Most aircraft owners assume they have only two options when it comes to managing the complex operational control of their small Part 91 aircraft department: hand over the reins to a full-service aircraft management company, or build their own in-house operation.
Yet, recent trends in the industry such as technology advancements, shifting generational preferences, and efforts to improve the Part 91 safety record, to name a few, are changing that. Increasingly, a new type of corporate flight operation management companies is emerging. With a focus on meeting the changing needs of today’s aircraft owners, these companies are reimagining the traditional models of the past and creating new ones, alternatives that they believe are increasingly transparent, flexible, and cost effective.
Rather than outsourcing to a full-service aircraft management company, or setting up an in-house flight department, there now is a third alternative: Aviation As a Service, or Á La Carte Aviation. By taking an on-demand/as required approach to flight management, scheduling, and maintenance, this new model offers aircraft owners an à la carte, “use it when you need it” option. Just as Lyft and Uber disrupted transportation and Airbnb hospitality, this shift toward the services aspect of maintenance and flight support may be poised to transform the business of flight department management.
For owners who are unfamiliar with this approach, these concierge aviation scheduling and dispatching companies offer a team of aviation experts who are well-trained in Part 91 corporate environments. These teams can assist with a spectrum of concierge tasks—from flight scheduling, to FBO selection and optimized fuel-purchasing plans, vendor account set-up assistance, weather and NOTAM checks, flight logging, monitoring use and maintenance planning, record retention, ensuring that all records and regulatory requirements are fully compliant, around-the-clock dispatch support services, accounting and financial management, and more.
With the recognition that business aviation is not one-size-fits-all, and the acknowledgment that different flight departments and owners have different needs, having a flexible and tailored option like this can be an appealing and more economical alternative. It also can alleviate the strain of responsibility that’s often placed on a small number of flight department personnel who are already burdened by a high volume of tasks, freeing up time to focus their attention on the critical elements of their jobs such as safety. What’s more, it can eliminate the financial burden of paying someone full-time to be available around the clock.
These teams of experts are available when aircraft owners need them, 24/7, from anywhere in the world. At the click of a button, by adding a service to the virtual shopping cart within the system and “checking out,” this offers an array of potential options that allow owners to be as hands-on or as hands-off as they want to be. Owners may be notified as the products (such as fuel) or services (like maintenance inspections), are procured, and then invoiced monthly for all products and services purchased during that time, with details and supporting documentation as required.
Some also argue this model of lean service is particularly attractive in light of the COVID-19 pandemic when resource allocation is critical. It may be appealing to a new generation of owners, as well as those who demand an increased level of transparency in their operations.
While this third alternative to Part 91 aircraft management doesn’t exist to replace traditional methods, there may be space in the industry for new on-demand options that can provide improved cost control and owner oversight by offering services when they’re needed. It offers a potential solution for flight departments that have limited staff and bandwidth, allowing small flight operations focus on safety while providing access to deep industry expertise — with big flight department horsepower. BAA
Nathan Winkle is founder and president of aviation consultancy firm Thoroughbred Aviation, LLC, which offers full maintenance and aircraft management services to owners and operators around the world. He’s worked in aviation for 28 years.