A look at the Personal Assistant’s or Corporate Secretary’s role
It has been said that behind every great man there is a great women. Of course in the politically correct world in which we all reside, it is better interpreted to read, behind every great CEO there is a great assistant. The assistant I am referring to is not an administrative one – although they come in handy, financial guru who monitors the finances, or even a marketing whiz-kid who can successfully sell your product or service seemingly to anyone sight unseen. A valued member of your team is the Personal Assistant, who helps manage your priorities, appointments, meetings and travel.
While Corporate Flight Departments are generally viewed externally as mechanical in nature, and often as an extravagant perk, the truth is that it is a vital asset that has little to do with the minutia of the nuts and bolts of the aircraft, or service bulletins, etc; instead its true value is ensuring that your time, and the time of your fellow company officers is well spent.
The hierarchy of an in-house, corporate flight department that serves a Fortune 100 listed corporation will normally look something like the following (in no particular order):
A Director of Aviation that heads the operation. There might be ten aircraft or more, including helicopters in this flight department – so the Chief Pilot could have twenty or thirty pilots who all report to him/her. In addition, there is a Training Officer, a Safety Officer, an Accounting Department, a Scheduling and Dispatching Department as well as several Flight Attendants. We then come to a sizable Aircraft Maintenance Department which will most likely be a Certified Repair Station that includes a Director of Maintenance, a Chief Inspector, a Parts Manager, a Maintenance Tracking and Data Entry Department, Inspectors and Technicians. Additionally with such a large organization there is going to be an in-house Line Service, including Fueling Staff; a Custodial Manager, Cleaning Staff, and (of course) Security.
This person must also have the knowledge and skills of a concierge, and be able to keep the details of your inner sanctum business absolutely secret and tottaly sacred
Even with recommended guidelines, standard operating practices, seminars and industry benchmarks, every corporate flight department is structured slightly differently from another. The only common thread in each is that the aircraft are similar.
THE PA/CS ‘BRIDGE’
Regardless of the size, structure, or standards followed by any given flight department, there must be a communication bridge built and maintained, to allow the Corporate Leaders at the firm to let the Corporate Flight Department know what their travel plans are to be at any given time. This “Bridge” is usually controlled by the Personal Assistant to the President/CEO/Chairman, or by the Corporate Secretary, hence the next few pages of this publication exploring the issues that this lady or gentleman has to deal with, in order for you, the Corporate Commander-in-Chief to make the trips that are vital to the success of your corporation.
The duties of a Personal Assistant/ Corporate Secretary (PA/CS) include maintaining an engagement calendar for the corporate leader that he/she represents. Additionally it is their job to prioritize the workflow that crosses the desk of the principle. Some business leaders work on a very tightly structured schedule that might be divided up into fifteen minute intervals; others might schedule their time in day, or week increments. Either way, the PA / CS will act as the fountainhead of places, dates and times, many of which will need to be communicated as a pass-down to the Corporate Flight Department.
It is not required for a PA / CS to understand and make scheduling decisions based upon weather, crew, tax and safety issues, but as this person gains experience by dealing with their appropriate contact at the Flight Department, they will become cognizant of the issues that must be considered when a trip is planned, organized and flown, all based on his/her direction at the behest of the big boss.
Some of these issues include the availability of specific aircraft within the company due to existing trips away from base, maintenance scheduling, crew duty times, expected weather, over flight permits, visas, passenger manifests, taxable executive benefits, liability waivers or insurance policies for non-employee guest passengers, fueling stops, charts and safety minimums based on the destination airport, catering, cabin-to-office communication functionality, cars, limousines, hotels, and on, and on, etc.
RE-BUILDING YOUR ‘BRIDGES’
It is usual that a PA/CS would be installed and resident in a corporation, before an in-house Corporate Flight Department is established. If this is not the case, or if you have just hired a new PA/CS due to retirement or other of the previous PA/CS, the smooth way of establishing or maintaining a new or existing communication bridge, is to allow your new closest worker plenty of face-time with the folks that run your Flight Department.
Time is money, and your time is the most valuable at your company. It is really in your interests to mandate that at least every six months or so, when you can release your PA/CS for a day, they spend this time as a visitor and guest of your Flight Department, so that they can learn and update themselves on the latest changes, faces, equipment and issues within this hitherto alien division of your corporation.
THE ROLE OF THE PA/CS
Now we shall go back to the basic role of a PA/CS as it pertains to arranging and organizing your travel schedule.
THE AUTHORIZED FLIGHT LIST
There are three vital reasons why there should be an authorized flight list of eligible executives and personnel within your company that are cleared to use the services offered by the Corporate Flight Department; these are:
1. Corporate Security (Visibility, tax, accession policy based on who in corporate governance can fly on the same aircraft, are some of the issues related to Corporate Security);
- Taxable Benefit (Tracking the eligibility based on the trip profile, taxable rates and tracking); and
- Customs and Immigration (It is now required to report a passenger manifest to the authorities before entering or leaving the country on an international flight).
The PA/CS must have the authorized flight list document up-to-date and available to them.
Usually they will create and maintain this list with the assistance of the HR, Accounting and Legal Departments within your organization. But if someone else is responsible for servicing this vital document, the PA/CS must be the first in line for receipt of it. Once they are armed with this policy literature, they will be empowered to smoothly convert boardroom-level travel requests into reality.
THE OPERATIONS FLIGHT MANUAL
A professionally run Corporate Flight Department will develop and implement its own operations manual that details every aspect of its safety, efficiency and modes of conducting business. Unfortunately there are renegade Departments operating aircraft, sufficient in number for the IS-BAO to be pushing hard for a standardized manual to be adopted by all Corporations that are engaged in providing their own air transportation.
Corporate Aviation is different from Air Charter, even though the function is very similar, but for the fact that a corporation is only serving its own employees as opposed to the general public. The issues of Duty Time, Take Off and Landing Minimums, Equipment and Training are not as vehemently controlled under cfr 14, FAR 91 Operating rules specified by the FAA, compared to the requirements contained within FAR 135. With this said, there will likely be instances that crop-up in business that requires a supreme effort to launch a trip, outside of the Departments’ comfort zone.
A well organized Department will easily roll with such an event without ever compromising safety. A successful PA/CS will be fully cognizant of the Flight Departments limitations, because he/she must also have the Flight Operations Manual in his/her possession as well as the Authorized Flight List Document (above).
Please believe me when I say that it is not expected that a PA/CS must comprehend every aspect of the manual material; instead I am attempting to stress the importance of there being an accurate and practical procedure laid down in print for this person to follow when their boss barks that the jet has to “move now!” regardless of the weather or status of the aircraft.
The communication bridge can be as simple as a telephone number to call or an email address to send to, for the Chairman’s travel plans to be tunneled across to the Corporate Flight Department through the PA/CS. This should never be a one-way traffic pattern though, as corporate travel plans should always be tempered with the benefit of flight ready status reports.
FLIGHT READY STATUS REPORTS
If the subject company is similar to the description given at the beginning of this article, then there is a strong likelihood that many of the company’s aircraft and staff are in-flight somewhere over the globe, around the clock. If this is the case, then it is likely that a global flight tracking program is being utilized by the Scheduling and Dispatching Section. This information needs to be piped to the PA/CS too, even if all it is showing at that moment in time is that the fleet are all safely parked at home in the company hangar.
TRACKING PASSENGER REQUEST ITEMS
Often the passengers that ride the corporations’ aircraft are not limited to company employees. Possibly a major contract can only be won by the company if the client is flown out to a current project site to prove the capability of the firm. It is certainly credible that a notable public figure is to be flown into town to promote a product or service as a part of a roll-out campaign. Either way, once these non-employee passengers have been approved by the powers that be and legal has cleared them; there is no reason that they should not be added to the Authorized Flight List Document.
If your company already has in-house flight attendants on its staff, they will maintain the list of necessary or desired meals, snacks, beverages, music, video, games, magazines and newspapers that will be expected to be on board, based upon the traveler’s profile. If however, the communication bridge stops with the Chief Pilot, as there is neither a Scheduler/Dispatcher, or Flight Attendant at the end of the telephone line at the company hangar, the PA/CS must keep track of these specific request items, and follow up to make sure that they are onboard when Showtime arrives.
I’m sure you don’t need reminding this is important because guest passengers must be shown the same courtesy. Do not assume anyone at the Flight Department will know their needs if they are a first-time rider on your aircraft.
The best way to guarantee that the cabin service that is provided to the guest is absolutely exemplary is to develop a brief and concise questionnaire that asks what the personal likes and dislikes are of the passenger. This questionnaire then can either be completed by the host executive that has invited the guest passenger, or alternatively it can be filled out by the guest’s own PA/CS. I have heard of deals lost because a certain beverage, was, or was not on board of an aircraft. It sounds crazy, but unfortunately it is true!
MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICE
Your broad, high-power, daily grind as a top level and top performing executive would be less effective without the aid provided by your staff, both in your office, at satellite sites, at your hangar, and most of all by your PA/CS.
It takes a rare person to possess some of your own dynamic skills that you employ at the helm of your corporation, while being likable (you will spend a lot of time with them). This person must also have the knowledge and skills of a concierge, and be able to keep the details of your inner sanctum business absolutely secret and totally sacred.
From the perspective of the staff at the hangar, they will view your PA / CS as a true VIP, because on the front and back end, this person is their primary customer that they must satisfy, before they can satisfy you at Showtime.
Choose wisely when selecting a candidate to fulfill this role for you. Once they are ensconced at a desk off to the side of your office, DO make sure that they are properly interfaced with your Flight Department and a suitable Communication Bridge has been built between your executive suite and the hangar.