How Many Pilots Does It Take To Fly An Airplane? The Dilemma of the Manager/Pilot

By Pete Agur| VanAllen


Running the aviation department is just as time intensive as managing any other business unit in your company. Especially when you consider the four critical functions that must be routinely and effectively addressed to be certain the department is doing the right things and doing those things right.

What do you want to gain from your Business Aviation services? Landings equaling take-offs is not a stretch goal. Accelerating corporate growth, facilitating revenue generation, bringing in and keeping new customers, leveraging the impact of key travelers while improving the quality of their lives—these are the appropriate goals. And they are not “one and done” activities. They are dynamic. They require constant assessment, adaptation and innovation to achieve. That takes Business Aviation managerial time.

What level of safety do you expect? One of my clients told me he wanted no difference in safety whether his people were on a major air carrier or on his company’s airplane. Professionally flown, non-commercial jet operations are at least as safe as the airlines. I contend that goal is not high enough. Did you know the dollars and days lost to ground accidents involving aircraft far exceed those caused during flight? Safety is much more than preventing flight accidents. The proactive identification and analysis of risks leading to effective mitigations takes “safety” to a much broader and higher level. That takes Business Aviation managerial time.

How much service do you expect? Your core business may operate eight hours per day, five days per week, 250 days per year. But compared with normal working hours, many of your business aircraft trips can start much earlier, end much later and depart on Sunday or return on Saturday. It is common for a weekday business to fly 20% of weekend days. That means your Business Aviation activity is a 270 days per year service. That takes Business Aviation managerial time.

How well do you want the business of your Business Aviation run? Every other business unit in your company has to take care of its people, its regulatory compliance, its deliverables, its budget and more. Should you hold your aviation department to the same standard? You bet. That takes Business Aviation managerial time.

So, how many pilots does it take to fly an airplane? Hypothetically, let us consider a single aircraft operating 270 days per year. Notice I did not say “flying 270 days per year”. An aviation department is like a fire department. It does not create value just when it flies. It also creates value by being ready to fly the right people to the right places at the right time to do the critical activities of your company.

Commercial air carriers measure productivity in flight hours. When an airliner flies loaded with passengers the cash register rings. Not so for Business Aviation. Your most accurate productivity metric is “Days per Year”. If an airplane flies for an hour to take passengers to a critical meeting that lasts two days and results in contracts that account for 10% of the year’s revenues, did that aircraft under perform because it flew for only two hours in two days?

Were the crew members underworked because they flew for only two hours in two days? Of course not! Your core business’ employees are expected to be available for work about 230 days per year (after weekends, holidays, wellness days and vacation days). A pilot is not available to fly 230 days per year. He or she must also take time to complete refresher training and whatever additional ancillary training is expected. Conservatively, let’s assume that such training requires an additional 20 days per year. That means a pilot is available to work about 210 days per year.

If your operation runs 270 days per year you need 540 pilot days to meet that demand (270 days, times two crew members per aircraft equals 540). Divide 540 by the capacity of one pilot (210 days) and you find you need 2.6 pilots to be ready to fly your anticipated workload.

Of course, that number goes up when you take multiple trips in a day or have trips that come home late at night followed by an early morning departure. In those instances it can take two full crews to support the schedule.

Even with the moderate use of contract pilots, you could significantly reduce the manager’s time available to run the business unit. With a simple aircraft operation involving one aircraft, that may or may not be doable. With a more complex operation the need for leadership and managerial time becomes even more demanding, yet more difficult to accomplish.

In the end, if your Business Aviation department is led by an active pilot and your pilot pool is shallow, you are inadvertently making the Aviation Manager short-change his or her leadership and managerial roles. That burden lowers the value that Business Aviation creates for the company because there is not enough attention being devoted to Strategic Integration, Safety, Service and Efficiency. The downside risk is high, with significant potential consequences. The answer?

1. Place a clear emphasis on the expectation that the manager should manage first and fly second.
2. Confirm you have enough pilots to both manage and fly, based on the calculation of work days, not flight hours.

Published by World Aircraft Sales, April 2014

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