The areas below are the major criteria that I suggest you use to evaluate the different management company proposals. Review and highlight the ones that are most important to you. Give the areas that you deem critical the most weight when you do your evaluation.
Synergistic Fit – Does their operation support the type of flying and ownership that you described in the questions above? How many of your aircraft types do they operate? How often do they fly to the places where you are going to fly?
Local Presence: Do they have a local presence, or will they expect you to hire and pay for all the personnel to support your operation? Getting hangar space is not as easy as it once was, especially in certain parts of the country and world. You may need to really look at the hangar costs of each proposal. As a general rule, I recommend that the aircraft owner work directly with the FBO to set up their owner hangar agreement so that they can have more flexibility and control.
Cost Transparency and Complete Invoices: Are they upfront with you about the costs and expenses that you will face. Do they pass through all charges at their own cost? Does it say that in the contract? You should ask for a sample copy of their monthly invoice and see what kind of detail they provide. They should always provide you with the 3rd party invoices. If they just provide a summary with no backup or create their own invoices, then I suggest you ask for the originals. If they push back or do not provide them, then that is a huge red flag and I would suggest you go elsewhere.
Experience with your type of aircraft – When a charter company get’s a new aircraft type in their fleet, they must write a new training program for the pilots that requires FAA approval and acceptance. This can take 25 days to 4 months, depending on how busy the FAA is and the type of aircraft. (Note the FAA is trying to streamline this.) They must also apply for a MEL or Minimum Equipment List, which allows the pilots to defer small maintenance items to be fixed at a later time. Without an MEL, a flight could be delayed for a silly reason like a light bulb. If the management company already operates the type of aircraft that you have, it is rather simple to just add you to the fleet MEL (assuming their MEL is a fleet one) and train your crew with the previously approved training program.
Safety – Compare their safety ratings. ARGUS platinum is a minimum standard in my book. It used to be a select group now; most significant-sized operators are now argus platinum. Safety is so important, yet it is so hard to quantify. It really goes down to two things: the culture of the company and the quality of the pilots that they can recruit and employ. If you are between two management companies, then I suggest you ask for their insurance quote and the loss history for the past 3 years. Compare the documents that you get. Look at the types of losses and ask about them. Accidents happen, but their past accidents may cause you to pay more in premiums. Another thing to look for is, what are their pilot minimums? Often, it’s on their website or at least on their job listings. Compare the flight hour minimums with the pilot candidates that you are given and ask if they have any time in type requirements. The better companies will not pair 2 pilots together that have not had many hours in the aircraft. It is called — You add the SIC time in Type with the PIC time in Type and that number should be a few hundred hours at least, or they should hire a familiarization pilot to give a new crew a little more help.
Single Pilot Operations – I have managed single pilot aircraft, but I don’t anymore. While there are some great aircraft in this category, I now suggest that all my clients always have a safety pilot. There are too many young pilots looking to build time not to employ the right seater in these aircraft. The cost is minimal, and if the PIC has a medical event, there is someone else onboard that can land the aircraft.
Crew management: How do they work with their pilots? I could write an entire white paper on pilot selection and management, but evaluating how a management company treats and retains its pilots is a good way to evaluate them. High turnover means increased training costs, which are paid by the aircraft owner. Pilots are in high demand, and they have three questions when asking about an opportunity. What does it pay? What is my schedule? (How many days do I need to fly) and do I need to move, or can I commute? How you are going to use your aircraft will determine how flexible you can be on these questions, but really diving into the details on how the management company interacts with its pilots is a good indication of the type of culture that they have.
Maintenance Capability – You should really understand what maintenance capability they have in where your aircraft is based. If the pilots go out to start the jet and “Someone” left the battery switch on, do they have someone there that can solve the problem on the spot? It’s better to just take a short delay versus scrubbing the flight and getting a mechanic to fly in. You can use a vendor to do this, but they should be on the same airfield. Make sure that at least one of the mechanics has been to school on your type of aircraft. The troubleshooting ability of a mechanic who has been trained on your type of aircraft will save you tens of thousands of dollars over the time you own the aircraft. Send them to training, just like you do your pilots.
Cost—Most aircraft owners look at the monthly management fee and choose the cheapest one. That is not a good idea. The few thousand a month you spend on aircraft management is worth it. If they are charging little or no management fee, it’s because they are making it back somewhere else. Make sure your needs and your management companies’ capabilities are aligned. The FAA regulates safety; they do not regulate the financial aspects of this industry. You are mostly on your own. In addition, I would not compare the aircraft budgets that the different management companies give you for the operation of your aircraft. Look at the line items and compare them, but the assumptions will often be different.
Personal Compatibility – Make sure that you like the people in the company that you are working with and that you feel confident in your crew. This is not something that you can quantify, but you really should feel comfortable with them.