Caring for Your Crew

Oct 15, 2015 - 6:15 PM

Keep them happy and they’ll keep you happy. Here are seven tips.

At my first home airport we had an interesting mix of small private airplanes and corporate jet traffic. We got to know the jet crews fairly well, and it didn’t take long to learn who had a considerate aircraft owner and who did not. 

The latter category treated their crews like valets, demanding of them a wide variety of demeaning tasks unrelated to aviation. There was an arrogance to these principals that is hard to imagine enduring on a daily basis. And it showed on some of the worn-down crews who were shuttled off to the worst hotels, had the tightest expense accounts and were asked on short notice to do things like get up in the middle of the night and fly to the Bahamas.  

Conversely, the good bosses were deferential and supportive. They would no more treat a crewmember like a valet than they would their attorney or doctor. They held their crews in high regard and didn’t question their flying or aircraft management decisions. These owners understood that a happy crew, free of anxiety and stress, is a safer one: they can concentrate on flying and flying well.  

It really doesn’t take much to keep a crew happy. Luxury resort rooms, golf passes and Christmas bonuses—those are all nice. But the bottom line is that your crew wants to know that you take their jobs seriously. Here are seven ways to do that: 

1. Provide a safe working environment. This means the crew flies in a well-maintained aircraft with the latest safety equipment and receives regular recurrent training on that aircraft. It also means that your hangar has the proper security, that you don’t fly into marginal places without appropriate security on the ground and that your crews stay in safe hotels when on the road.  

2. Offer fair employment terms. Pay wages and benefits commensurate with the size and complexity of the aircraft your crew flies, their experience and your local market. Keep non-aviation tasks to a minimum. Don’t ask your crew to work excessive overtime, even if you’re operating under the FAA’s Part 91 private aircraft rules where long hours may be legal. Maybe you got to the top by burning the candle at both ends, but a tired flight crew is never a good idea. 

Also, don’t adopt employment rules that encourage crewmembers to fly when they’re “under the weather.” In other words, provide paid sick days and sick leave. Finally, don’t forget the little things, like offering an allowance for uniforms if your flight department requires them.

3. Understand the “sterile cockpit” ­concept. The FAA’s sterile-cockpit rule, which has been on the books since 1981, prohibits non-essential activities, including communications, by the crew during all critical phases of flight and below 10,000 feet. While the rule applies only to airlines and charter operators, it’s a good practice for everyone. It was imposed following an analysis that showed idle cockpit chitchat to be a distraction that contributed to accidents.   

While the rule is for pilots, by inference it means that you don’t interrupt them during taxi, takeoff and landing or any time the seatbelt sign is illuminated. It’s fine to be sociable and poke your head into the cockpit to chat—just know when, and when not, to do it. 

4. Skip the smoke. Smoking anything in the airplane is a nasty business. You’re dealing with a small, confined area with limited air circulation. However, smoking some things is worse than smoking others. While marijuana laws have been liberalized in a few states, carrying it or any other illegal drug on an airplane is a really bad idea. It puts your flight crew at risk of an enforcement action, including revocation of pilots’ licenses. In some cases, it can also lead to seizure of the aircraft. 

5. Consider the crew when packing. Most flight crews also load the luggage compartment. Resist the temptation to stuff gold bars into the suitcase or pack clothes cases the size of small sedans. Your crew will appreciate smaller suitcases and garment bags, reasonably loaded. Can’t lift it? Neither can your flight crew.

6. Accept bad news. Your trip can be delayed, diverted or canceled for all sorts of valid reasons, including air traffic control issues, equipment failure, necessary unscheduled maintenance and bad weather. No one is likely to be more disappointed by being grounded than your crew. Understand that they weighed all the options and selected the one that optimized your safety. Thank them for doing so. 

7. Smile. The mood you board with sets the tone for everyone else. No matter the day’s aggravations, you are traveling in a manner reserved for the select few, and gratitude is the order of the day. Happy boss, happy crew.


Mark Huber is a private pilot with experience in more than 50 aircraft types.