The Practical Manager: Road Trip

The Practical Manager: Road Trip

The cell phone goes off late in the day. You had just completed the first draft of next year’s budget and sent it on to your boss for review. One of your senior captains is on the line informing you of an incident that has just occurred. It’s not the aircraft that was involved, it’s the other pilot. This was the afternoon of the second day of a three day trip which included two nights at Vale. With an entire day to themselves, both pilots and the flight attendant decided to go skiing. This had been planned well in advance on their part, and arranged by scheduling because all three crew were experienced skiers: Interesting to note that you were not aware of this particular crewing arrangement that coincided with their common interest in winter sports.

Yours is a large flight department with multiple aircraft and flight crew. The unwritten policy and usual practice has always been to, whenever possible, schedule crewmembers on trips to destinations that are meaningful to them personally. If someone’s parents are near a common stopover, or the college they attended is in close proximity to an overnight on a football weekend, or both pilots are golfers and Scottsdale is on the schedule, your dispatch/scheduling associates usually try their best to pair up those who wish to be involved. You’ve probably endorsed this in the past because you understand full well the nature of business aviation. Pop up trips, changes in time and destination are common occurrences in our industry. Whatever you have been able to do to ease the personal pain of the impact of the schedule on your flight crew’s lives, has been important to the overall wellbeing of your department. More often than not, you’ve tried to accommodate requests for off time, vacation and personal preferences. That effort on your part, you’ve just realized, has been adopted by the majority of your personnel, to include activities during the hours of down time on the road.

So here you are with one of your young aviators in a hospital near Vale, with a compound fracture of the left femur. Outcome: emergency surgical intervention and prognosis three to six months of convalescence. Result: you are down one crew member for quite a while. Impact: Increased expenses due to hiring of a temporary pilot, and increased workload on the remaining flight crew. Since you are in the office and you’re certain that your boss is also in, you pick up the phone, instead of e-mail, and deliver the news that you will be down one aviator for quite a while. His response catches you off guard and has you scrambling for an appropriate response. “Why were the pilots out skiing when they are on a company trip?” are the words coming into the earpiece. It is a great question, but one which you hadn’t really, up until this point, contemplated before.

On the road activities can run the gambit of possibilities. From going to the movies, a round of golf, exploring the adjacent national park, shopping in the Mall of America, visiting family and friends, going to a ball game, exercising during the day, having lunch at a well known sports bar, going to a concert, hitting the local pubs and generally sampling the various opportunities available at a particular layover. What is reasonable and expected when it comes to off time activities for crewmembers with spare time on their hands during a trip, is a question that many managers may not have considered. It is one that not only might border on company intervention into personal time, but could test the limits of employer/employee relationships.

For the vast majority of working Americans, weekends and time after work during the week are considered personal time.   For those of us in the business aviation world, that isn’t necessarily the case. Weekend days can be just like a week day for us. Sitting down for dinner with the family at 7:00 PM when the phone rings to announce that the Chairman has a family emergency that requires your leaving immediately for the airport, is suddenly not an understandable set of circumstances to those loved ones who haven’t seen you much lately. You guard and protect your personal time at home as much as you can. That’s understandable and frankly advisable for everyone in our chosen field of endeavor. What we don’t often think much about, is the potential consequences of what we do or are allowed to do while on the road with our fellow crewmembers.

Off duty and on duty time are critical aspects to this discussion. If your department has specified flight and duty time limitations, and I hope you do, then the possibility of calling a crew to put them back on duty after they have just gone off duty is not very likely, or at best prohibited by company policy. That taken care of, what then are the limitations, if any, that are placed on off duty activities of crewmembers while on an assigned company trip?

The answer to that often depends upon the character and personality of the corporation and or flight department. Leadership will always influence decisions of this nature. That leadership may be formal, you the manager and company policy, or informal, a popular member of the pilot core, who’s after hours and or off duty conduct is emulated by others in the department. Employees will push the limits and test the fiber of their boss and often probe the more unpopular policies among their peers. Off duty activities such as the consumption of alcoholic beverages need limits that at least meet the requirements of the FAR’s.

Ron Mumm, Chief Pilot for Bell South, revealed that during his tenure with the Thunderbirds during his last two years in the Air Force, that the alcohol consumption policy during Air Show weeks, was no drinking 72 hours prior to the scheduled show. Most aviation managers adhere to the 12 hour, bottle-to-throttle rule for themselves and their fellow flight crew. The airlines maintain an 8 hour limitation under the guidelines of FAR Part 121. Dinking aside, are your feelings about the subject of conduct during off duty hours on the road, understood and adhered to by your direct reports, or have other expectations crept into their minds?

It’s certainly worth discussing the next opportunity you have to gather your aviators together. The subject for discussion shouldn’t necessarily be what someone can or cannot do, but the overall responsibility that we have as employees to the company that is signing our paychecks every two weeks.