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Your Business Aviation Service Leader’s Reporting Point and Title

Posted on: September 29th, 2012 by Pete Agur

Your Business Aviation Service Leader’s Reporting Point

and Title

By Peter v. Agur, Jr.

Founder, The VanAllen Group, Inc.



Having your Business Aviation services reporting to the wrong position can cripple performance and raise your operational risks.  Using the Goldie Locks analytical model, I’ll explain my point.


Reporting Too High – Reporting directly to the CEO can be a setup for failure.  Most Business Aviation services create their greatest value by providing time-place mobility for top executives.  Some CEOs, particularly those responsible for smaller enterprises, opt to have Business Aviation report directly to them.  After all, the CEO may be the most frequent user of aviation services.   Additionally, the CEO may want to personally meter aircraft use.


However, the drawbacks of having Business Aviation report directly to the CEO can be significant.  Many aviation department leaders look for and need mentoring.  The CEO rarely has time to act as a mentor to an operational manager.  Business Aviation is very complex.  For instance; it has unique regulatory, taxation, financial, legal and Human Resource issues.  Overseeing and dealing with these areas, on an operational level, is well below the pay grade and availability of most CEOs.  And, even more importantly, the CEO should be the company’s Chief Safety Officer.  As such he or she should be the arbiter of policies and conflicts that affect safety.  But, if the CEO is the challenge there may be no point of appeal for corrective support.  This can make resolving the issue a potential career opportunity for the aviation manager.


Reporting Too Low – Reporting too low can also lead to failure.  Very large companies tend to have very robust and well-established administrative systems and processes.  They are tempted to position aviation as the responsibility of a mid-level manager.  There can be significant pitfalls with placing Business Aviation here.


First, the wrong performance criteria could be used.  Mid-level managers who are not usually users of Business Aviation may be tempted to administer the department as a Cost Center (the model they know best).  Business Aviation is most effectively managed as a Service Center.  I will address this issue in much more detail in a couple of months.  Suffice it to say, managing aviation services as a Cost Center can create service variances that will affect top executives who are usually intolerant of interruptions in their tight schedules.  Cost Center processes can also be frustrating to the service providers as they are often on a first name basis with their passengers.   You can imagine how informal communications between flight crews and their passengers can make life interesting for a mid-level manager.


Secondly, a mid-level manager rarely has the authority or status needed to lead aviation services.  It can be extremely uncomfortable for a mid-manager to act as a referee between competing executive users of aviation services.  It’s like trying to intervene in a fight between 500 pound gorillas… it will hurt.  A more serious situation can arise when a top level passenger is inducing operational risks such as pushing crews to extend the duty day or asking them to go to a high-risk airport.  A mid-level manager is in a very difficult position when he or she must directly address poor behaviors by a senior officer.


Reporting Just Right – We find the majority of the best-run aviation departments report directly to a senior executive.  The organizational structure and/or the culture of the company may determine which executive it is that aviation services reports to.  The Chief Administrative Officer or the Chief Financial Officer are two of the more common choices.  The key to this decision is the executive to whom aviation services reports must understand and appreciate the strategic impact that Business Aviation creates.  This reporting point gives the aviation services team the attention and direct support needed to make the intended impact in the manner that is appropriate.


And that brings us to the final point – - the title of the aviation services leader.  The vast majority have the title of either Director of Aviation or Manager of Aviation.  This may set the bar too low.


The responsibility of managing aviation services includes millions of dollars in assets and budget oversight.  More to the point, the aviation manager is directly responsible for assuring the safety of the company’s key people.  And in doing so, the aviation manager must compete with other corporate executives for headcount and funds.  In other words, the aviation manager is the leader of a significant business unit within the company.  He or she should have a high level of competency and perform to the same standards of any other business unit leader within the company.  Therefore, the aviation manager should act as a full staff member of the senior executive to whom he or she reports with the responsibility and title appropriate for that position.  That sounds like a senior director or vice president to me.


Bestowing that kind of title, and its associated authority, on an aviation manager is a daunting choice.  Is your Business Aviation services manager a true peer among others of the same title?  That sounds like a great topic for next month.  See you then!




Peter v. Agur Jr. is managing director and founder of The VanAllen Group, a management consulting firm to Business Aviation with expertise in safety, aircraft acquisitions, and leader selection and development.  A member of the Flight Safety Foundation’s Corporate Advisory Committee and the NBAA’s Corporate Aviation Managers Committee (emeritus), he has an MBA, an airline transport pilot certificate and is an NBAA Certified Aviation Manager.




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