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Great leadership equals long-term survival for aviation departments

DanDan Wolfe
Facilitator, coach & consultant,


Leadership is one of those words that has become generic, but its true meaning can open a world of possibilities within your team. One of the best definitions I’ve found of the word comes from Forbes, which describes it as a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal.

In 40-plus years working in business aviation for Part 91 flight departments – and now ServiceElements – I’ve come to understand the influence of being a leader and how to use it to maximize the efforts of teams so to achieve our professional goals day in and day out.

Flight dept management assess talent and mentor younger pilots to ensure leadership succession.

During my years as a leader of a Fortune 100 company’s flight department, I focused on building a strong culture of highly engaged employees.

One of the main foundational pieces in developing a great culture is trust and transparency, and it must start with you! You must invest in developing each person on your team.

Take time to discuss their goals and identify objectives, prompt them to take advantage of available resources via education and mentorship, and urge them to be an ally for their fellow teammates’ growth, too.

ServiceElements is both a leadership training and an employee engagement company, and we often hear the concern, “What happens if I invest in my employee and then they leave?” Our immediate response is, “What happens if you don’t and they stay?” Investing in professional development (ie, attending conferences, participating in certification programs, team enhancement workshops, etc) increases competency, safety, teamwork, employee loyalty, and more.

Are we okay without this for fear an employee might leave? Even if talent does leave your department, rest easy knowing they’ve left their positive footprint behind and are making the industry better elsewhere in their new position.

A high-performing team will not accept mediocrity. Engaged associates make your department safer and more productive, and people enjoy coming to work. As we all know, business aviation is struggling to hold onto experienced pilots and technicians, primarily due to the airlines’ aggressive hiring tactics, which is forecast to continue into the near future.

Really, the only place to get top talent, other than the limited number of military personnel leaving the services yearly, is business aviation. This drain of talent over the past 5 years has put significant pressure on our whole industry. The question is, what are we doing to build future leaders within our industry? In addition to establishing a strong foundational culture of engagement, you must identify potential leaders within your talent pool and create a succession plan. Remember to continuously coach and mentor your leadership pool, as even the most talented workers can fail at leadership when it’s time to step up.

As a mentor within the industry, and now working for ServiceElements, I get numerous requests from pilots, technicians, and schedulers that I meet at conferences who ask if they can run something by me – off the record. They often openly ask for guidance on some of the department issues that they’re experiencing, and almost all the issues discussed are directly due to a lack of leadership from the top.

They are usually very fixable issues, such as department personnel who have great ideas but are shut down by the chief or director, who show little to no interest. These associates are frustrated and feel like they have no voice within their department, which ultimately leaves them disengaged because their value and potential are repeatedly not being recognized or encouraged.

Poor leadership leads to disengagement. You see this with high turnover (which results in excessively high hiring and training costs), a noticeable lack of commitment to the extraordinary care of your customers, and a deficit of teamwork in your department. Many times, pilots and technicians will start openly complaining to senior leadership when they have the opportunity. Pilots often corral senior management while inflight, and you can imagine the internal disconnect this causes.

A CEO will feel that they have the best aviation department, until they realize they don’t. This awakening comes in different ways. It is not uncommon for C-suite executives to travel on other companies’ corporate aircraft, and one thing I can assure is that they compare their own flight operation every time they fly on these other aircraft – from how they’re first greeted to the cleanliness of their cup holder.

You are only kidding yourself if you think otherwise. It is likely the executives will only tell you what you’re doing better and will seldom, unless you ask, ever say what you’re not doing. However, they are taking notes. Benchmarking your operation and service to ensure your team provides extraordinary care will allow you to find new ways to make your services indispensable.

My passion for leadership, people development, and improving our industry has led me to recently join the ServiceElements team. As part of this group, I continue to mentor and coach other professionals in the industry, share my experience, and help them build high performing, engaged teams.

We all have heard of flight departments that have closed down because they were the problem child, where “downtown” felt the problems exceeded their value. We must push continuously that edge of excellence through honest and transparent leadership to remain a valued, high performing team! Take advantage of core skills training, such as those we offer at ServiceElements, so your organization stays ahead of the value proposition, having a fully engaged team, and enjoying going to work every day.

As part of our commitment to improving our industry and providing professional development training and coaching, ServiceElements has partnered with FlightSafety International to offer 2- and 3-day leadership workshops for current and emerging leaders at various US locations throughout the year.

During these programs, we leverage our decades of experience to dive deeply into what it means to be a leader, address critical challenges and opportunities, and provide participants with skills and tools to build a culture of service and teamwork.

In addition, we will be at NBAA-BACE presenting a 2-day PDP – Effective Teamwork and Strategic Goal Management. During this workshop, we will explore sharpening your leadership skills and building a high-performing team that people hate to leave and others seek to join.

NBAA-BACE brings the global business aviation community to Las Vegas

Ed Bolen
President & CEO, NBAA

Business aviation truly connects our world and demonstrates the irreplaceable value of in-person interactions. There is no more impressive display of this important role than the annual National Business Aviation Association Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE).

Taking place Oct 17–19 in Las Vegas NV, the 2023 edition of NBAA-BACE will not only showcase the innovative technologies and creative thinking that are propelling the industry to a bright, exciting, and sustainable future. The show will also reaffirm our industry’s significance to the global economy.

NBAAAs the largest international event dedicated to business aviation, NBAA-BACE brings together key contacts from around the world, including current and prospective business aircraft owners, manufacturers, and customers into one meeting place to get critical work accomplished.

Exciting and informative keynote presentations will open the show’s first two days, live from the exhibit floor, featuring athletic superstars, astronauts, entrepreneurs, adventurers, and trendsetters.

Attendees will also discover a wide range of forward-looking topics for this year’s events and presentations, including discussions about propulsion alternatives, artificial intelligence and autonomous flight. The session lineup will also include the always popular “Meet the Regulators” session.

NBAA-BACE will also host an expanded Business Aviation Sustainability Summit, highlighting sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and other industry advances toward its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. As one significant demonstration of this commitment, more SAF than ever before will be made available to those flying their business aircraft to Las Vegas for NBAA-BACE.

Attendees will also experience a dazzling showcase of the extensive variety of products, services, and state of the art technologies in the industry, with dozens of exhibitors also making new product announcements throughout the show. These include the latest technological innovations in advanced air mobility (AAM), with several electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft powered by hybrid-electric or full electric propulsion.

Building our industry’s next-generation workforce is also a top priority. Careers in Business Aviation Day – a staple of NBAA gatherings – will host middle school, high school, and college students for a day of student-focused programming and opportunities.

This year’s event will also include the inaugural NBAA-BACE Career Fair – an in-person networking event allowing employers to meet face-to-face with the industry’s best and brightest. Taking place Oct 18 and 19, more than a dozen companies are expected to host recruiting stations for the event.

Also new to this year’s edition of NBAA-BACE will be a Maintenance Competition, allowing students from local Part 147 aviation maintenance technician (AMT) schools to compete in various aircraft maintenance skill challenges for prizes based on accuracy and completion time.

NBAA-BACE also offers the opportunity for thousands of industry professionals to network with their peers. On Tuesday afternoon, NBAA’s Coffee Social provides attendees the chance to meet with the NBAA Board of Directors, Regional Representatives, and committee members, and network with others across the industry.

Without question, NBAA-BACE will serve as an invaluable opportunity for those working in business aviation to connect with their peers, learn about the latest products and developments, and experience the very best our industry has to offer. We hope to see Professional Pilot readers in Las Vegas for this exciting and forward-looking demonstration of all that fuels the business aviation landscape today and tomorrow.

Taking your flight department’s mechanic on international trips

By Lee Taylor
A&P. Challenger 3500 & Citation 680

Your mechanic could save you time and money should something go wrong with your bizjet while traveling overseas.

Reading the recently published articles in Professional Pilot magazine about maintenance, I remembered my experience working with a company that used to bring aircraft mechanics when flying business jets on international missions.

And there’s a number of reasons why it is important to take a mechanic along. First and foremost is ensuring the safety of the passengers, crew, and aircraft. Even the most well-maintained aircraft could experience mechanical problems, so having a mechanic on board can help to diagnose and fix quickly any issues that may arise.

Another advantage of bringing your mechanic on international trips is that I may ensure compliance with rules and regulations at some foreign destinations. In many countries, there are mandates that require corporate aircraft operations to have a mechanic on board when flying internationally.

And finally, flying with your own flight department’s mechanic could save you money. After all, if an issue does occur, nobody knows your business jet better than your maintenance personnel. Your mechanic could fix the issue quickly, potentially saving your mission and avoiding costly repairs and delays.

Having your mechanic onboard will ultimately bring peace of mind for the company executives and flight crew traveling abroad. While it’s at least convenient to bring a company mechanic on your international missions, there are additional considerations that should be studied when pondering whether or not to travel with maintenance techs. Age and condition of the aircraft, for example, may be a pro.

The length of the trip should be also considered, since longer distances and more stops could mean more chances for a breakdown. The destination is an important consideration, because some places may not have any facilities to work on the aircraft, so work would be done on the ramp. And something else to keep in mind is the language barrier between your flight crew and mechanics abroad.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to take or not a mechanic is up to the operator. Overall, taking a mechanic on an international route is a wise decision that can ensure the safety of the aircraft and the passengers, while saving the company money to fix breakdowns.

When I flew with my previous company, we always flew with a mechanic. We had a few incidents where we did not have a mechanic on board, which cost the company time and money because the plane was not repaired correctly and we had to wait for the repairs. We flew to destinations all over the world, so we couldn’t leave our plane behind.

In closing, I would recommend my fellow pilots to take a mechanic while flying internationally. From my experience, I can tell you it could be costly if you don’t.