BJT Management Series: A Conversation With Scott Ashton

Scott Ashton spent five years at Gama Aviation, where he started in aircraft sales and acquisitions and became chief commercial officer, responsible for aircraft management and charter programs. He joined Sikorsky-owned Associated Aircraft Group in August of 2011 as president and general manager. The company, based in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., offers helicopter charter and fractional shares, aircraft management and other business aviation services.

How are things going at AAG?

Like all of business aviation, we saw a deep downturn in charter flying over the last few years, but our fractional clients are continuing to use helicopters on a consistent basis. Being at the premium end of the market has helped us maintain a strong client base. We’ve taken a deep look at what we can do to position the business for growth and we are focused on executing those plans in 2012–including opening our new base in Teterboro [N.J.] and growing new adjacent markets, both regionally, like Hartford and Philadelphia, and with new platforms, like introducing the Eclipse 500 and S-76D. You’ll see some new programs and products this year. We are taking a hard look at our core fleet requirements and replacing our older aircraft with newer, more efficient S-76C+ aircraft to lower costs.

What makes a good manager?

Two consistent themes of my best managers have been a focus on execution [and on] driving your best people to reach their full potential. I also like to work as a team–especially when you work with really smart people.

What do you look for when hiring people?

A passion for the industry is certainly helpful–but passion alone will not make you successful. I like to see good communication skills. I also want to see good team skills, along with an ability and desire to serve the customer. Finally, I want to see best-in-class technical skills and discipline related to their job description.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I can be pretty intense.

You have been very involved in supporting the industry. What motivates you?

To me, aviation is all about freedom, and we need to be relentless in our defense of both. No one else will defend our industry if we don’t do it ourselves. We have a great story to tell in terms of the benefits we provide to society and the economic benefits [our industry] brings to regions that support aviation activities. I get very frustrated when our livelihoods are attacked for political gain, or when something that I love to do in my spare time is being regulated out of existence.

You’re an excellent public speaker. What do you think makes a speech successful?

I try to instill a sense of passion in what I am presenting. I approach my presentations as if I am talking to a colleague in the hallway. That makes the presentations a bit more lively and makes it easier to connect. I would dread having to give a presentation on some topic I wasn’t at least a little passionate about–and it would probably show.

Do you have any hobbies outside of aviation?

I am learning to play the guitar, which is terribly frustrating when you have a 15-year-old guitar hero in your house who gets to practice for hours every day and enjoys nothing more than showing up his father–every teenager’s dream, right? I also have two magical little girls who also help keep me busy.

You're involved in a variety of aviation-related after-hours activities.

I serve as president of the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Conn. It not only provides stewardship for over 100 rare and valuable aircraft–including the last surviving Sikorsky VS44 flying boat, an exquisite B29, and many others–but also has a rigorous STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education program for fifth- and sixth-graders. We use our aviation assets to provide a context for valuable science and engineering lessons that are directly taken from state science curricula from Connecticut and Massachusetts. We provide these programs for nearly 150 classes a year at no cost to the schools. The other organizations I am involved with are the Connecticut Business Aviation Group, where I serve as vice president, and the National Air Transportation Association Air Charter Committee.

How did you get involved in aviation?

My father started taking flying lessons when I was 16, and he convinced me to take an introduction flight with his instructor. I still remember the climb-out in the 152 and the feeling of having that yoke in my hand. My dad and I still fly together, often along with my son, though now all three of us are fighting for stick time when we do.

What is your current state of mind?

I am very optimistic for the future of AAG–the work our team is doing will pay dividends as the market recovers. For the overall industry I am a bit more reserved–at least for the near future. The political situation is still very bad for the industry. Ideas like $100-per-leg user fees will decimate light general aviation, and that will flow right though the entire industry. Airport access continues to be an issue; security issues will rise again.  And of course all of the local issues we fight at the state and municipal levels. So I am optimistic, but continuously aware of the threats to our way of life.

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