Straight from the horse's mouth, EBAN brings you the thoughts and opinions of a cross-section of operations managers from across Europe.
Manuel Arroja, director of flight operations for Heliavia sa, used his previous skills and experience acquired in the air force to get into the flight operations business. "It is a 24/7 role," he says, "but I have two more people working with me, as flight dispatchers/flight planners."
His greatest challenge is trying to satisfy customer expectations, in terms of destinations and scheduling, and complying with the international regulations. Also, arranging flights to small airports, and long distance trips without alternates close to the destination.
"I don't think that computers and internet outsourcing can replace a person acting as operations manager. The Civil Aviation Authorities need a name to ask for responsibility when something goes wrong."
Would he recommend this job to a friend? Yes!
To meet the post holder requirements it is often the case that a chief pilot is considered to be the operations manager too.
"To be operations manager you must meet certain mandatory requirements such as being a pilot, captain and flight instructor as well as other non-mandatory requirements such as having pedagogical knowledge, experience in the office, yet strong character in order to help understand what needs are to be met," says Raul Gomez, chief pilot at Atlas Jets.
Gomez believe that computers and the internet are the best tool he has, far from being a sometime substitute for the operations manager. The company manuals, flight documentation, all training programmes, all aircraft maintenance programmes and aircraft navigations systems database, are all updated through computers and the internet. "Plus someone has to sign the papers, right?"
He reports that the biggest challenge of day-to-day operations is summarised in the phrase "safety and excellence in service" and the best part of the job is the feeling of achievement once a mission is finished successfully.
"Our company is small now and it really does not take much effort to perform the functions of operations, plus we are a team of friends where what prevails is a good working atmosphere and fellowship, so obviously we recommend this job to a friend!"
FDS OPS is an outsourced ops department for owners of business aircrafts and airlines, and employs 20 licensed dispatchers.
Operations manager Daniel Naslonski was previously a shift supervisor before promotion to ops manager. "I think the most crucial aspect for me is that my team always achieves the goals given by our clients. We plan according to the highest standards and safety rules, and I am proud of it," he says.
"I will recommend my job to any person who likes dynamic work, and can be ready all the time to give support."
JetNetherlands ground operations manager Michiel Bliekendaal has been in the airline business for some time now, but four years ago a colleague moved to work at JetNetherlands. "After one month he invited me to have a look," he says, and the rest is history.
"Actually it is indeed a 24/7 role. Of course I am able to delegate to the ops team, but I'm also part of this team and we all work in a day-by-day roster to cover the 24/7 period."
Changes to flight schedules provide the greatest challenges: "Sometimes it is hard to cope with them. But also requests to fly to small airports where calculations have to be made to figure out whether or not a flight is possible. Obtaining permits can be interesting too.
"In the operations department it is all about overcoming difficulties. It doesn't matter if it is a flight from Amsterdam to Melbourne or a flight from Amsterdam to Paris. There will always be a challenge. But the highlights would be the ambulance or transplant flights.
"These flights mean you could literally save somebody's life by just doing what you're good at. Isn't that wonderful?
"To know that with a small team of enthusiastic people, we make things happen. If the crew and the clients are satisfied, we are too."
So is this a job to recommend to a friend? "If that person doesn't mind being available 24/7, during holidays, on a day out with the family. Definitely, yes!"
For a single aircraft corporate operation, the job of operations manager will almost inevitably fall to the chief pilot. This is the case for Pascal Magne, Falcon 7X captain and corporate operator, who reports that he does the job of chief pilot and operations manager as well as organising the travel arrangements, including hotac and charter helicopters for passengers.
He is the captain of a corporate Falcon 7X, and has worked for 40 years with the same company. At the start of his career, he says, flight plans were filed by hand, and there was no operational support for him in France. "I did my job, and it was easy as all my flights remained in the European area," he says.
Then the jet era arrived and long range trips, along with the overflight and landing permits and credits needed to complete these flights.
"We have one aircraft and we are two pilots with one flight attendant, flying 350 hours a year. My colleague, and also captain and friend for 21 years, is in charge of the maintenance. He was a mechanic at Dassault before I hired him.
"We both started on a Falcon 10 (single pilot), then the 900EX, before acquiring the new toy. I'm 64 and I guess the time to retire isn't far away!"
At the very large fleet end of the spectrum, organising flight and ground operations inevitably falls to a large team of people. NetJets has an advanced rostering team which produces crew members' rosters up to two months in advance. For daily operations, crewing of aircraft is performed by the scheduling department. A dedicated maintenance department looks after all technical matters.
NetJets is in operation 24/7 and all critical roles are supported on that basis. "As director of flight operations, I have to be available at a moment's notice," says chief pilot Pascal Lhoest. "Every post holder has a nominated deputy to which they can delegate such duties should they not be available." For Lhoest the most satisfying part of his job is being able to deliver anytime anywhere, while keeping excellent safety and customer service standards. "We operate to over 5,000 airports worldwide and we continuously train to ensure we give our pilots the right support to operate anywhere we fly."
"I have a passion for aviation," he says, "and have worked for over 20 years in the field. My previous role at NetJets was as director of training and standards and I was asked to step into this position as chief pilot and director of flight operations this year."
Is it a role he could recommend to a friend? "Anytime!"
The requirements of an ops manager are heavily dependent on the type of aircraft and operations with which they work. Those working for government organisations often find an additional layer of bureaucracy and regulation, designed to protect the public interest.
Akif Turna is the helicopter operations manager for the State Airports Authority (DHMI) in Turkey. DHMI is a government organisation and governmental rules apply to everyone in the organisation.
"I am responsible for everything, including coordination with all related parties, assigning the crews for flight missions and coordination, as well as performing any other administrative tasks resulting from governmental mechanism," he says. It is not a 24/7 role because the helicopter mission profile does not require this.
"I am not authorised to have a contract with only one service provider. Whenever some need arises, I am required to ask some providers for a quotation," he says.
Nomad Aviation AG fulfills its requirements for post holders by always ensuring that a post holder or deputy for each of the divisions is permanently on-call. The company confirms that flight operations post holders are drawn from the ranks of pilots, with additional studies and training. Ground operations and customer care/sales post holders are drawn more widely from pilots, dispatchers and/or university educated individuals, again with additional studies and training.
Co-principal Claude Neumeyer says that the biggest challenges are in obtaining on-time permissions, airport and airway slots, especially ones that are in tune with each other. But successful selling, planning, initiation and completion of a flight with satisfied stakeholders, meeting every requirement and expectation, can be very satisfying.
"It is a fascinating, special job for people who are willing to take the additional steps to fulfill a flexible, hard working profession which exceeds regular working times and hours," he says.
Having worked for Aero Services Executive and Global Jet Luxembourg, 29-year-old Guillaume, operations manager Oyonnair, then had the rare opportunity to build an operations department exactly how he wanted it. "After many years as a flight dispatcher, I managed to supervise a team of flight dispatchers and a company decided to create their own operations department. I was the one chosen to create it. It is a great satisfaction to see now after a year that, from nothing, I managed to create a 24/7 operations department," he says.
His biggest challenge day-to-day is human resources. "For me," he says, "it is more difficult to deal with humans (crew and ground staff) than getting all the permits, fuel and flight plans!"
But urgent flights provide the job satisfaction, when "everyone does their best to be able to fly an aircraft to the other side of the planet with two hours notice prior to departure."
Would he recommend the job to a friend? "No, to an enemy maybe! It is stressful and there are many other jobs that pay better and let people have more free time. I think I'm doing it because I'm young, and don't have kids or a partner."
"I have been the operations manager for 20 years in this company," says Robert Rücker, flight operations manager and head of training at Agrarflug Helilift. He applied for the job after 12 years of flight experience and finds that, although it is a full-time job, some tasks can be done by a deputy. The most satisfying aspect of the job is to train all staff involved to ensure the company flies free of accidents.
"At the moment I would not recommend this job to a friend, because it is difficult to follow all the changes with CAA and other parties. Changes come up every day, and we have to produce only paper," he says.
Helicopter operations have their own specific set of challenges. Weather problems are the biggest of these, according to Captain Philip Amadeus at Rotormotion. "Passengers do not understand that we have no control on weather." he says. The number of scheduled maintenance checks required on helicopters can also make scheduling a problem for companies whose main business is ad-hoc charter.
However, it is all made worthwhile, says Amadeus, when a flight is booked that may be difficult and the passengers email with thanks for the great service. Special events provide the most exciting periods, when all the fleet are booked and flying. "It is usually so busy in the office that everyone is buzzing!"
Amadeus worked his way up through the ranks to ops manager, starting as a handling agent years ago, but it is not a job he would recommend to a friend. "There can be a lot of stress involved and usually the buck stops here," he says.
Last minute requests are often the greatest challenges for Liz Tsoukatou, ops co-ordinator at Athens Executive Aviation, but she always enjoys "the warm handshake of a satisfied customer."
She reports having the support of a dedicated team and ranks caterers and fuellers as the most crucial suppliers. Recommend to a friend? Definitely!
Who you gonna call?
Of course there are all manner of companies providing services to support the struggling ops manager. In this unscientific straw poll of our feature's respondents we list just a few...