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PERSPECTIVES Business aviation through the eyes of the operations manager: A sense of humour and calmness under pressure are crucial to overseeing ops
Positioned between the aircraft, upper management, crew, clients and the authorities is business aviation's operations manager. Some postholders occupy themselves principally with ground ops, while others have a hand in the flight.
Read this story in our September 2014 printed issue.

Positioned between the aircraft, upper management, crew, clients and the authorities is business aviation's operations manager. Some postholders occupy themselves principally with ground ops, while others have a hand in the flight. Many take on both duties, and plenty more besides. What all of them have in common though is an all-consuming passion for their day-to-day occupation, which sees them ready for action at any time. EBAN was keen to find out more, and our contributing ops chiefs were only too pleased to share their stories.

Sarah Latreche is postholder ground operations at Germany's ImperialJet. She oversees the day-to-day running of the company's operations control centre, and says that providing an exceptionally high level of service is a 24/7 duty. “We must maintain the service we provide to our privileged clients while keeping an awareness of safety, compliance and security,” she remarks.

“My role includes, but is not limited to, ensuring all flight planning measures have been taken into account, along with crew duty limitations, route selection, fuel providers, tankering, catering orders and other passenger assistance.”

Latreche was sponsored early in her career to enrol for pilot training at Oxford Aviation in the UK. She then found her way into the business environment. As well as learning three languages at school she picked up a further three from her aviation experience.

She continues: “My first job in aviation was as a gopher – I would 'go for this' and 'go for that'! I had to do whatever was asked, by whoever was asking, as I was the most junior of the team. I copied, filed, drove, marshalled and allocated accommodation for crew.”

Following the resignation of the operations manager, Latreche was approached to fill the position during a period of 'dramatic' change within the company. “I came to realise that the team is the wheel of the operation, and if you take care of them, they will take care of your business.

“I was starving for flying hours and looking to upgrade to captain, so I left for a full-time pilot position which I did for five years.

“I accumulated hours of flying experience but it felt like no challenge. I missed the brain exercise and the contribution to the growth of a defined project. I learned from the good and the bad: I admired the good managers and I observed carefully the mistakes of the less appreciated ones.

Day to day, she provides information about legal requirements for any flights operated under the ImperialJet AOC. She also ensures that all information concerning irregularities is entered in the appropriate reporting procedures, such as flight safety reports. Rostering is another of her duties, allowing staff sufficient rest time to maintain fitness for duty. “I also provide support and assistance to the safety and compliance manager in the performance of the compliance programme. I initiate corrective actions resulting from audits and inspections concerning ground operations, and liaise with the authorities in all of these matters.”

Latreche closely monitors aviation developments in order to achieve ground ops improvements concerning safety, compliance, economy, and efficiency.

ImperialJet specialises in fixed wing operations, and operates several Challengers and Learjets along with a Hawker 800. Latreche says that recent EASA regulation changes are not affecting the operation at the moment: “I have to say that it has been very smooth. We have put in place a change procedure to highlight the differences and manage the transition. We have a very good team representing the company; they are very knowledgeable and hard-working. We are well supported by the local authorities who are always there to assist and provide guidance.”

Over the course of her career, she has flown for oil companies, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross Geneva, holding licenses in South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Algeria. Finding crew to work for ImperialJet is not a challenge, given the competitiveness of the current environment: “The industry offers pilots a lot of choices, which can sometimes be problematic. But throughout the years we have built a loyal and flexible team of flight crews.”

She believes that her exposure to all aspects of aviation has given her the required skills to carry out her role: “I have flown, planned, and stayed mindful of safety and security. I have accumulated good aviation knowledge and understanding that the difference is in the details.

“I have also been told that being multilingual and my good negotiation skills help, as well as my ability to perform under pressure. Aviation is my passion, though it can be very stressful at times. Nonetheless, should I have to do it again, I would without any hesitation.”

She is astonished at how much aviation relies on machines nowadays. “Last year, we had a system error on our flight plans and you should have seen the eyes of the team when I suggested that we fill it out manually and send it by fax to avoid flight delays!”

Eugen Tatu runs ops for C&I Corporation in Romania. “Business aviation has to offer solutions for a lot of challenges,” he says. “Generally, business people are elevated, with high living standards. Being an operations manager is not so easy, because every step in such a job must be very well calculated and you must be able to find the right solution in a short amount of time.”

Tatu believes there are three crucial elements to running a successful ops department: people, aircraft and communications. “Firstly, everybody must comply with regulations, be well-trained and skillful, stay aware and prevent danger. They must be polite, communicative and firm at the same time.

“Aircraft must match up to the purpose of the flight. All the systems need to be operative and well handled to have enough fuel for the proposed distance. The jets must be kept clean and be well supplied with fine drinks, fresh juices, and vessels for storing and serving food.”

“Lastly, communications must be prompt between all internal depart-ments and external partners such as authorities, handling operators and fuel suppliers. All systems of communication must be used.”

He describes the role of the flight operations director as 'like being the conductor of an orchestra' but without the rehearsals. “We enter directly into problems and the performance must be perfect.”

Tatu's career began with him making model aircraft at a children's club. He later became a military pilot before he turned his hand to business aviation. He now handles every stage of a private flight: “From receiving the request, I ask for dispatch and flight support to calculate the optimum route, alternates, possible refuelling locations, find available handlers, and so on. After that I assign flight crews. Communication must not be interrupted until the end of the flight, otherwise it is chaos.”

He specialises in rotary wing, for which he says challenges are greater without electronic guidance at remote landing sites. “Here it comes down to talent and innovation.”

He says that the role is 60 per cent management and 40 per cent execution, and argues that regulation changes are not taking into account every type of aircraft. “The regulations for helicopters are copied by fixed wing,” he explains. “While fixed wing pilots must have special endorsements for mountain flights, helicopter pilots are not required to have special training for this.”

Finding available crew can be a real challenge, although Tatu says that he personally must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “The phone may ring at any time and customers often ask you the most bizarre things. They have great imagination in this respect!”

He enjoys the job but does prefer to get out and fly: “Being an ops manager is not spectacular. The guy doing this must be a perfect professional, must have experience and share it. He must be an informal leader too, and has to put his example first. Being a flight ops director in business aviation you could be asked to find another operator able to transport live animals, even a request like 10,000 goats. This is not spectacular, it just has to be done.

“Military experience has helped me. There have been occasions when the timing has been perfect, with not a second lost.”

Interaviation's Alexandru Dascalu is also based in Romania, and his key responsibilities are to follow company business strategies to achieve team objectives, lead, educate and develop operational staff, forecast and plan annual budgeting, monitor and improve operational efficiency, and build business leads to avoid complaints and service failures. He sees his key role as being 'the extension of the company departments in the marketplace' – the 'battlefield' where it strives for exceptional standards.

Dascalu is another military college graduate; he had to choose between training field troops and taking to the sky. “I preferred the wings. Twenty years in the air force, then 17 in civil aviation as a flight navigator, before operations and sales jobs in business aviation, and here I am.”

He supervises the base in Bucharest and arranges handling and ground services at remote airports. “We are required to obtain the necessary information from the flight operations department concerning pilots' licences updates, flight and duty time limitations for crewing, daily availability and sensitive airport qualifications.”

The operator flies a Hawker 900XP and a Challenger 300, and manages an EC155B1 helicopter. Dascalu reveals that around 25 per cent of his office hours and 40 per cent of his time out of the office is taken up with people management. As for changing regulations, his views are forthright: “Sometimes this is helpful, but mainly it is restrictive, bureaucratic, bushy and tangled.

“Our relationships with the authorities are harmonious but limited to strictly necessary contacts.”

Working with a limited budget and narrow margins which merely grant 'survival and shy development', he says there are rarely changes in personnel. “We try to 'recycle', develop, create new skills for existing personnel, and to outsource main services. We sometimes use freelance pilots. There are many challenges associated with crewing – beyond flight time regulations, one has to consider their human needs and personal aspirations.”

He believes that he has a number of personal attributes which make him well suited to the role. “I understand the business aviation operational needs both on ground and in the air. I am familiar with the pilot's role in the air and, importantly, while on the ground between arrival and departure in remote locations.

“I seek to maintain the 'happy landing glaze' in the crew's and clients' eyes, and in the company accounts, of course!”

A particularly unusual scenario occurred recently, when Dascalu and his colleagues hosted an onboard wedding: “It was an interesting and happy experience,” he says. “The crew's charm and resourcefulness really made for a special moment.”

And the greatest challenges? “Sometimes you have to explain to the customer that he or she can't fly in the aircraft they have paid for. Whatever the immediate reaction, the most important thing is to be honest and try to make the passenger see that everything you do is of good will.”

Another operations manager with no shortage of duties is Richard Moritz of UK-based Catreus. He provides oversight of all company operations to ensure a safe and compliant operation, and is responsible for scheduling aircraft, planning crew duties, managing third-party suppliers and monitoring legislation.

He joined the RAF in 1984 to work in air traffic control and served for six years before spending a further 15 years with SITA flight operations, which at its peak served 250 airlines worldwide. As the industry shrunk he worked for a private operator based at Farnborough, before moving to Fly Vectra and then to his current role.

“I am responsible for the planning of crew duties according to the company flight time limitations scheme,” he says. “I have oversight of the aircraft hire and scheduling, I select ground handling agents, ensure crews have all required training approvals and ratings, manage EFBs, oversee Total AOC's Centrik system and monitor our operations for compliance.”

Catreus has been working hard to achieve EASA approval over the last eight months, which it has now received. While this has not had a significant effect on ground ops, the process has meant that the operator now carries out self-audits.

As for recruitment, Moritz works closely with East Sussex College, which provides qualifications for the positions available. “We are keen to bring in a younger generation, either as apprentices or full-time employees. We also, as ever, pick up recommendations from others within the business and I will be involved in interviewing potential candidates.” Catreus has a full-time crew which is always rostered in advance, so availability is rarely, if ever, a challenge.

“Because the job is so wide-ranging, I benefit from having had experience across many different aspects of flight operation over several years,” he continues. “You really do need a good knowledge base – it's about being able to recall disparate information all the time, such as what hours Pisa airport is in operation, while also knowing the performance capabilities of the aircraft.

“You also need to be well organised and a good communicator, with the ability to cope under pressure. Flexible thinking and planning is essential too as you never know when requirements or a situation might change. You must be able to prioritise your workload.”

Despite the pressures, he thoroughly enjoys the job: “Every day is different with a new challenge. I also just really enjoy working with the aircraft so it's great that my job includes elements of my interests.”

Andrew Rankine is operations manager for FlairJet in the UK. He sees compliance as his primary concern, be it with EASA, the CAA or EU. He flew B727s and Islanders in the 1970s before rediscovering aviation post university when he applied to become a cabin crew member at a new airline based at Luton in the 90s, which turned out to be EasyJet. After four years he took a 'regular' job at a warehouse but being under the flight path made him yearn to return to aviation.

“I decided to apply for a job working for a private jet handling company at Luton and learnt about business jets and the non-scheduled side of the industry,” he comments. “Eager to learn more, I joined a business jet operator in Oxford in a busy operations department. I later joined Marshall Executive Aviation based at Cambridge, and following their acquisition of FlairJet managed ops for both companies.”

He says that people management is a regular part of his duties, and he often encounters 'ego, hope, desire and disappointment': “I try not to show too much to my colleagues!

“In terms of recruitment, we tend to lure new ops staff in from local flight training schools with the promise of future flying; they have some background knowledge and are keen to start in aviation. They will work in operations, learning how non-scheduled commercial ops works and then, with luck, a new aircraft will come in to be managed and they will be part of the crew for it.”

He does not hold a pilot's licence himself and says that he occasionally has to put up with banter from crews who claim that he is a frustrated pilot. “I believe that they're just frustrated ops staff really.”

German operator Sylt Air employs Juergen Meyer-Brenkhof as its ops manager. Like many of our respondents, his presence can be required on any day, at any time. “It is an on and off job, as you can imagine,” he says. “I used to be the flight ops manager until I was 65, and then EASA rules required us to stop commercial flying at that age. I switched seats from flight ops manager and became ground ops manager.”

Meyer-Brenkhof runs the entire business with regards to handling. He does not concern himself with flight route detailing, scheduling and maintenance, and as a result he feels that ground ops is a more straightforward role than flight ops. Nor is staff management something he must consider: “We are such a small company and we mainly fly during the summer time. We fly in winter too, but the main job is the touristy, scenic flights to Hamburg. We don't have that much manpower; we only have three or four people who work with us.

“The changes with EASA however have made a lot of work for us. We have had to change all of our rules, we had to change the operating handbook, but mainly it has been a paper job. Aircraft still fly the same way that they did 50 years ago, but the paperwork has tremendously increased. A big portion of my job is taken up with security too. Airport security is very strict and you have to do a lot of screening: the people have to be screened, the planes have to be screened and they have to be searched and so forth. This adds a lot of work.”

When Sylt Air recruits, it doesn't advertise. “We know all the people that work here, and occasionally we put in a young one,” he says.

“We have very few people that work on a regular basis, most of our staff are part-time. There is no recruitment process. “We have far more requests for jobs than we have actual jobs! We stack up our cvs because we get them by the dozen. In terms of pilots, 80 per cent are freelancers, mostly ex-air force, because they have all the licences and necessary qualifications. We take on very few beginners.”

He believes that his ability to do the job comes down exclusively to experience. “You have got to know the small aircraft, you must know the equipment, you must know the airfield.”

He very much enjoys his job and, despite being ground operations manager, he still has a valid pilot's licence, which enables him to carry out non-commercial, test and maintenance flights. “I fly the parachute aircraft every weekend, which is a lot of fun.”

There is no maintenance facility on the island, so any fix takes place at Kiel; this is another ferry flight that Meyer-Brenkhof may be tasked with.

His greatest satisfaction comes from client feedback: “A lot of our customers work in management and they fly with airlines all the time, having their coffee above the clouds. They enjoy flying with us at 2,000 feet and looking out over the landscape. We have had no complaints that I can think of.”

Dimitrios Kehayas is flight operations manager for Greece's GainJet. He is responsible for the overall direction, coordination, and evaluation of the operations department, carrying out supervisory tasks. He also coordinates with other departments, including maintenance and training to schedule aircraft and mobilise crew.

He says: “I am the main point of contact with the authorities and regulatory bodies, and need to coordinate with and be in constant communication with them.

“I provide leadership, direction and protection to all flight personnel, enhancing personal performance and competence. I also maintain strict confidentiality of all company and personnel related matters.”

Kehayas has 19,000 flying hours under his belt, and demands the same high standards of his potential recruits: “Our operation requires professional and experienced flight crew, with the capability to serve vip passengers. They must take into consideration as part of their duties those vip requirements and procedures, on top of their day-to-day responsibilities.”

He describes the job as a 'time consuming position' but he relishes the challenge it provides.

“It requires me to think strategically and sometimes outside the box. Most importantly, I enjoy it because it involves me with many aspects of the company, which allows me to continuously grow as an aviator.”

Jan Kralik is postholder ground operations at ABS Jets in Prague. “My prime responsibility is to see to it that our passengers, crew and aircraft will be treated with maximum care at all destinations by professionally trained ground staff, using only approved tools and equipment.

“At ABS Jets, we perform a number of ground handling audits each year at the main destinations that our fleet operates to. My responsibility also remains with the flight planning department. This is challenging, since we have aircraft across the globe all the time.”

Kralik studied air traffic in high school and at university before securing his first job as a 737 dispatcher. He switched to business aviation and moved from chief dispatcher to his current role. He now deals with every kind of operational matter, including managing the ground handling department in Prague.

“It is a privilege to have some very good teams available that are supervised by great managers,” he says. “Nowadays I mostly deal with safety management system issues, training programmes and manual updates, but I am also involved in business development.”

He has been flying himself quite a bit of late as it helps to clear his mind of daily stresses. Kralik tends to leave crewing to the flight operations manager and chief pilots. He says that the key to his success is keeping his feet on the ground, even though at times he will spend extended periods airborne. “My dispatch background helps me a lot.”

Derek Desmond is the group operations manager for Helicopter Film Services (HFS) based at Denham Aerodrome, UK. He views himself as an 'interface' between his clients and colleagues.

“I have to ensure that the clients needs are relayed to the team as well as informing the client of any issues facing us,” he says. “Ever since I was a kid I have been fascinated with aviation but I never thought of it as an occupation. So I came into it fairly late in April 2004 when I was an operations assistant for Cabair Heliphotos.”

His duties are to ensure that the aircraft is booked in at fuel stops, ensure that there is adequate fuel, find overnight accommodation, make sure the whole crew knows the schedule and liaise with engineering to ensure that there are no problems. From a flight ops perspective he must also keep a consistent eye on the weather forecast and also conduct flight following. Like many respondents, people management is a vital part of his day-to-day life: “The diverse range of clients and crew that work with HFS keeps you on your toes. Dealing with individual needs and demands is at the core of my duties. It's always important to be aware of expectations and be prepared to manage them.

“I like to think that my attention to detail, a can-do approach and retaining a very good sense of humour help along the way.”

French operator Voldirect has Matthieu Gouret as its chief pilot and ops manager, and he is assisted by Fred Paga. Says Gouret: “I handle all customer demands pre and post flight, ensure a complete flight preparation for the crew, and I am ready if the crew needs anything during the flight, so that they can focus on the flying.

“I have to be extremely reactive and accurate when an unscheduled flight occurs.”

With Voldirect being an operator of single turboprop TBM850, Gouret and Paga must uphold the ETOPS regulations, being at a gliding distance from a field at all times. They must make sure that the destination airfield is suitable for landing during the requested hours, staying mindful of Notams, take off and landing performances, weather conditions and airport hours. They must make sure that requested hours are compatible with crew availability, and arrange all hotel and taxi booking, car rentals, handling requests and slot coordination. “We are the link between the commercial team and technical team, and we try to improve work efficiency by creating new tools for flight ops,” says Gouret.

“We must maintain and monitor all crew qualifications, and work with the training manager on a recurrent training schedule. We are responsible for post flight file analysis too.”

Another offshoot to conducting single engine commercial operations is the importance of positive relationships with authorities. Paga explains: “As a pioneer in commercial single engine turboprop in Europe, we are working hand in hand with the authorities every day. We really want to create a trusting environment with them, to open the door for this specific type of operations in Europe.

In contrast to a lot of the feedback to EBAN, Gouret and Paga say that their roles are not 24/7, and that this depends entirely on flight schedules. Voldirect works with local customers and doesn't handle many last minute requests. They must, however, keep their phones on and be easily reachable.

Andrew Costa at Comlux has the broad title of flight operations engineering manager. He is tasked with staying abreast of regulation while also updating associated documentation for all aircraft types including MELs, performance engineering tasks and analysis, introducing new aircraft types, and communicating with local and foreign authorities.

He was enticed into aviation by living close to Luqa airport in Malta and following aircraft movements. After his graduation he joined Air Malta as a flight dispatcher and worked his way up to operations controller and then general manager operations support, which had elements of crew control. At Comlux he assists the postholder flight ops.

“Besides the operational experience and technical skills, I have been managing people for many years which has, in turn, helped to ameliorate my communication skills. Managing nowadays is mostly communicating,” he comments.

“We have very good relations with Transport Malta and we report occurrences in an open and timely manner, readily accepting any subsequent recommendations.”

Would he recommend the role? “Yes and no,” he says. “I would recommend to opt for a pilot's job that is more financially rewarding and less demanding on personal time and energy.”

London Executive Aviation ops director Leigh Westwood reports directly to ceo Patrick Margetson-Rushmore and md George Galanopoulos. He manages a large team working on a shift basis, providing 24/7 cover and support to clients and crew. “I also work to ensure that information is flowing between operations and all other key departments, such as maintenance, safety and commercial, and am responsible for looking at ways to maximise our efficiency,” he says.

His aviation career began in 2001 with the airport company BAA, where he spent four years in a security and later supervisory role. He then joined Monarch as operations duty manager, dealing with ground and flight crew, ground handling teams and various other subcontractors. He took up his current position with LEA in 2011.

Westwood oversees pre-flight preparation carried out by the team, monitors crew scheduling and training, and ensures that the daily programme is running smoothly, whatever the time zone. He liaises with the chief pilot, fleet managers and head of crew training to maintain good communication across the operation.

He continues: “I have a large operations team of 18 people, so man-management is a major part of my job. On a day-to-day basis, as my desk is located in the ops office, I work closely with my team, assisting with issues as they arise. I am also involved in staff training and regularly carry out appraisals to ensure our expectations as a company are being met, and that we are playing our part in developing each individual's skill base. Additionally, I deal with the 70-plus members of LEA's flight crew as and when the need arises.”

Despite the necessity of working as a team, Westwood also taps into outside expertise: “I participate in UKOMA (the UK Operations Manager Association), which includes my counterparts from other business aviation operators. The sharing of information is much more evident these days and helps strengthen the operations of all those involved.”

As for recruiting, when positions are available he writes up the job specification, selects applicants who will go forward for interview, and more often than not, carries out the interview himself. “It is important for me to be personally involved from the very beginning of the process, so I can ensure we are bringing in people who are well suited to their roles, are solid team members and will benefit LEA and our clients,” he says. “As our offices are manned 24/7, I have to be confident in and trust the abilities of those working outside normal hours. I therefore ensure I have full oversight of the recruitment process and the ongoing development of each member of my team.”

LEA has more than 70 pilots on its books, many of whom are dual-rated. Westwood says this offers increased flexibility but also adds minor complications when it comes to crewing and FTL management. Dual-rated crew have to attend additional ground courses or simulator sessions for each type they operate, which can affect availability. “Nevertheless, our crew are very flexible and, subject to FTL restrictions, will often make themselves available on their rostered days off to ensure maximum fleet availability.”

Westwood lists extensive experience, people management, financial awareness, lateral thinking and problem solving as his key attributes. Boredom is something he never experiences: “While I couldn't foresee at the outset of my career where I would end up, I am so delighted with the path I have followed. Leading the operations team is an intensely testing and challenging role, and I really thrive in this environment. No two days are alike; there are few people as fortunate as me in looking forward to work in the morning.”

He adds: “I have always believed you get out of a career what you put in, and in LEA I have found an organisation that rewards and repays loyalty and commitment. I would therefore recommend this job to a friend, without hesitation.”

Captain Hauke Oldenburg is flight operations manager and crew training manager for ExecuJet's Danish wing. “My key responsibility is to ensure safe and regulatory-compliant operations while keeping client and crew relations in mind,” he says. “Sometimes the interests of the authorities conflict with the needs of the client. This is where managing the expectations of both almost becomes an art – which I am still learning to master.

“However, clients generally understand when a request is not possible under a commercial AOC and we always try to find a workable alternative. Ultimately, we are there to look out for their safety.”

Oldenburg began flying gliders when he was just 13 and was later selected by the Danish Air Force for pilot training, serving for seven years. He has been with ExecuJet since 2008 and is tasked with operations and training for the Danish AOC. “I initially said I would give it a try for six months but I'm still here!”

He does not deal with ground ops, as ExecuJet employs other personnel to that end. Compliance, managing personnel and staff training form the bulk of his flight ops activities. He also carries out Type Rating Examiner duties and flies internally as a freelance pilot on the Global Express.

He adds: “Having the right people in the right roles is the start, middle and end of an efficient operation. Inevitably, this perfect match is hard to achieve.

“Changes in agency regulation have a major impact on my work. Sometimes the logic behind regulatory changes is not obvious but we have to faithfully comply and implement. The possible challenges with clients then have to be dealt with. Fortunately our relationship with the Danish Transport Authority is excellent. There is a great deal of trust, mutual respect and understanding, which helps the process a lot.”

There is no shortage of applications for pilot roles within ExecuJet, and Oldenburg says he can afford to be choosy: “Finding the right candidate to match both an aircraft owner and the rest of the crew can be a daunting task. We prefer pilots with experience, as in Denmark we do not have the resources to be a training facility.

“We get plenty of applicants with low flying hours wanting to jet around in a multimillion-dollar business aircraft flying vip passengers to exotic destinations. My advice to those candidates is usually to get a solid base of aviation experience by flying for one of the low-cost operators. The major ones generally have excellent training and stringent standard operating procedures to allow for this.

“These pilots are often an asset to our company when they want to switch from scheduled flying to business aviation. Once they have a solid base of experience under their belt they are welcome to apply again.”

He admits that the face of aviation is changing, in light of recent events: “Unfortunately, we are living in volatile times. We are spending a great deal of time following global geopolitical events and trying to predict the impact they will have on our operations. Our clients still want to fly around fairly unrestricted and we have to make absolutely sure this can happen safely through stringent risk assessments.”

Trond Stenehjem manages flight ops for the Norwegian operator Hesnes Air. He is tasked with managing the pilots and following up on their employment, duties and tasks. Stenehjem is a former airline pilot, and he joined Hesnes Air last year.

He specialises in fixed wing and sees his responsibilities as threefold: to the authorities, the company and his crew.

“We are spending a lot of time on EASA compliance at the moment, but it has no major impact on our daily work. We keep good relations and experience good support from the CAA.”

Stenehjem, like many of his counterparts, demands very high standards of his pilots: “We put a lot of effort into our pilots to qualify them for our demanding mission profile.

“The good thing though, is the strong competition in the European market between low cost carriers and other airlines. We see a trend where well-qualified and experienced pilots remain in their positions instead of pursuing jobs in airliners where they spend half a year away from home.”

Martin Gindlhuber of Austria's GlobeAir does his utmost to ensure a smooth, economical and efficient daily operation. However, he used to have a fear of flying: “I thought a career in aviation but on the ground could help with this. I started as flight dispatcher in a regional airline, and after a couple of years I changed to business aviation, which I will never regret.”

Gindlhuber negotiates agree-ments with providers and supervises them. He also coordinates every aspect of the operator's daily business via close cooperation with sales and maintenance.

Updated EASA regulation has forced the company to renew its operation manuals, but he believes this is no bad thing: “I'm positive about the new regulations and changes and I am convinced that the direction is the right one. With our national authority we have a good cooperation basis.”

He searches for staff using 'well-known platforms' and upon successful interview completion decides on a trial period. The final employment decision is taken by him and the chief operating officer.

“Being a solution-orientated, stress-resistant person with leadership skills helps me. Further experience and supportive skills are very important too,” he adds.

On one occasion a possible problem had a positive outcome, as Gindlhuber relates: “I remember a flight where we had to divert due to weather. Normally this is not a convenient situation for the client, but in this particular case the client was happy, as we ended up at his final destination – he had mixed the airports up before the flight!”

Our final contributor is Lee McGahan, operations manager for Norwich, UK-based SaxonAir Charter. He says: “In general terms, my role is very much a proactive one, looking ahead and making sure that the company is continually improving its operational efficiency and ensuring that our operations team's knowledge and capability is being continuously developed.

“In the last 12-18 months one of the areas that has become more prominent is the monitoring of ground handling agents and, of course, the focus on safety management systems.”

As flight schedules change, with many bookings made last minute, the SaxonAir team has to constantly look at all the crewing options available and ensure it makes the most effective and efficient use of its aircraft and flight crew, some of whom are dual rated. “The best comparison I can think of is constantly trying to solve a Rubik's Cube puzzle,” McGahan continues. “Thankfully we have people in the team who find that more enjoyable than I do.”

He lists his personal qualities as trustworthiness, resourcefulness, high-spiritedness and thoroughness. He enjoys the role – most of the time: “I honestly would find it hard to recommend this role to a friend; I would advise them that it can be a great role, but to make sure that they are organised and know their job inside and out, otherwise it could be overwhelming.

“Discretion is key. A job well done, when passengers leave the aircraft happy with the experience, is what gives me the most satisfaction.”

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