The Importance of a Clear Chain of Communications with Accountability in Business Aviation Flight Departments

    “What did he say?”

    “Was that for us?”

    These are perhaps the two most common phrases heard on the flight deck.  Clear communications between the crew and ATC is critical to safe operations.  We all know that.  But too often I observe less than optimal communication all around the flight department, like between maintenance and flight ops, and between downtown and the folks at the airport.  What does that mean to an operator, and how can we improve understanding between all of our stakeholders?

    Let’s first talk about why clear lines of communication are important.  If we chat with the boss’ travel coordinator and don’t get the departure time right or if we incorrectly order his catering request there could be a tongue lashing or worse.  Poor communication may delay a maintenance or refurb project, possibly wasting both time and money.  In the maintenance shop if we don’t effectively let the scheduler or flight crews know of an aircraft’s status, well, that could allow scheduling – or worse yet, flying – of an aircraft that’s not fit to be in the air.

    There are more possible failure points in our everyday business communication with colleagues than we could ever imagine, and we in aviation strive, perhaps more than any other department in the company, to achieve zero errors.  After all, the accountant drops a decimal point and the company breaks out an eraser.  But if we miscommunicate at the flight department it could cost damage to property or loss of life.  It’s that important.

    Here are a few examples of common communication problems:

    • Slow/no communication
    • Inappropriate lines of communication, informal, no chain of command, end-runs
    • Ineffective communication
    • Communication that does not make stakeholders accountable

    So, Zeke, how do we make our business communications more effective?  Simple.  First, we must communicate.

    Collaborate, Gather Data, Collaborate, Develop the Plan, Collaborate, Then Implement  Sit down with the stakeholders.  Listen to their concerns, determine what they need to do their jobs.  Then discuss your needs, what you need to run a best practices flight department.

    At this point it’s important not to tell your fellow stakeholders how you feel.  Rather, collect supporting data from respected sources that reinforces your unique communication needs. Use the NBAA Management Guide, the IS-BAO GCOM or reference John Sheehan’s bizav bible, Business & Corporate Aviation Management.  It may be helpful to provide industry benchmarking data.  Downtown often likes to compare themselves to what others (especially competitors) are doing.  Ask other flight departments who communicate well how they structure their lines of communication.

    Using the data you’ll have to come to agreement on a plan with your stakeholders and then document it.  This most often is in the form of an organizational chart.  There will be give and take.  If you’re dealing with the boss it’ll probably be mostly taking, but hang in there, others are usually willing to do some giving.  You’ll find that flowcharts are terrific tools to visually capture your communications model.  Lastly, gather everyone up, explain the design, and get them to buy into the plan with no exceptions.  Compliance is fundamentally important.

    Accountability  Once the plan is in place require communication to be accountable whenever possible.  No phone calls and “he said, she said”.  Emails and paper or e-documents that require signatures are perfect.  Store the documents according to a formal document retention plan (we can address that in another blog).  Make it impossible for you and your teammates to miscommunicate or to be able to pass the buck.  You sign it, you own it.

    Communications Wrap Up  Poor or ineffective communication is common to almost every organization.  In this blog we’ve seen that communication problems can cost time, money and even loss of life.  We’ve also seen how easy it is to develop a communications plan based on best practices that meets all of your stakeholder’s needs and holds everyone in your organization accountable.

    I hope you find this FliteBlog at helpful.  Use it to encourage your organization to develop best practices or to implement ISBAO if formal communications plans are not already in place in your operation.  Feel free to give us a call if we can provide assistance in making your department’s communication more effective and efficient.  Call today- 805.558.8524.

     Copyright 2013 Business Aviation Solutions, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.

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