Project Management for Aviation Managers
Updated: Jul 28, 2022
This Guide applies to Airline Start-Ups, Air Taxi Start-ups, and existing Aviation Companies.
Project management is a necessary skill for all aviation managers. It doesn’t matter if you work for a small Air Taxi Operator or a Large International Airline, project management skills are crucial to ensure projects are delivered on time and within budget.
The following Aviation activities require sound project management principles:
• Airline Start-up
• Air Taxi Start-up
• ATO Start-up
• FSTD Certifications
• Existing Aviation Companies
• Management of Change
• Technical Manual Writing
• AOC application
• AOC variation
• SPA Approvals, etc.
Project management is a skill that can be taught. Not all aviation managers have had this training or are naturally skilled in this discipline and as a result, we often see a degree of ‘plate-spinning’ in company departments.
Establishing a project management team for your Airline start-up or Air Taxi Firm start-up.
In a previous blog, we discussed the different phases of an AOC application:
• Pre-application phase
• Formal application phase
• Documentation phase
• Audit phase
• Certification phase
Each of these phases require several tasks to be accomplished. Often these tasks are interdependent. How can we map these tasks in a way that allows us to deliver milestones on time and within budget?
The first step we need to take is to establish a project team. The team should have a project manager and some subject matter experts. Normally, the nominated persons are the subject matter experts. The project manager is usually the person who will allocate tasks, review the project progress and allocate the resources.
The project manager can be an internal manager (like the Accountable Manager), or it can be an Aviation Consultant.
The Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) can be the nominated persons together with an Aviation Consultant.
Once the team is in place, it would be wise to analyse the capabilities of the team. Carrying out a strengths and weaknesses assessment on the team is essential so any shortfalls can be addressed prior to the start of the project. After all, Airline Start-Ups and Air taxi Startups are incredibly costly, and simple mistakes can adversely affect financial resources. A well-equipped and capable team forms the basis for a successful project.
Establishing a project team in your existing aviation company
Most aviation companies are formed of several departments. For example, an Airline will have departments for flight operations, ground operations, training, continuous airworthiness, commercial, marketing, etc.
Each department will have a departmental head with one or more line managers in charge of the sub-divisions.
Normally, a variety of projects are on the go at any one time. Let’s look at an example of a flight operations department. In airlines, we often see a ‘fleet office’. The fleet office is often managed by the nominated person in flight operations. Under this person, we often see divisional managers like the fleet manager A320 or B737, etc. The division managers are often assisted by ‘project pilots’ or ‘deputy’ fleet managers. The fleet manager may need to complete an SPA approval for his fleet – like an RNP(AR) approval. This project requires a task list, a financial resource plan, and a man-hour plan.
The departmental head and the division manager(s) should be involved in the initial design of the project plan and resource plan. The real world… Unfortunately, we often see no project planning at all. Departmental managers in airlines often allocate projects to the division managers when these managers are already lacking the capacity to complete the existing tasks and projects. As a result, we see the typical ‘plate spinning’ with the occasional plate broken on the floor…
Departmental heads in airlines must be aware of the man-hour availability of each of their division managers and their deputies. They must know if they are at capacity.
The division managers must be aware of their own man-hour availability too so that when a departmental head is overloading them, they can show them the man-hour plan.
Establishing the task list
Each new activity needs to be analysed carefully and needs to be mapped out in a project plan. During the initial brainstorming exercise, it doesn’t matter if the various tasks are not in chronological order. That can be done later. At this stage, it is more important that all tasks are identified.
Once you have a long list of tasks, map them in chronological order and agree on this order with the project team. For example, when you write the AOC Manuals, you may wish to establish what information is required to write the manuals. You will need to know what software you will use for flight planning, crew rostering, performance calculations, weight & balance and flight time limitations as the use of this software needs to be described in the manuals. Therefore, software licences may need to be arranged before the manual writing process starts.
Establishing the resource list
The first question we need to ask is ‘what are resources?’.
Resources can be:
• Financial means
The project team will need to establish what resources are required. For example, when we introduce a new aircraft type, what is required to bring the aircraft online. This often requires an AOC variation. The AOC variation project will require a task list and an equipment list. With this knowledge, we can establish the financial resource requirements to acquire that equipment. We can also determine how many people (manpower) are required to successfully apply for the AOC variation and how long this will take (man-hours).
To establish man-hours, we need to know how long each task will take. The number of hours required is the ‘gross-requirement’. The gross-requirement' is related to the task. A good project manager will now establish what the net man-hour availability of each team member is. The net man-hour availability is related to the person(s) accomplishing the task. After all, time needs to be taken out for answering emails, attending meetings and for other distractions like family engagements. For example, a team member may only be available two days a week. Once the net man-hour availability is known, it allows the manager to establish a timeline for the completion of the task(s). Using net man-hours instead of gross man-hours will provide a more realistic timeline with fewer chances of the milestone slipping.
Monitoring the project (the how-goes-it)
Each project requires milestones that should be realistic. A project plan based on too many assumptions, or which has been written to please the manager will almost always displease the manager.
Milestones should be monitored. The manager should look at the actual man-hours completed and compare this with the progress of the task. For example, if a task takes 32 man-hours to complete and after 8 hours, the task is only 10% complete, this could be an early indication that the task may not be completed in time. However, if the man-hour allocation is carefully mapped, it could mean that the project is on track if it was expected that the task would only be 10% completed at this stage.
If progress is slow, the project manager should discuss this issue with the team to see what can be done to bring the project back on track. This may require the allocation of more resources, or it could be that distractions need to be managed. In any case, regular progress meetings are essential.
Project plans can be very detailed or very simple depending on the complexity of the project. Some managers prefer handwritten plans, some prefer a spreadsheet and others use project planning software.
It doesn’t really matter what the preference is as long as there is a means to track progress effectively.
Project management training
There are several project management training providers who will offer this type of training. Unfortunately, some of this training is not tailored to the company or individual needs. When managers or team members are put on a course, they should be taught how to manage projects in their own environment. Whilst there are common principles for all types of projects, being able to calculate the man-hour availability (gross and net) in one’s own environment can often help a department become more efficient. After all, if the plate spinning fails, the cost associated with the dropped plate can be quite significant. A good training provider should carry out a Training Needs Assessment (TNA) and tailor the course to the attendees.
At Aviatica Group, we have carried out TNAs in different aviation companies. The training we provide is tailored to the environment of the attendees. We use actual scenarios to teach this subject. This may be a past project or an upcoming project. Investing in tailored project management training makes commercial sense as departmental efficiency can increase significantly.
We also provide the following (tailored) training courses:
• Safety Management for Airline Managers
• Safety Management for Air taxi Operators
• Safety Management for ATO Managers
• Compliance and Audit Training
• Employee Engagement Workshops
• EASA / UK LAW Regulations Courses
• Flight Operations Manager Course
• Accountable Manager Course
• Training Manager Course
• Continuous Airworthiness Manager Course
Contact us today to discuss your training needs.
Tel: +44(0) 333 9000 737
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