Archive for the ‘Rod Rakic’ Category

Regulations Are Written In Blood: Why Planesharing Is Grounded For Now

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

 

planesharing is grounded until further notice

In aviation, we say that “regulations are written in blood.” Pilots often complain about regulations, but they generally recognize that those regulations are often based on experience and events that have cost others their property, their lives, or both. We know that the legal environment of aviation often lags behind reality. Technical innovations can make older regulations obsolete. But sometimes the innovation doesn’t change the relevance of the regulations or dilute the blood in which they are written.

Planesharing Explained

Laws should serve as a safety net, not a noose. Aircraft are expensive to own and operate. Now, more than ever, making aircraft more useful and ubiquitous is critical for the survival of aviation. Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, VBRO, GetAround, and BoatBound make it easy to put substantial assets like cars, boats, and homes to work. There is no federal statute that makes renting out your spare bedroom generally illegal.

“Planesharing” tries to apply the same model to private air travel. Planesharing is the concept of pilots use services on the Internet to post details of their upcoming flights in the hopes that potential passengers will find the flight information, join the pilots on their flights, and split the cost of the flight with them.

Startups like Flytenow, AirPooler, ShareMySky, AiirShare, Pro Rata Share, Wingman, and others have developed business models around facilitating planesharing. Venture capital should not be seen as some kind of signal that startups can ignore the rules the rest of us have to live by.

Pilots have been legally sharing the costs of privately operated flights for decades, but purpose-built online apps like these have made this kind of sharing more like commercial flying.

How Private and Commercial Flying are Different

It is sometimes said that the most dangerous part of a flight is the drive to the airport. That’s true, but only if you’re flying with a commercial operation. Airline (Part 121) and charter (Part 135) flying is something like 500 times safer than operations conducted by private pilots (generally conducted under Part 91). There’s good reason for this. Airlines and charter operators have to achieve rigorous certification of their aircraft, facilities, operations, and pilots and maintain that certification through constant monitoring, training, and investment. If you look at the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) in printed form, the requirements take up about an inch of thickness and that’s just the regulations themselves. Aircraft inspections happen at least every 100 hours of operating time. Operating specifications, maintenance records, pilot manuals, maintenance manuals, dispatcher manuals, and other necessary paperwork fills many linear feet of shelf space. Pilot experience could be as low as 250 or so hours, but most pilots flying for commercial operations have thousands.

Private operations, (under Part 91) on the other hand, don’t have to do as much. They’re subject to maybe a half inch of regulations and a few operating manuals. Private pilots might have as little as 50 hours of flight time. A mechanic may only be required to even touch the aircraft once a year.

It’s reasonable to accept more risk when flying with a private individual vs. a commercial operator. Flying a helicopter in combat has a lower accident rate than flying single piston engine airplanes. Remember folks, flying isn’t necessarily dangerous, but it is terribly unforgiving.

The Regulations and How Planesharing Gets Pilots In Trouble

This difference is the basis for the different FAA regulations for commercial and private operations. The regulation that applies to private pilots (FAR 61.133) says that “no person who holds a private pilot certificate may act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire; nor may that person, for compensation or hire, act as pilot in command of an aircraft.” That same regulation goes on to say that “a private pilot may not pay less than the pro rata share of the operating expenses of a flight with passengers, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees.”

Planesharing depends on the “pro rata share” part of the regulation. As long as a private pilot operating under Part 91 collects only part of the money for the flight, he or she is in the clear, right? But let’s be honest. Privately this easy, and only when you start fishing about for people we have no prior relationship with do any of these new apps make anything easier. Blurring the lines between private and commercial flying is a problem. The confusion is in the uninitiated passenger believing that he or she is getting the commercial level of safety when the pilot is operating under the much more permissive rules of Part 91.

So the FAA typically applies a two-part litmus test.

1. Is the pilot “holding out” the service to the public? Put another way: How much does an operation look like an airline or charter service? FAA Advisory Circular AC-120-42 says that one becomes “a common carrier [i.e., an operation that requires the more rigorous certification] when it holds itself out or to a segment of the public as willing to furnish transportation within the limits of its facilities to any person who wants it.” What does a planesharing pilot do? Lists his or her flight and invites anyone with money to come sit in one of the other seats, right? Short of the person being overweight for the aircraft or being disagreeable in some way, a planesharing pilot is offering to furnish transportation to all comers.

2. Do the pilot and the passenger(s) have “common purpose” for the flight? The regulations (and all FAA guidance and rulings to date) clearly contemplate friends or family loading into a Cessna 172 and flying somewhere for dinner or sightseeing. The FAA requires that everyone in the aircraft have something in common about the mission. Planesharing encourages passengers who have no preexisting relationship with the pilot (otherwise, why is an online service necessary for them to find each other?) and it is almost certain that the pilot and passengers will have different objectives once they arrive at the destination. What are the chances that perfect strangers will turn out to be heading to the same golf course, restaurant, or shopping district? Even local flights which start and end at the same airport, which the FAA regulates as sightseeing flights are regulated. Air tour pilots are required to keep within a limited distance from the airport, submit to more drug tests, and hold at least a commercial pilot certificate.

It is possible to engage in planesharing in a compliant way. You build a group of friends over time, say on Pilots of America or a similar message board. You all agree to meet at a regional airport and fly in Bob’s Cessna 206 down to Sun ‘N Fun in Florida in March for three days to see the airshow and drool on the latest aircraft. You split the cost when it’s all over. Great.

But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, does anyone really think that many planesharing flights would work this way? A majority of them? Fewer? Any? The FAA administrator and staff are reasonably intelligent. The FAA can identify a sham when the FAA sees a sham and so can we. We need to be honest with ourselves and admit that most flights under the planesharing model are not legal under the current regulations. The arguments made by these companies that the rules don’t apply to them just don’t hold water.

Could the FAA come up with a safe harbor under the rule? Sure. What would that look like? A demonstrable pre-existing relationship between the pilot and passengers of at least such-and-such a duration, supported by family relationship or documentary evidence like date-stamped e-mail correspondence? A requirement that pilot and passengers all do the same thing at the destination, supported by a file folder full of consecutively-numbered concert tickets or a guest check with the appropriate number of entrees?

At what point do the administrative costs outweigh the benefit of such a safe harbor? It’s complicated. Previous legal interpretations from the FAA like here and here make this clear as mud. Creating a safe harbor under current regulation would be really tough. We’ve got to balance personal choice with public expectations of safety.

Anyway, we’re going to find out soon.  At least AirPooler and FlyteNow have petitioned the FAA for an administrative ruling about the legality of planesharing. The FAA told the pilot community that it would rule by mid-June, but that deadline has come and gone while the FAA continues to think about the issue. In the meantime, good on AirPooler for recently advising pilots to hold off on listing flights pending the FAA’s ruling. My opinion doesn’t really count for much. The ball is in the FAA’s court. Enforcement actions are possible and even likely before the smoke clears.

Why So Serious?

If you’ve read this far, you might wonder why I’m disparaging a potentially helpful and cool new aspect of the sharing economy. I love innovation and new ideas as much as anyone. I have a dog in this fight. But it’s a different dog and I’ve defined the fight for what I believe is a better way.

For aviation, collaborative consumption isn’t anything new. We’ve been buying and leasing back airplanes to flight schools and flying clubs for decades. The rest of the world was just catching up with us. There’s still plenty of room for innovation in the business of aviation. Two of my favorite examples are ForeFlight and SurfAir. They’ve disrupted the experience, without ignoring the rules.

Regulation and innovation can coexist. My own example is OpenAirplane which tackles the problem that we can solve legally by making more aircraft accessible to more pilots. The idea is to make everyone’s pilot certificate more useful.

In a nutshell: It used to be that each airplane rental operation (and its insurance company) required that a pilot do a local checkout flight in the airplane before renting it. OpenAirplane standardized the checkout process and with support of insurance industry. Now, pilots go through a single annual checkout flight that tests their skills and verifies that they are as safe and competent as the FAA requires. The standards are pretty much the same ones that the FAA uses when initially certifying pilots and they’re evaluated by designated flight instructors who are familiar with the process. After that Universal Pilot Checkout, the pilot can rent the same kind(s) or airplane(s) at any participating facility (currently more than 60 across the US). It’s all completely legal.

While planesharing could expand the addressable market for our company, we’re not willing to put pilots at risk of violations or worse. OpenAirplane solves as much of the problem as we can solve without breaking the law. We put more pilots in more airplanes more often. We don’t do anything for non-pilot passengers yet, but only because – well – illegal.

But we still frequently get lumped in with planesharing operators when folks talk about developments in aircraft availability. We’re not a planesharing operation. And we don’t want to be unless he rules change. Planesharing can’t solve the problem that it claims to solve without a deregulation of private aviation or a big shift in FAA doctrine.

You Can’t Fool Newton and Bernoulli

The principles defined by Isaac Newton and Daniel Bernoulli govern the safety of flight. They don’t care about social networks or online collaboration, no matter how innovative or cute. And mountains of evidence tell us that Newton and Bernoulli favor the better-maintained aircraft, better-trained pilots, and more comprehensive operating procedures that one finds almost exclusively in commercial operations. As long as the safety of passengers – or at least honesty with passengers about the wildly different risk profile that they face in an aircraft with the average a planesharing pilot – is the point, planesharing doesn’t work.

The FAA regulations allocate privileges to pilots based on a careful balancing of those privileges with the skills and experience that they have demonstrated. Planesharing, as currently conceived and practiced, encourages private pilots to operate de facto charter services or air carriers. It’s a bad idea. Unless the FAA reverses its position, planesharing remains grounded.

Why Returning To The “Golden Age of Aviation” Is A Terrible Future

Monday, June 16th, 2014

pilot

Here’s a Private Pilot, circa 1930. (photo credit: James Crookall)

I’m not a big fan of nostalgia. Here’s why:

The Golden Age of Aviation” was a time when the only people who flew themselves in an airplane were titans of industry, movie stars, or crazy people.

The aviation industry is on course to revert back to the 1930′s. This is bad, bad, news, because if you look at what aviation was like back between the world wars, it was a terrible time.

Folks in our community complain about how private aviation is circling the drain, that it’s a lost cause. I refuse to believe that. We just have too many things going for us. I believe the future of private aviation is viable, as long as we stop trying to relive the past.

The first few chapters of the book, “Free Flight,” by James Fallows, pretty much lit my brain on fire. It remains one of the best, most objective, primers on the state of aviation in America. The rest of the book focuses on the trajectory of both Cirrus and Eclipse and their attempts to disrupt and reinvent air travel in the last decade.

Fallows nails it when he explains that there are two kinds of people. There are “the Enthusiasts,” (You, me, and most anyone reading this.) and “the Civilians.” (everyone else.)

On Enthusiasts
“…The typical gathering of pilots is like a RV or hot rod–enthusiasts’s club. People have grease under their fingernails. The aircraft business is littered with stories of start-up companies that failed. One important reason is that, as with wineries or small country inns or literary magazines, people have tried to start businesses because they loved the activity, not because they necessarily had a good business plan.”

On Civilians
“Civilians–mean most of the rest of us– view airplanes not as fascinating objects but as transportation. Planes are better than cars, buses, or trains to the extent that they are faster. Over the last generation, most civilians have learned to assume that large airliners nearly always take off and land safely. …From the civilian perspective, the bigger the plane, the better. Most civilians view people who fly small planes the way I view people who bungee-jump or climb Mount Everest; they are nuts.”

James Fallows, “Free Flight, Inventing the future of Travel

Fallows calmly explains how travel for most of us has gotten worse, not better in the last 30 years. He stresses that the hub and spoke system adopted by the airlines post deregulation has contributed to the misery. He cites former NASA administrator Daniel Golden, who noted in 1998 that the average speed door to door traveling on commercial airlines had sunk to only around fifty or sixty miles an hour.

The book concisely charts how we got into this fine mess. He compares how air travel works today to that of the world before automobiles. In the last generation, the airlines have benefited the most from investment in development and infrastructure. Today we pack most people onto what may as well be very fast train lines that go from major metro to major metro. Cornelius Vanderbilt would be so proud.

The other side of the coin is what General Aviation has evolved to for the folks who have the means to fly private jets. The industry has done a fabulous job of responding to the needs of the very small percentage of us who can afford to operate or charter turbine aircraft. This equipment flies higher and faster than most airliners, and can get people to small airports much closer to almost any destination. Fallows shows how this is analogous to travel by limousine. Remember, when cars first appeared on the road, they were considered too complicated and too dangerous for mere mortals to operate. Anyone who could afford one, hired a professional driver. I’m sure Andrew Carnegie was chauffeured from point to point too.

So for the most part, we have trains and limousines. It’s like some bizarre alternate history world where Henry Ford never brought us the automobile.

I refuse to believe that we’re simply on the wrong side of history here.

It’s actually a pretty great time to be a pilot. The equipment has never been more reliable, the tools keep making it easier, and the value proposition keeps getting more compelling compared to other modes of travel when you note that moving about the country on the airlines or the highways keeps slowing down due to congestion. For the first time in history, for most of us the country is no longer growing smaller. It’s getting bigger.

A few examples of what excites me about the future of aviation, and what I hope can prove to be disrupters looking forward…

  • ICON A5 – A 2 seat jet ski with wings that you can tow behind your pickup.
  • Cirrus Vision SF50 – 5 Seats, single jet engine, it’s going to define a completely new category for very light jets. I imagine it to be like a Tesla and an iPad mashed together in one 300 knot machine.
  • Whatever it is that Elon Musk builds next – please, please, please, let it be a flying car.

The future is bright, as long as we don’t go backwards.

Why I Don’t Talk About “General Aviation” Anymore

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Back in the 1950′s, Cessna Aircraft produced this gem… “Wings for Doubting Thomas

This little documentary clearly spelled out the value proposition for Private Aviation 2 generations ago.

I rarely talk about “General Aviation.”

Like most people who read this blog, I’m much more interested in, “Private Aviation.”

You might think quickly that it’s the same, thing, but it’s not. General aviation is broadly defined as as all aviation except for military and airlines. That’s great, but I’m not a, “General Aviation enthusiast.” Frankly I don’t care much about, “General Aviation.” I don’t fly biz jets, cargo, fly much for hire, (Though I have the certificate for, it’s just not a big part of my life these days.) spray crops, perform in air shows, whatever…

While I may aspire to sit in the back of a something with turbines, drinking Cristal… It does not inspire me. I’d rather be up front flying the jet.

Private aviation is the part of civil aviation that does not include flying for hire.”

“In most countries, private flights are always general aviation flights, but the opposite is not true: many general aviation flights (such as banner towing, charter, crop dusting, and others) are commercial in that the pilot is hired and paid. Many private pilots fly for their own enjoyment, or to share the joys and convenience of general aviation with friends and family.”

– Wikipedia

You see “General Aviation,” is doing just fine. Ask anyone running a jet charter business these days. Business is up, folks who choose to afford it are buying jet cards and getting to where they want to go in style, and plenty of people are making a good living helping them get there. I’m fine with all that. “General Aviation,” is not dying. It’s growing.

But “Private Aviation” is the community that inspires me. It’s Private Aviation that’s what we’re really talking about when we fry bacon at Camp Scholler, or eat pancakes at the fly in. The ability to climb into a plane and fly myself and my friends or family someplace is like a magic power.

It’s Private Aviation that we built OpenAirplane to serve.

So you see, I don’t talk much about General Aviation. When I speak to the press about OpenAirplane. I explain that it is a marketplace for Private Aviation. I get asked all the time if OpenAirplane will let them hail a jet like they can hail a cab, or if we can help them charter a flight. My answer is always, “Not yet.” It’s just not the business we’re in right now. There are plenty of smart people working to offer charter for businesses and pleasure. That part of General Aviation is well served. I explain that we are focused on Private Aviation, because that’s where the opportunity lies today to unlock more value than anywhere else right now. General Aviation is a competitive, well served market with a healthy ecosystem. But Private Aviation hasn’t seen much innovation since Cessna commissioned that film. This is strange to me, because GPS, iPads, and composites sure have made it a lot easier. Private Aviation can create entirely new use cases for the over 5,000 airports, thousands of aircraft, and hundreds of thousands of certificates in the wallets of  pilots across the country.

Private Aviation has been in decline since the airlines we’re deregulated in 1978. The value proposition of Private Aviation has been evolving ever since. The industry and the community need to both step up to communicate the value proposition for Private Aviation to a new generation of “doubting Thomases,” updating what you see in the old documentary film above to speak to the value proposition we can offer today.

For most of us, the conversation isn’t about General Aviation, it’s about Private Aviation. Let’s call it what it is. I have no time sit back and complain. I believe we can make it better than ever.

What General Aviation Can Look Forward to in 2014

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Kicking off the shiny new year by sharing some things that I’m looking forward to in 2014. What excites me about these developments is their potential to have far-reaching impact on the aviation community and the industry that supports it.

 

ICON A5

A5ICON gets a lot of flack from the traditionalists in the aviation community. But with with first pre-production aircraft on track to be completed in mid-2014, and the first deliveries of production aircraft planned later this year, this is a product  is looking less like vaporware everyday. Partnering up with Cirrus Aircraft (Folks who know a lot of about building composite aircraft) for production seems like such a smart move. Why re-invent production techniques when you’re reinventing the experience of flying for the fun of it?

A modern, clean sheet aircraft design which reimagines what flying for fun can be has a ton of potential. The ICON A5 is product which feels like a mashup of a jet ski and a seaplane to offer something completely new. Team ICON has focused their efforts not on the dwindling traditional aviation community, but on a much broader market for recreational motorsports. Everything ICON does is feel more at home at luxury motorsport dealership, not the stodgy milquetoast spaces we associate with today’s aviation brands.

Ditching the airspeed indicator, for a far more intuitive Angle Of Attack system is a great example of how this is a product designed for folks who aren’t pilots. (Yet.)

No single product I know of has as much potential to suck otherwise unsuspecting “civilians”  into the aviation lifestyle.

 

Cessna 182 Turbo Skylane JT-A

JTAI love this airplane. The new JTA-A even looks better. As the old saying goes, the C-182 Skylane isn’t great at anything, but it’s good at everything. This is product where the world called, and Cessna listened. A proven legacy airframe, is getting a new heart. This bird sips Jet-A.

Bolting a SMA SR305-230 diesel engine and a new cowling onto this workhorse airframe should be a winner. Burning Jet-A gets you 30-to-40-percent lower fuel burn per hour, faster cruise, better climb, and no mixture control to futz with.

Cessna knows the market for newly built light aircraft is overseas, and anything burning avgas is going to have limited utility due to the constraints on 100LL infrastructure around the world. This is the year the market makes the the move to Jet-A.

 

Redhawk 172

RedhawkOn the other end of the spectrum, the folks at Redbird (Folks who have done a great job bringing some great training technology in reach of far more flight schools than ever before.) are taking a different approach. Back in the 1970′s when the manufactures were churning out airframes at a rate that made the efficient to build, they were relatively affordable to buy. The folks at Redbird are essential recycling legacy airframes to make training aircraft affordable again.

With the cost of a newly built 172 often climbing out of the reach of many flight schools, Redbird will start remanufacturing old 172s, stripping them down to the bare metal, and offering 172 Redhawks to the training industry.

They’ll start by hanging Continental‘s Centurion turbo-diesel engine, which sips Jet-A at just 4.5 gallons per hour, (Again, more Jet-A) install Aspen Avionics’ Evolution glass panel in a new interior, and new paint. Everything about the Redhawk will be tuned for the demands of a busy flight school.

Redhawk will be a package solution for flight schools. Including insurance, leasing “power by the hour,” with an innovative lease program through partner Brown Aviation. This could mean that more schools could get better access to more modern equipment. Flight schools will be free to concentrate on finding customers, not financing. The beta program starts in Spring.

 

Mooney is Back

MooneyJust when it seems like the idea of building airplanes designed for personal transportation seems to be going the way of the betamax, Mooney is starting the production lines back up this year.

These are some really nice traveling machines. Simple trainers they are not. They don’t have all the features you find in more modern designs, but if the prices can be kept reasonable, they could be competitive again.

This is a product with a lot of fans. It’s nice to see another option in the marketplace of aircraft well suited to private aviation.

 

Space Tourism

Virgin GalacticStarting in 2014. Folks who bought a ticket will starting climbing aboard rocket ships that will take them into space.

Now I  won’t be able to afford a ride, (for a long while) but then again I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy a ticket on the earliest airlines 100 years ago either. Virgin Galactic will commence sub-orbital hops above the Kármán line, with a view of the curvature of the earth, and some zero G thrown in for good measure.

Sir Branson has compared SpaceShipTwo to the Ford Trimotor of of our time. I’m good with that. Mostly because I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

 

Demo Teams Back In Action

T- BirdsAir shows are the largest outdoor professional sports in North America. These performances and static displays are the backbone of the air show experience. Last year’s sequestration debacle caused the outright cancellation of many air shows around the country.

Now the economic impact aside, the impact to recruiting can be debated other places…

…but the impact on inspiration is clear. The inspiration air shows deliver have a huge impact on aviation, aerospace more broadly, and across the board STEM education is huge.

Nothing delivers the tonnage of inspiration like an air show.

…and if you don’t like air shows, we just can’t be friends.

 

So that’s what I’m looking forward to. How about you? What did I miss? What do you look forward to the most?

Happy New Year everyone. Let’s make it awesome.

 

 

“Moneyball” for General Aviation

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

Flight time is the secret sauce to success.

It’s like getting runs on base.

I wrote that headline because, “Sabermetrics for Flight Schools, Flying Clubs, and Anyone Who Wants to Make A Buck In Aviation,” just doesn’t roll off the tongue.

I find the movie “Moneyball” inspiring. It’s a movie as much about business as it is about baseball. Anyone managing an aviation business can find inspiration here too. Its how the business model of OpenAirplane came to be.

“It’s about getting things down to one number. Using the stats the way we read them, we’ll find value in players that no one else can see. People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality. Bill James and mathematics cut straight through that. Billy, of the 20,000 notable players for us to consider, I believe that there is a championship team of twenty-five people that we can afford, because everyone else in baseball undervalues them.”

– Peter Brand in “Moneyball”

The book, and the movie are the story of how the Oakland A’s, a team out spent and out gunned by it’s competitors, finished 1st in the American League West with a record of 103 wins and 59 losses, despite losing three free agents to larger market teams. They built a championship team like, “an island of misfit toys,” using sabermetrics.

Sabermetrics is the term for the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity. So let’s look at how this discipline, which demystified the voodoo of the business of baseball, can be applied to the business of aviation.

Jason Blair, former Executive Director at NAFI, has spent a lot of time researching what makes flight operations tick. He offers up what he’s learned in his seminar for industry folks called, “Skills for Flight Training and Aircraft Rental Operators to Increase Profitability.” Using one of the handy spreadsheets Jason has been gracious enough to publish can be enlightening, (sometimes scary) and very useful.

Modeling profitability of rental aircraft yields our industry’s version of sabermetrics. It’s flight time. More specifically, its flight hours flown on an airframe, or utilization that makes or breaks the business. Like the focus on getting on base make a baseball team a winner, optimizing the business on number of flight hours flown by each airframe is the secret sauce to success in flying business.

To grossly oversimplify this…

Fly more hours = make more money.
The cost of getting the airplane doesn’t matter near as much.

Utilization is the single biggest influencer on price and profitability for airplanes. It’s this single metric that has the biggest impact on the business. The effect of utilization is significantly more influential than the effect of the acquisition cost of the airplane.

For example, let’s model utilization vs. cost…

If we decrease the hours flown by 25%, the rate for profitable rental increases by 17.3%. If we increase the hours flown by 25% the rate for a profitable rental falls by 9.4%.

but…

If we decrease the acquisition cost of the airplane by 25% the rate for a profitable rate drops by 3.7%. If we increase the acquisition cost by 25%, the required rental rate also only bounces up by the same percentage.

This example shows the asymmetrical influence flying more hours per year has on profitability and affordability of the airplane.

Flight hours flown per year really is the single most influential metric on the profitability of the business that you can manage. This is why we built OpenAirplane from the ground up to do one thing at scale, which is to drive up the number of flight hours and drive better utilization of the fleet.

Operators who optimizes their business to create more flying hours will win.

 

Skip the MBA. Learn to fly instead.

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

 

Venn Diagram - Aviate - Navigate - Communicate

The best business advice I’ve ever been given came from my flight instructor.

Aviate. Navigate. Communicate. …in that order.”

Success in the cockpit relies on managing bandwidth. It turns out, so does success in any business. As my friend Steve [@StephenForce] likes to say, flight training is all about bandwidth packing. Making a business work is no different.

I try to balance consuming ideas and immersion. Much of what I’ve consumed in the last couple of years has been business advice and counsel. Eighteen months ago I had no idea what a “cap table,” was or what the heck, “preferred stock,” meant. I immersed myself in the lingo as I went about the business of starting a business. I’ve come a long way through immersion.

As I consumed most everything I could get my hands on to help me through each stage of the project, it struck me how many aviation analogies you find in business books. (Second only to military analogies by my count.) Startups have, “runway,” which is calculated from a, “burn rate.” We, “launch,” products and we hope the business, “takes off.” You get the idea.

Many businesses fail because of distraction. Don’t believe the hype. Human beings are terrible at multitasking. Entrepreneurs are notoriously distracted people. (Just ask my team, they’ll tell you after the laughter subsides.) Prioritization of attention is a critical life skill for both flying and business. Fixation is the enemy of any good instrument scan, and it can completely blow up you calendar too. Managing a business like we manage a cockpit may not be for everyone, but here’s my idea. Cockpit discipline can be a guide for how to structure time and help you manage your bandwidth better.

AVIATE – (Operations, customer service, production, finance, etc.) The tasks that make a business a business are the foundation. When I see businesses disappointing people, it seems most often due to distraction from the basics. My primary flight instructor taught me long ago, “Never drop the airplane to fly the mic.” Aviating must come first. If you’re a retailer, you should first and foremost be good at selling stuff. If you’re a flight school, you should prioritize your focus on tasks that get people flying. If you make stuff, make it better. See what I mean? In my case, since launching OpenAirplane I’ve tried my level best to always make the operational tasks my priority. Personally, this kind of discipline has never been my strong suit. I’ve adapted.

NAVIGATE - (Product management, design, planning, strategy, etc.) In flying and in business, we should always be asking ourselves, “What’s next?” My friend Jason [@TFPofFLYING] likes to stress how important it is to always, “stay ahead of the airplane.” The same discipline can be applied to your work. In every business there are opportunities to look ahead within to improve experience, refine processes, expand or cut offering to make the business run better. Sometimes we get task saturated and get buried in the day to day operations, but unless there’s the discipline to regularly step back and turn the focus to planning, we’re plowing forward without a map.

I’m a student of the design of business. Our industry mostly evolved; very little around us was designed. Much of the industry doctrine in aviation isn’t a product of regulation or design; it’s a product of inertia. On the commercial side, look at the lowly boarding pass as an example. Good luck trying to make sense of those things. Recently someone actually took on a redesign of the boarding pass. The results will make you wonder what took so long.

COMMUNICATE – (Marketing, advertising, public relations, promotions, etc.) I’ve been in some sort of marketing role my entire career. I default to it. But others do not; I get that. Our industry has evolved to be exceedingly efficient at communicating to our own community. Beyond preaching to the converted, the industry for the most part is incompetent. Lack of communications is killing us. Go to Oshkosh, and you’ll be saturated by the message of how amazing aviation is. But imagine trying to penetrate the aviation community from the outside. You might as well be holding an iPhone in a camera store.

Communications is a muscle few aviation businesses take seriously. There is a huge market opportunity for those who invest in outreach. Props to the folks at Icon Aircraft [@ICONAircraft] for making it a priority to grow the pie, not just carve it up.

One of our Operators nailed it when he shrewdly observed, “Aviation expects excellence, but it seldom rewards it.” Turns out the mental pegboard for achieving the balance we need may already be right here.

I try my level best to attack each day with the discipline I learned in my primary flight training.

AVIATE
NAVIGATE
COMMUNICATE

It’s helped me hack my productivity, and maybe it can help you too. That, and starting every day with the Shepard’s Prayer couldn’t hurt.

There is a recipe for disruption

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

“A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”

– Eric Riese, [@ericries] author of The Lean Startup

I continue to be very much inspired by how Tyson Weihs [@tysonweihs] and the team at Foreflight [@ForeFlight] completely disrupted the experience in the cockpit by helping so many of us do away with paper charts. You can see Marc Andreessen’s concept of how “…software is eating the world,” at work right there in our flight bags.

If there ever was an industry ripe for disruption, aviation should be at the top of the list.

Have a look at how SurfAir [@isurftheskies] has broken the mold for how commercial air travel works, swept the pieces off the floor and glued together a completely new concept of how people can use airplanes to get around. Note that they didn’t just come to market with a new business plan for how to run an airline or charter company. By making flying an all-you-can-fly membership service, the Eyerly brothers [@wadeeyerly & @DCMEII] came to market with a completely new business model. Netflix was successful because it attacked the friction points in renting DVDs. Maybe SurfAir will end up doing the same thing for short haul air travel.

Stop writing business plans. (Really, quit it.) Jason Fried [@jasonfried] founder at 37 Signals here in Chicago, famously offered, “Unless you are a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy,” in his book REWORK. The ugly truth is that business planning is really just business guessing.

Aviation doesn’t need new business plans, we’re well beyond that. We need new business models.

Luckily for us, we’re able to skip the arduous exercise of writing the classic thirty page business plan. Creative writing is better left to artists rather than the MBAs anyways. Instead, let’s chart ideas using the Business Model Canvas.

Business Model Canvas

Business Model Canvas

 

The Business Model Canvas is one of the foundational tools in a doctrine for creating new products and services which has taken both corporate America and those who seek to escape it by storm – known as Lean Startup.

While many aviation enterprises definitely could be described as lean, that’s usually not by design, nor is it what we’re talking about. Lean Startup is a movement which first took hold in the tech startup community, but has spread across just about every industry. The methodology has become popular in both the creation of new companies and been applied within large corporations. We need more lean startups solving the wicked problems faced across the aviation ecosystem. Safety, utility, costs, access, and experience all need dramatic improvement.

The great thing about Lean Startup is that it’s a great inoculation against building stuff that people don’t want. Aviation as an industry has always been really good at building both products and services which nobody wants.

Grab a whiteboard, sketchpad or sticky notes and get to work. You don’t need an MBA or a budget to be inspired. We now have the methodologies to tackle the tough problems. It’s time for new business models. Together we can reverse the declines and create new ways to grow the aviation economy, ecosystem, and community.