternatives, per cent of days the aircraft is available, etc.)
    4. Are reduced, avoided or saved costs identified and reported?
    5. Is there a culture of continuous improvement at your Aviation Department? (i.e., is a Safety Management System at the core of their culture and performance?)


There are 110 possible points available.  A score of 70 is passing.  But, I expect you want to do much better than that.


Professional Development Options

There are very few sources of effective Business Aviation leadership development. Continuing education programs with an emphasis on business are few, but the following programs are available:

  • The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) has a Certified Aviation Manager (CAM) program.  It includes a blend of approved courses and experience in order to qualify to sit for the comprehensive exam.
  • The University of Virginia’s Darden School has two executive education courses for leading and managing the aviation function.
  • Georgia State University’s Robinson School of Business has partnered with VanAllen to create its Business Aviation Leadership Summit and Certificate Program.


For the sake of your core business, its passengers and your Business Aviation organization;

  • Confirm your intent for the Aviation Department to be led and managed at least as well as any other critical business unit,
  • Assess the current competence of your Aviation Managers and their career development program,
  • Assure that Aviation Managers have effective mentors, and
  • Define, budget for and implement a continuing professional development program for the current leaders of your company’s aviation department and their potential successors.


Your improvement in ROI will be impressive.

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