This behind-the-scenes look I am incredibly excited about. Due to its confidential nature, corporate aviation leaves a lot to the imagination for those trying to paint a picture of how the pieces fit. How do you plan your travel if you are wealthy enough to fly private but do not own a private jet?
The answer is private aviation brokers. Especially since the pandemic, many clients are moving to these modern organizations daily. Large companies, like General Electric, once had a fleet of corporate aircraft. Many of these clients recognize recent brokers' financial benefits and efficiency, selling off their corporate fleets usually to either open an account with fractional ownership operators or a “jet card” with private aviation brokers.
How It Works
Let's say I won the lottery and now have abundant cash to spend. I explored private jet ownership, specifically a Boeing Business Jet (my favorite private jet). However, after careful deliberation, I decided ownership is too pricey, complex, and not worth the hassle. Owning my airplane would require support personnel, maintenance costs, and hangar space on top of operational expenses - things I would not like to be bothered with.
This is where private aviation brokers come in. All that is required is a call to your company of choice, where they then figure out the logistics and present the client with a quote. All responsibility for the trip falls on the broker, providing a stress-free experience for the customer.
This is not to say that you must win the lottery to be able to afford such a service. Odds are, it's far more affordable than you think. While many celebrities and corporations choose this more desirable approach to travel, the vast customer base for these organizations approximates customers in the price range of first-class travel on the airlines we know today. This is essentially how corporate aviation rebounded so quickly from the pandemic and continues to grow more robust today, as people seek to avoid the contact and hassle of busy airport terminals.
Jet Aviation's Boeing Business Jet 2 that I would like to own but instead will book through brokers for all my travel needs since it is far more economical.
Flight Support Managers
Many other professions go into these organizations, some of which we will cover in the future. Sourcing departments that combine the pieces and customer experience departments that focus more on each client's unique needs.
Today, we will focus on the universal flight support role - the foundation for success and the most common entry-level position. Everything flows through the Flight Support Manager, with everyday responsibilities including but not limited to:
Executing daily trip operations with Part 135 operators*.
Ensuring Part 135 operators exceed company safety standards.
Coordinating ground transportation.
Coordinating in-flight catering.
*Part 135 operator = unscheduled charter carriers.
A common misconception is that Flight Support Managers require the dispatching requirements employees working in flight operations for Part 121 or Part 135 operators are subject to. However, this is not the case, as the position is more of a hybrid between customer service and logistics. As the main point of contact for each trip, Flight Support Managers either make or break a client’s travel experience.
Everything in aviation is customer service, but the world of corporate aviation is another breed. You are dealing with C.E.O.s and celebrities with high standards of how they expect to be treated. For this reason, you will find that many corporate aviation solutions elect to name their clients something more dignified than “customers,” regardless of their nature. Fractional ownership companies will call their clients “owners,” meaning they abstractly own a fraction of an aircraft (hence, the name). For others, something like “guest” is a standard solution.
The Flight Support Manager is the ultimate team player. Professional relationships are critical to an effective flight support department. The Part 135 operators are handling the logistics on their end, such as crew and fleet allocation, flight planning, and the ultimate execution of the trip. The Flight Support Manager assists in overseeing this strategic planning to ensure everyone is on the same page and the client gets what they asked for.
Due to the amount of planning each trip requires you must be able to work effectively with others. Your priorities may differ from others’ priorities. Thus, conflict resolution is necessary to determine your performance in this role. At the end of the day, it is essential to remember that all parties are on the same team.
You may be one of only a handful of Flight Support Managers in smaller companies, and you may have a team of several people across the country for larger ones. Thus, your actions directly impact your colleagues and, ultimately, the client. You do not want to become someone who cannot be relied upon to do the job.
Aviation is far from a perfectly-operating climate. Sometimes, the Flight Support Manager must devise a quick solution to a problem they could not prepare for. Since others own the resources being used, the Flight Support Manager must develop a knowledge of viable options, which comes down to location.
For example, an aircraft getting stuck in a city while repositioning to pick up your client. If the individual is located in a common area like New York City or Boston, odds are you will come up with a reasonable solution to the problem rather quickly. However, if your client is being picked up in a remote area, finding an effective resolution will be more difficult, as there are likely few nearby options on short notice.
It is always important to remember that many of these resources are outside your control. Time wasted exerting frustration on operators not only hurts your reputation but does not get you any closer to the goal. Effectively taking (metaphorical) punches is required to overcome adversity when it arises.
Also worth noting are obliging unique client requests. You may be asked to broker an aircraft for a movie shoot or coordinate ancillary trip components on behalf of the guest. For example, when I worked in line service, there was a time when two celebrities arrived on the same aircraft. They were in a relationship not in the public spotlight yet, so the plane was taxied into a hangar, where they then got into transportation and departed the airfield. Guess who is coordinating that, including the operator and private terminal, all while maintaining anonymity?
Perhaps the most cogent facet of the position is balancing the customer's needs with real-world factors. For example, consider a client looking to bring a Gulfstream 650 into Aspen, CO, a reasonable request at face value. However, Aspen limits aircraft wingspans to 95’ - the G650 has a wingspan of 99’ 7”. In this situation, you must either convince the client to accept a smaller aircraft or find the closest airport that can accept the Gulfstream 650.
This may seem like a minor inconvenience to us plebeians. However, I assure you it is a far more difficult compromise for the client. This is a Flight Support Manager position, after all, and part of managing is being able to paint the picture of the “why.” It takes some practice, but you need to effectively provide the context for the client to understand that you are doing your best and will satisfy their needs with an adequate resolution.
Private brokers are more than just another flight support company- customer service is a significant feature being offered. When applying for this position, aviation experience helps, but focusing on customer relations is also critical and will benefit you immensely.
The Flight Support Manager monitors each trip under their purview, from the repositioning flight until after the client has left their final destination. Depending on the season, this could mean little to monitor or busy days with a full docket of trips.
Last I checked, the aviation world does not stop spinning on holidays. As an entry-level position, your schedule may land you working days like Christmas or New Year's. Each organization is different in appropriating time off requests, but generally, holidays are not high-volume days. In other words, it is not unreasonable to assume that after spending some time at a company, you will get holiday paid time off (PTO) approved.
Most of these companies are large enough now that departments have implemented 24/7 shift coverage, which means you may spend some time working graveyard shifts. While airport jobs mainly use overnights to prepare for the next day, the workload is far more manageable, generally centered around whatever operations fall during these hours. Sleep at your own risk! (but do not say I told you to).
Remote work is an option for many companies. Realizing the impending staffing crisis and needing to compromise for employees' best interest, particularly relocating, most companies have incorporated remote accessibility. However, I would not bank on this for a long-term career, as most organizations are starting to identify holes and are distancing themselves from remote positions.
Working as a flight support manager has many benefits. Typically, it is an entry-level position at corporate aviation firms. Many of these companies are growing exponentially, making now the perfect time to get your foot in the door. As departments grow and positions are created, time spent as a Flight Support Manager will put you in a versatile place should you grow organically or jump to another viable organization.
As I mentioned, similar positions for Part 121 and Part 135 operators require a dispatching license, which is not valid for Flight Support Managers. That is not to say that this position is not a good fit for prospective careers in flight operations - many people go on to successful careers with commercial operators, many at a managerial level.
You will know how to get there if you have a picture of where you want to go. I recommend to those that this applies to consider obtaining an FAA dispatching license anyways, as it is often required in many entry-level flight operations positions elsewhere. I always say why not if it can bolster your resume?
The networking opportunities are hard to quantify. The Flight Support Manager constantly coordinates with logistics staff on the customer and the operator side, facilitating solid relationships. Since you have little control over each component, you will learn to “trust, but verify,” a necessary principle for any aspiring professional.
Photo: Universal Weather & Aviation, Inc.
Is Flight Support Manager for Me?
Well, it depends on what kind of person you are. Flight Support Managers, like many other roles in aviation, must be able to adapt to an ever-changing environment. If you are like me and enjoy critical thinking and the unpredictability in our work, this job could be for you. You will learn lessons that will benefit you regardless of your career.
If you check all the above boxes and this aligns with your career objectives, I highly suggest you look closer at flight support opportunities. The job is challenging, but the stress is never unmanageable, providing a remarkable quality of life. Generally, the people I have spoken to over the years who performed the job are enormously grateful for the experience, and I think you will be too.