#43 | Summer of Safety – Calibrating Team Capacity

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The multitude of unseen duties that keep your business aviation assets operating safely, smoothly, and on budget require peoples' bandwidth. But, as more and more bandwidth is utilized, team capacity is consumed and risk rises. Not good.

To help your operation manage this “too much to do” risk factor, I'll cover how calibrating your team’s capacity can lead to maximum safety without maximum spend. And, you'll learn what common operational spikes can overload capacity circuits.

Business Aviation Juggling Balls

In private aviation operations their are three to five times the number of “beyond the job,” or “additional/special” tasks per team member. For example:

Pilots fly…

  • and research, plan, and plot various trip logistics
  • and shop fuel (an extremely spend-impacting, time-consuming exercise)
  • and keep current on aircraft normal, abnormal, and emergency procedures
  • and keep current on, and ensure, regulation / certificate compliance

Technicians maintain…

  • and research current and future airworthiness issues that affect aircraft use
  • and certify maintenance tracking is accurate, legal (i.e. paperwork)
  • and plan/plot required work and inspections around an ever-changing customer calendar
  • and keep current on aircraft systems and work procedures

Admins / Schedulers manage resources…

  • and create monthly / quarterly financial reports
  • and ensure vendors remain suitable while always looking for better solutions
  • and execute process improvements, initiating change when necessary
  • and tackle trickle down projects and tasks from pilots and technicians

To effectively manage risk, the job titles above require intense focus. This focus is especially important when the inevitable workload spikes threaten to overload capacity circuits.

When we add the bullets above to each job title (and those bullets represent a fraction of required work)…

Focus Stretches Thin. Risk Rises

Why? Two reasons… two results.

First reason, business aviation professionals have the “get it done DNA.” The team's desire to accomplish duties will often skew/minimize accurate risk assessment. For instance, you've traveled aboard your business aircraft 75 hours this month. For flight crew, this can equate to, and physically and mentally feel like, 75 hour work weeks, for 4 weeks in a row. The flight crew's capacity is maxed.

Now, imagine requesting a monthly report on the recent flight activity, needing that report next week, and needing to travel next week, too. Our industry will get all of it done… at the sacrifice of safety margins. Will you recognize this “setup?”

Second reason, principles have the “defer and delegate DNA.” You've achieved success by assigning solutions to problems by leveraging people. It's leadership! See that broken business? Get an analyst on it, find the intrinsic value, make an offer, and turn it around. However, an analyst isn't in a safety sensitive position.

But, because business aviation jobs are safety sensitive… and, because this private aviation venture is often outside of your “circle of competence,” it's common for principles to completely miss the risk assessment step.

The top two accidents reveal the results of filling your team's capacity. Loss of control… which simply means that the airplane departs controlled flight, and crashes. And, runway excursions… which simply means that the airplane departs the runway when attempting to land.

Accidents are purely capacity problems.

This limit on capabilities is natural. Every machine, every business, and every person has an operating envelope. In the case of business aviation, the envelope is narrow… and extraordinarily sensitive when venturing outside its limits. But, how do we recognize redline?

Capacity Pie Charts

In the episode, I described the capacity pie chart. Imagine each team member has a capacity pie chart floating above their head.

The chart is 60% blue, revealing how much bandwidth is given to daily job duties. The chart is also 20% yellow, revealing how much bandwidth is given to additional duties. The remaining 20% is white… empty, available for two things:

  1. More Work
  2. Safety Margin

It's easy to defer and/or delegate duties to the team member to fill the “empty 20%.” Let's face it, why pay someone for unused resources (their brain). It's also easy to consider the “empty 20%” already utilized… as reserve, ready to handle an inevitable capacity spike.

This margin might be what prevents a loss of control or runway excursion event.

Operational Spikes

No matter if your philosophy is “fill the capacity pie chart” or “maintain some capacity margin,” spotting operational spikes helps manage the capacity pie chart. These spikes are really red flags. For instance, today's calendars are visual… full of colors, labels, graphs. Colorful calendars are red flags.

The National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA) publishes two staffing formulas. Crunching your staffing numbers through these equations reveals how lean or bloated your staff is.

Neither skinny nor fat staffing is “the right way” to run business aviation if you “walk the safety talk.” Lean staff run out of capacity. Bloated staffing invites complacency. Both are red flags.

Change is also a red flag. “New” can quickly fill a team member's capacity pie chart: 60% job duties, 20% additional duties, 40% stress/worry. Uh oh. Change is a red flag.

Jim Collins talks about having the right people on the bus in the right seats. You've seen this law play out in your business ventures. It's alive and well in your business aviation ventures, too (the episode on attitude can help you hire the right aviation professionals). Having the wrong people on your business aviation bus is a red flag.

Calibrating Aviation Team Capacity

How do we protect or expand available capacity so operational spikes don't result in mistakes, turnover, or accidents?

First, refine job descriptions. Specifically considering the “20% yellow” described above, specify one, maybe two light to medium “extra duties.” The pilot flies and focuses on procedures/systems expertise. The technician maintains the aircraft and focuses on future airworthiness issues affecting aircraft usability. The admin. manages resources and focuses on process improvements. What about everything else?

As Jack Welch says, “fix, close, or sell.”

In business aviation this means, “hire, contract, or forget.”  In other words, if your team's capacity isn't calibrated, creating an “Analyst” or “Program Manager” can shift workload from safety sensitive roles to a safety supporting role. Hire someone!

Perhaps the workload grows at the conclusion of each quarter. Contracting such duties to a part-timer can protect capacity margins for your full-timers.

Maybe, forgetting the initiative altogether makes sense. Sure, a second jet would add business/family value. But, maybe refining travel or chartering extra lift makes more sense.

Hire, contract, or forget calibrates aviation team capacity.

Takeaway

When capacity is calibrated, risk is reduced. Because business aviation is so safety sensitive, traditional workload paradigms simply do not apply. Keeping your aviation ventures safe, service-oriented, and on budget requires resources that are sometimes beyond your team's capacity. Recognizing this reality will keep you safety margins high and maintain the business aviation value you deserve.

Mentioned In The Show

National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA) publishes two staffing formulas

Comments

How does your team manage/monitor capacity? Is it part of the department's culture? Does your team utilize a tool?

Share your capacity story / feedback in the comments below, or confidentially here.

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