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The Pilot as a Project Manager

Posted by on March 31, 2008 1 Comments Category : Flight Instructor Blog

I have just returned from a successful (we made it back) international trip. On the drive home I was thinking about how many individuals and people had to come together to make the flight happen the way that it did. These are people who were directly involved in the trip. I was also thinking how it becomes the pilot’s job to coordinate all these people and their jobs in a timely manner just as a project manager would do when managing the building of a large skyscraper or any large manufacturing project.

A pilot acts the job of a project manager by coordinating the actions and services of many different businesses and people to make the flights and trip a success. And just as a traditional project manager is concerned with budget and time constraints so is the pilot concerned with the financial impact of his decisions and the specific timing of these events along the course of a trip.

Here is a list of job positions with the number of people in parenthesis at that position. These are people that could be directly or indirectly involved in a four-leg corporate international trip that a pilot has to either directly coordinate or delegate that coordination to someone else:

  • Line Service Personnel (15+)
    • Fuelers (4)
    • Other Line Service (11 – papers, coffee, ice, parking, ramp escort, baggage assistance, etc.)
  • Counter Personnel at the FBO (4-5)
  • Maintenance Personnel (1)
  • Meal Catering (4)
    • Cooks (2)
    • Catering Delivery Drivers (2)
  • International Flight and Contract Fuel Planners – (3)
  • International and U.S. Custom Agents (6)
  • International Handlers (3)
  • Hotel Shuttle Drivers (2)
  • Rental Car Personnel (2)
  • Hotel Receptionists (3)

That makes for a total of nearly 50 people who were directly involved with either the aircraft, passengers or crew for a typically trip! You could make the list a lot longer when you start talking about supervisors, managers and other support personnel within those organizations. Nevermind the ATC personnel who coordinate the filing and release of the flight plans and of course, enroute aircraft separation.

If you start thinking that a typical corporate pilot may have 4 or 5 trips like that a month you could see how a pilot could easily be dealing with 200+ people. These are people the pilot has to coordinate with to make every trip occur efficiently and safely. If you have a department manager who has that many employees he is responsible for, he is probably pretty high up on the food chain at his organization.

One of the things that strike me as essential for this to happen is communication. There are no organizational communication classes taught at a flight school, but maybe their should be. Communication is essentially the passage of information between individuals. That definition sounds easy enough but as that transmission begins to contain a lot of details you can see how it can become easily garbled, even if everyone is using the same language. If you add in the fact, that on a international trip many of those individuals speak a different language with different standards (liters vs gallons), you can see just how important communication can become.

Fly and Communicate Safely.

1 Comment

  1. Tanya Leahy on Mar 12, 2011

    Amazing! I’ve been working for about a year on the topic of how a pilot is like a project manager. I happen to be a private pilot and I work in the field of Project Management. There are SO many parallels between the two! I’m finally presenting my topic this week to PMs at my business to give them a little bit of a different perspecive on how they run their projects.

    Communication is one of the huge pieces I cover. In PMI-Project Management International, one thing that is drilled into PMs is that a PMs job is about 90% communication.

    Thanks for making that point from the CFI side!!!

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