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Today’s New Aviation Leaders

I was at the 20th NBAA Leadership Conference last week in Austin, TX.  I am also on the Corporate Aviation Management Committee (CAMC) and one of our sub-committees is responsible for putting the conference together.  This year’s event was a true success.  There were over 300 attendees (a record); most of the attendees were the current and upcoming leaders of some of the best flight departments in the country.  The quality of speakers and the energy of everyone there was outstanding.  Being with the members of these flight departments as well as in our CAMC meeting that occurred before the conference, there is clear evidence that there is an undercurrent of change in our industry and it is exciting.  The change is in the mentality of our flight departments and the leaders at all levels within them (being a leader does not mean being the boss).

Our company created an information resource almost fifteen years ago called the Aviation Asset Manager Portfolio.  It was a customized report that helped an owner evaluate whether and when to reinvest or transition their aircraft based on how it fulfilled their mission today and what was expected tomorrow as well as evaluating the competitive market conditions.  What was revolutionary about it was that it was the first time that I am aware of that anyone in our industry called aircraft “assets”.  That shift in thinking has permeated all of our work for the last fifteen years and it is now clear that it is permeating the industry too.  When members of flight departments and owners recognize and accept that paradigm shift is exactly when a flight department starts to really add value to the organization they are part of; regardless of whether they are a one pilot, one aircraft operation or a large corporate flight department with lots of pilots and lots of aircraft.

Aircraft will always be cost centers for an organization, but they can and do add value.  Aviation Asset Managers (Aviation Directors, Maintenance Directors, Chief Pilots, Line Captains, Line Maintenance, Schedulers and anyone else in the flight department who accept the paradigm shift) are the true leaders of tomorrow.  They are forward thinking and proactive.  They don’t just fly a trip, land and park the aircraft and then walk away until the next day.  They take a little time to clean the aircraft, troubleshoot and fix small discrepancies to keep them from becoming bigger issues later and they update their records and charts without procrastinating.  These are simple things, but actually doing them takes a little extra effort although it consistently saves money and help better preserve the value of the asset for when the time comes to sell it.  More than just those things, however, being an Aviation Asset Manager means talking to your organization to proactively understand their needs.  Are the mission requirements changing today or are they expected to change tomorrow?  Are there opportunities to create efficiencies in your operation or better schedule the aircraft that can both save money and also better fulfill your organization’s needs?  How will future compliance requirements affect your operation?  Will your aircraft still fit the needs of the organization in a few years or will you need longer range or more space?  Getting ahead of the game to plan for these required upgrades will allow you to better schedule the downtime and potentially save money.  If you will need something different, does investing hundreds of thousands of dollars or more today make sense in the long run vs. starting to work with your organization to think about planning for an aircraft transition?  Aviation Asset Managers are proactive and not reactive.  They consider these things and they don’t shy away from communication with their principles to help find the best solutions for the greater organization’s needs.  Those are attributes that true leaders possess and today’s up and coming aviation leaders embrace them and many others that I will continue to talk about in future posts.

And one final thought about this year’s NBAA Leadership Conference….Congratulations Robin Eissler with JetQuest and Chris Adams with FlightSafety International who were the co-chairs of the event.  Thank you for all that you did to make this a success!

J. Mesinger Hires Technical Director

Press Release
J. Mesinger Hires Technical Director

Boulder, CO, November 15, 2012 – J. Mesinger Corporate Jet Sales, Inc. (JMCJSI) has
announced today that they have hired a Technical Director, Andy Weibel.  As Technical Director,
Andy will assist in pre-purchase inspection oversight and technical review of all sales and
acquisitions projects.  He has worked in the aviation industry for more than 14 years as a
professional corporate aviation pilot and ground service technician at both general aviation and
airline airports.  He has logged over 4,000 hours, he has acquired seven jet type ratings and he
was an FAA Gold Seal Flight Instructor.  Andy’s passion and technical understanding of aviation,
specifically corporate jet aircraft, has led him back into the industry in a unique and dynamic role
as Technical Director.

When No One Else Is Watching

The new issue of Fortune Magazine includes their annual section about the best advice people have ever received.  It touches on both business and life issues.  Reading it made me think about the best advice that I have ever received.  This idea of advice also plays into the upcoming (February 2013) NBAA Leadership Conference theme of “Leaving a Legacy” and what advice those people passing the torch of leadership in a flight department want to impart upon their peers.

I am lucky to have received a lot of great advice over the years from my parents, teachers, friends, clients and colleagues.  And, I have spoken about some of it in my blogs before like “in a negotiation, work to turn a square table into a round table” The piece of advice that stands out in my mind today is that “life is about what you do when no one else is watching”.  As a child my father had a framed typed story in his office about a jockey and his racehorse.  The world only watched them for 60 seconds or less at a time when they were actually racing, but it was the countless hours, days, months and years that they spent training that made them successful.  I can’t say that I always embraced the idea of quiet dedication when no one is watching when I was growing up.  If I had, my high school grades might have reflected it more.  I now know, however, how critical it is in all aspects of life to spend the time diligently studying and practicing and remaining dedicated when no one else is watching to become successful at anything.

This same principle applies in flight departments.  I often talk about the different between someone who is just a pilot compared to an aviation asset manager or flight department leader or a line mechanic compared with a director of maintenance.  If you just fly an airplane and park it and walk away after a flight, you might be a safe competent pilot.  You might be performing when the boss is watching.  But, the difference of what that means to the future value of your asset, the flight department budget’s bottom line and dispatch reliability will be noticed later.  If, however, you spend an extra few minutes cleaning the airplane, taking care of small problems so they don’t become big problems, organizing your records and taking those few extra steps in whatever the task, it will make a huge difference to your organization.  And, that little extra time spent when you thought no one else was watching will be noticed later with a positive outcome.

Critical Thinking and Leadership

I am on the NBAA Corporate Aviation Management Committee (CAMC).  CAMC is responsible for the annual NBAA Leadership Conference.  At our last meeting in July we spent a day brainstorming topics and speakers for the 2013 conference (in Austin, TX in February 2013 – I highly encourage you to consider attending).  As I thought about the characteristics that good leaders possess, I kept thinking about the importance of critical thinking.  Good leaders don’t question everything for the sake of questioning, but they also don’t just accept what they are told because that is the easy path either.

In our own company, we are in the process of hiring a new technical director.  This is an important position for us.  Our organization’s dedication to overseeing the technical aircraft details and pre-purchase inspections for our clients’ sales and acquisition projects is a huge differentiating benefit of our service.  Accuracy in the development of aircraft specifications and understanding aircraft we are acquiring, as well as good management of the pre-purchase inspection can have a large impact on our clients’ financial bottom line from their sale or acquisition.  Successful technical oversight is overwhelmingly achieved because of critical thinking.

Critical thinking is about questioning when an answer does not, on its surface, sound like a scenario where 2+2=4 or when the answer to a question doesn’t seem complete or definitive.  Critical thinking is about questioning until all possible options have been understood and exhausted.  When considering aircraft maintenance, there are often many ways to fix aircraft discrepancies.  Some requiring replacing parts, but sometimes, if you have time, you can have the same parts repaired for considerably less.  Sometimes there are short term solutions that allow you to safely and successfully complete a trip for your organization, but then require affecting a longer-term solution when you return.  A good leader (aviation director, director of maintenance, line pilot or line maintenance) will think critically about the options, not just stop a flight if there are possible solutions and not just through money at problems because replacing parts is the easy answer.  Sometimes, by the way, you absolutely have to and should say that you can’t fly or you need to replace parts because those will be the right answers.

I was talking to a client’s director of maintenance recently.  He was telling me a story about a problem that could have ended a big International trip before they ever left their home base.  They were sitting on the ramp about to depart for a 12 hour flight with several other stops over a two week trip.  They had a problem with a system on the aircraft and they were getting a warning alarm in the cockpit.  This was an MEL system and they had experienced the same issue before, but thought it had been fixed.  The maintenance director was on board.  They immediately started to troubleshoot the system while on the ramp and also called system manufacturer’s technical support.  They explained the problem they were experiencing, their history with the same issue, what they were doing to trouble shoot and isolate it and the details about trip they were trying to depart on.  Because of the Director of Maintenance’s forward thinking having immediately started researching and troubleshooting the problem, he was able to quickly eliminate a lot of concerns and explain this to the manufacturer’s technical support.  He also connected the system manufacturer’s technical support with the aircraft manufacturer’s technical support.  As a team, everyone now involved (all while the passengers were standing by) collectively agreed that the system problem was a sensor problem and not the actual system itself.  Having successfully identified that the system itself was in good working order, they were given a temporary flight authorization requiring that the DOM who was already going on the two week trip check the system after every 12 hours of flight.  Because he thought critically about the problem and worked to identify all possible issues and solutions, and he was forward thinking to simultaneously build the right team of people to help, he was able to save the trip and safely get the senior executives to their meetings around the world.  For most people, this issue would have cancelled the trip before it started.  Had it really been a safety of flight issue this DOM would have immediately stopped his trip, but as it turned out it wasn’t.  This was a great example of how out of the box problem solving, critical thinking and forward thinking to coordinate everyone’s efforts and lead the team to find a safe solution were imperative skills for any great leaders.

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