By Javier Ferrea
ATP. Boeing 777/767/757/737, Citation 500,
Challenger 604, Hawker 125
The responsibility of a flight department lies with the people at the front of the operation and maintenance of business aircraft on behalf of its owner. Flight activities can range from a single-pilot to a large organization that employs a wide range of aviation professionals.
One of the most important decisions an organization will have to make is whether a corporate flight operation is justified. Time, being the only commodity one can never get back once it is gone, is very valuable. Proper utilization of corporate aircraft allows an organization to maximize the time spent conducting business and reduce time spent on the travel itself.
Starting from the beginning
Once an organization has determined that a corporate flight operation is needed to maintain a steady growth in its day-to-day operations, the question now becomes where to start.
As with any important decision an organization must make that has a direct or indirect effect on its bottom line, a team of individuals experienced in their respective areas of expertise will have to be selected and assembled in order to have a mission-focused corporate flight department that operates efficiently and safely.
The following are examples of specialist expertise needed on such a team: Individuals experienced in aviation law (aviation attorney), aviation taxation matters (tax attorney, aviation accountant), the operation of corporate aircraft (certified aircraft managers), land and hangar lease/purchase options (real estate attorney), trip planning and aircraft performance (aircraft comparison software), maintenance and overhaul cost analysis (airframe and powerplant specialist).
These will all be needed on any team looking at options to determine the plan of action required and aircraft needed for the primary mission.
Other questions to be examined are whether more than one aircraft will be needed, whether more than one size aircraft with different range and performance specifications will be needed, and whether a rotorcraft will be needed in the mix to shuttle individuals to/from remote locations, to/from urban areas, or to/from the location of the fixed-wing asset(s) on the airfield.
Rotorcraft such as this Sikorsky S-76 offer flexibility when operating out of densely populated areas.
Obtaining the right aircraft for the mission
Once your organization’s team of experts has agreed on the right aircraft within the company’s budget, it is time to begin the long, tedious process of locating the aircraft, performing a thorough pre-purchase inspection, addressing any issues that come up during such inspection, and, finally, moving toward purchasing the asset and structuring the transaction in a way that minimizes tax implications and maximizes efficient, safe operation.
In the meantime, while the process of procuring the aircraft is ongoing, the time may be utilized efficiently by setting up the flight department operational structure by hiring proven talent to manage and conduct day-to-day operations.
The flight department will likely need, among others, a VP of operations, director of flight operations, chief pilot, flight deck crewmembers, lead cabin crewmember, cabin crewmember, director of maintenance, personnel for non-outsourced maintenance work, trip planner, flight follower/dispatcher custodial personnel, inventory stock clerk for ship’s stores, director of training, director of safety, and director of security.
In actuality, the flight department is its own entity, detached from the main organization on behalf of whom it operates.
Now that the flight department is inNow that the flight department is in operation – ie, having purchased the aircraft, found a location at which to base it, and having a complete team in place – it is time to utilize the aircraft to its full potential.
This will allow the organization’s team members to maximize their utilization in the minimum amount of time. Corporate aircraft, operated efficiently and safely, buy the one thing one can never get back – time!
It is important to have an outside firm conduct random, unannounced safety and operational audits of the flight department to make certain the organization it serves is getting what it’s paying for.
Audits are also a great way to correct issues before they become too large to be remedied. The flight department should also take the initiative in becoming IS-BAO certified, SMS multi-level certified, and ISO certified.
Flight departments operating under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 135 (Air Carrier and Operator) should also pursue Wyvern and ARGUS multi-level certification. In addition, having a Corporate Flight Operations Quality Assurance (C-FOQA) program and FAA’s Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) in place adds a layer of operational safety for the corporate flight department.
Organizations often utilize corporate shuttles, such as this pair of Embraer Legacy supermidsize bizjets, to carry larger numbers of personnel with ease.
Options for how to operate a corporate flight department
Corporate flight operations may be conducted in a variety of different ways and under different parts of
Title 14 of the CFR. A flight department may be operated, as discussed so far in this article, as a stand-alone independent entity under 14 CFR Part 91, supporting the main organization by providing safe, efficient, and reliable transportation for company personnel.
Another option is for the aircraft to be operated by an outside independent full service aircraft management entity.
In this case, the aircraft management organization provides the entire personnel to operate the aircraft, arranges for, and oversees all required maintenance, provides storage facilities for the aircraft, and has a team to track the aircraft’s whereabouts and its trip progress.
The aircraft management entity may also offer to operate the aircraft under 14 CFR Part 135 (Air Carrier On-Demand and Commuter Operations) which may be beneficial to the company that owns the aircraft.
Among the benefits of going with a full service aircraft management entity are that parts are often less costly and at times more readily accessible, and that negotiated fuel and hangar costs are usually better, especially if the management entity operates a fleet of aircraft itself.
As a fleet operator, the aircraft management organization may be able to negotiate not only better insurance premiums but also reduced training costs with the big-name aircraft training providers.
For organizations not ready to purchase 100% ownership of an aircraft but still needing to operate corporate aircraft, there is fractional ownership, with certain fractional providers offering 1/16, 1/8 and 1/4 shares of modern fleets.
The organization pays an upfront fee that covers the purchase of the share desired, a monthly management fee, and an hourly aircraft utilization fee based on whether you are flying on the exact equipment purchased or a larger or smaller aircraft in the fractional provider’s fleet.
This type of operation offers flexibility while not committing large funds to get into corporate aircraft utilization.
Another way to approach operating corporate aircraft is block hour purchases – ie, large or small blocks of upfront payment for the privilege of reserving an aircraft whenever needed.
Numerous entities offer this type of service, and although not as flexible with regard to the type of aircraft available or requested time of use, it still offers an entry into the corporate aircraft world with minimal upfront costs.
Lastly, chartering an aircraft from a variety of aircraft charter organizations requires no upfront capital costs while offering an opportunity to explore different aircraft of varying size, performance specifications, and range capabilities, giving one an idea and valuable knowledge of what type of aircraft will be needed when the time comes to purchase or lease an aircraft for their organization.
To sum up, regardless of whether one decides to charter, purchase block hours, opt for fractional ownership, or buy 100% of the asset for the organization to either operate or have it operated by a full service aircraft management organization, corporate aircraft provide real benefits in terms of time saving.
How else, other than by using a corporate aircraft, can one leave in the morning, make numerous stops in multiple states or countries to conduct business, and be back home the same day in time for dinner? To echo NBAA’s slogan, No Plane, No Gain!
Javier Ferrea has been in the aviation industry for over 30 years in Part 91, 135, and 121 operations, logging more than 8000 hours and operating on 6 continents. He has operated, managed, sold, and purchased aircraft. In addition to authoring numerous articles for industry publications, he has published 2 books – To Live And Fly In The USA (1999) and The Gift Of Travel (2012). Ferrea is currently semi-retired as a Boeing 737 simulator instructor pilot for a US-based legacy carrier. When not instructing, one can find him sailing the globe aboard a cruise ship or on a beach somewhere.