The Coming Corporate Aviation Disaster

Didn't there used to be a flight department here?

Because for some time I have had serious questions about the leadership qualities of business and corporate aviation management, a friend sent me an article from AIN called Flight Department Managers: No Longer a pilots-only Club”.

This article completely substantiates my speculation regarding the systemic effort to “corporatize” corporate and business aviation. The article details specific areas of aviation operations where the “Kiwi-X “(a non-flying corporate yes man) has superior knowledge and credentials to run a corporate aviation flight department over the experienced but “perceived dumb pilot”. To which I would like to reply:

The premise is, if you can speak C-Suite language, then you are more valuable to business and corporate aviation than an aviation professional who can speak, understand, and know corporate aviation down to the last rivet in a airplane, but who does not speak C-Suite.

I take complete and total exception to the C-Suite theory. Only weak, wannabe aviation hangers-on would be attempting to promote themselves as competent aviation leaders via this agenda, and supporting this dribble.

The simple fact is that anyone who espouses to the concept that running a flight department without the proven aviation skills and knowledge required to be a real pilot is completely nescient of aviation. Running a jet aviation flight department is not the same as running a cat house (something the “Kiwi-X” is eminently qualified to do). Aviation is a serious profession that requires professional skill sets, knowledge, and experience. Not nescient hangers-on.

The article implies speaking C-Suite is more beneficial to business aviation than reliability and safety.  Actually understanding corporate aviation on a professional level is a liability to corporations. That faux arrogance is exactly what is killing corporate aviation.

A supporting theme of the article is that aviation is being taken over by regulation and laws unknown to the pilots. Therefore it is more critical for a corporate “Kiwi-X” yes man to know and understand these regulations than anyone else in the flight department.

Well, guess what “Orville”? From the day a pilot starts flying until the day he retires, he is dealing every day with those exact regulations…the “FAR’s”. The FAR’s are not the kind of regulations and information that you can just learn and understand by reading a book. A professional pilot not only needs to know what the FAR’s are, but they must actually know why they are there, and what they accomplish.

The MBA or business geek “Kiwi-X” cannot just learn and comprehend the “FAR’s” in a few weeks and be remotely competent to understand and / or explain them to a board member no matter what language he speaks. Yet, from the article we are supposed to believe that a novice business geek is sufficiently experienced to run flight operations because they speak C-Suite. They are not!

Why not just pick someone off the street and have them take over the nuclear weapons program? Maybe give them the nuclear football, because we are talking about the same kind of disparity of knowledge.

Would anyone go to a cement contractor to have their taxes done? Or would anyone want a tax accountant to pour the cement for the foundation of their house? Not very likely! But it is exactly the same thing conceptually.

The author quotes anonymous sources referencing “aviation is more and more about compliance with regulations and employment contracts and a host of government agencies we must interact with regularly.”

Who would know more about aviation compliance and how to interact with the FAA, than someone who has been operating within the aviation environment for years?

Another quote…“Pilots were good leaders, but no one expected them to understand financing, for example, or to be able to talk with senior management in C-Suite language.”

Pilots still do not need to know about financing! That is why corporations have CFO’s. If knowledge of finance is so important in running a flight department, then why not just make the CFO the head of the aviation department? Oh that’s right! The CFO does not know the difference between N1 and N2, or even how to empty the head.

Guess what “Wilbur”? I was a pilot and I can nail the operating costs of any aircraft down to pennies in seconds, while the CFO is still trying to figure out what dihedral means. In fact I wrote the original version of the Interactive Aircraft Budget Analyzer that is now being sold under another name and used in C-Suits.

I will give you an example of just how easily your “Kiwi-X” corporate yes men executives can be played by “percieved dumb pilots.”

Here is a true story from an anonymous source, which I figure is ok to use since the author of the article used anonymous sources.

Pilots of a particular Fortune 500 flight department wanted to have a Global Express. So they took their perfectly good Challenger and jerry-rigged some instruments so it would show the aircraft was not making power. They reported this to the “Kiwi-X” in charge of the flight department, who in turn recommended in C-Suite jargon that they should sell the paid off Challenger and buy a multimillion dollar Global Express. So they did. And miraculously when it came time to sell the Challenger, the exact same one that failed the power test, somehow all of a sudden during the pre-buy, the Challenger made power just fine. No one in the C-Suite, or the “Kiwi-X” had any idea they had just been had by those “percieved dumb pilots.”LON49164 copy

Did the ‘Kiwi-X” running the flight department even have an idea what was going on? Nope, not even a clue. It was just another in a long string of multimillion dollar FUBARs for that bunch.

Who was responsible for that screw up? Well, our legendary “Kiwi-X”, that’s who! Meantime, the pilots who just conned this Fortune 500 company were laughing all the way to the bank. They are now all type rated in the Global Express at a cost of hundreds of thousands dollars. Now that they are all type rated in the Global Express, they all require bigger salaries thus driving up the cost of flight operations even more.

This is why you cannot have amateurs, regardless of their pedigrees, running aviation departments. They are completely aviation fatuous. Nobody is going to give your “Kiwi-X” corporate “yes men” a crew cut faster than the pilots that work for, and despise him.

Hiring people that think pilots are “meat servos” and do not know when they are being had by those same “meat servos” is not good business. Thinking that pilots do not know regulations or cannot communicate with board members, the very same board members whose lives they have in their hands when they fly them to board meetings to speak C-Suite, is ludicrous.

Be clear on this…this kind of MBA / business geek thinking is a disaster for business and corporate aviation. I predict that the “Kiwi-X” will win this battle. They will be rewarded for speaking C-Suite, not because they know anything about aviation. Then shortly afterwards, the shareholders and end users will realize that business aviation has become so expensive and unreliable, that like all things corporate, business aviation will cease to exist.

If you think this cannot happen, or I am overstating the seriousness of this topic, here me out. For several years, I was based next to a 5 corporate jet fleet operation that was doing very well under the original head of the flight department. He retired and was replaced by a version of today’s “kiwi-X” empennage kissing “yes man. In order to secure his new position, the new head of the flight department set about to eliminate all the quality pilots. This ended up in a lawsuit that the company lost. After that was settled, our yes man proceeded to replace those excellent pilots with weak pilots who would not question his directives. The end result was that the cost to operate the corporate jets got so high and the flight reliability so bad, that many of the executives stopped using their own aircraft. They gave up on their own flight department and started to use outside charter aircraft! Why? By that time it was cheaper to charter outside aircraft than it was to use their own…at least that was the stated reason. The real reason was safety and reliability. The executives knew they would get where they wanted to go, when they wanted to, safely and on time using an outside charter operator.  True story.

Just keep hiring “Kiwi-X” yes men to oversee the unsustainable increasing costs of new multimillion dollar aircraft. Keep hiring inexperienced low time pilots with aero-space degrees but no flight experience. Then watch as the price of operations become unjustifiable, the reliability sinks to unacceptable levels and business aviation collapses. It is inescapably Newton’s third law of motion, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Erudite Solutions for Business Aviation

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