Getting (and Keeping) the Right People on the Bus

Neil Kunycky, Mente Group’s Managing Director, East Coast, tells how a retention analysis helped one flight department discover a tremendous weakness: pilot pay. In this particular case, Mente Group zeroed in on compensation, but a flight operation is just as likely to have other issues.

By Neil Kunycky, Managing Director, East Coast 

Every operation is different but what we find flight department team members care most about are the ability to work in a good environment, flying good equipment and understanding how it fits into the mission, known time off, compensation, and opportunities for advancement. No matter the cause, our team can help figure out why members of your team consider leaving and how you can keep them.

The East Coast flight department with 10-plus pilots flying large-cabin and ultra-long-range aircraft did most everything right – good equipment and work practices, support from the top of the corporation on down, competitive pay for mechanics and most other team members. But a number of pilots were threatening to leave. A retention analysis by Mente Group nailed down why: HR was basing pay pilot pay on stale data and incorrect comparisons.

With our analysis and its recommendations in hand recently, the corporate flight department was able to get HR to buy into increasing pilot pay across the board. Since then, the flight team hasn’t lost a pilot. Although the pay increases come at no small expense, they are easily offset by avoiding disruption to a well-oiled team and the cost of bringing in and getting new pilots up to speed.

“We knew we had a problem with our pay scale but were unable to affect change within the HR compensation team.   Mente’s cross functional team of consultants provided additional metrics and perspectives that were instrumental in bringing our pilot compensation up to a truly competitive level” said the aviation director.

The retention analysis was one of about 15 we’ve done for small and large flight operations across the country. We’ve analyzed flight departments in cities big and small, in hub cities and non-hub cities, for high net worth individuals and Fortune 500 companies, from one airplane to many.

The analyses have been done for clients who have lost team members or just heard rumblings from staff and are worried that in a very competitive aviation market, pilots and other quality people might take a good offer and go elsewhere. That can cost you in a number of ways. There’s the disruption of a good team and the work they do and the work they enable you and your business to perform efficiently. After all, that’s why you have your own flight team in the first place: to use your time and people well. Then there’s the challenge of finding quality replacements, and the question of whether they’ll be a good fit with the team you’ve built.

Replacing good people eats time, energy and money, potentially a lot of it. Our work at Mente Group has shown us that finding a new pilot and getting them up to speed can cost as much as a quarter-million dollars. That’s a lot of incentive to find out why your people might be a different kind of “flight risk.” That’s why clients have asked Mente Group to use our expertise and experience to look at their operations and see if they have problematic areas that could lead valued employees to want to work elsewhere.

With the analysis, we’ll take a look at your team and the market where you operate. Then we’ll come in and talk to your pilots, mechanics and staff about the workplace, the culture, pay, and other factors that affect their satisfaction with their work and where they perform it. It’s a deep dig, but it doesn’t take that long. Sometimes we find out that from employees’ perspectives, it’s a matter of money, but more often they describe other factors. No matter the reasons, we can help you get a better grasp of why people leave. Or what can make them stay with you.

How it works

Give us a call to do a retention analysis and we can get right on it once you can get us on your schedule. We’ll draw on the in-house expertise we use in our range of services: analytics, operations, client management, talent management, and more. We’ll tailor the analysis to the specific needs and size of your operation.

Then we’ll come to you at a convenient time and spend a couple of days, with as little disruption to operations as possible. We are well aware that once employees hear the word “retention study,” they often start to worry cutbacks are coming, and they’ll be analyzed out of a job. However, we are transparent and non-threatening about why we’re there, which is to help ensure that their place of work can be an even better place for them to work.

Mente team members will sit down and interview everyone in the department – pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, directors, dispatchers, schedulers, and other staff. We ask about equipment, operations, culture, work schedules, compensation, and other topics affecting job satisfaction. Each interview usually requires 30 minutes to an hour.

Once we visit your team, we can gather our findings, discuss them with you and turn out a final report within a couple of weeks. It’ll include recommendations on how you could modify operations to improve retention.

Ranking What We Have Found

The departments we’ve analyzed have encompassed well over a hundred pilots and dozens of other staff members.

Sure, everyone has a gripe, but when a half-dozen employees have the same gripe, then there’s something to examine deeper or address as soon as possible. One flight department found that it was seriously understaffed and hired additional pilots, making everyone’s lives better. Another found that it could offer crew members additional training at minimal cost, especially compared to the expense of replacing them.

Whether the issues involve quality of life, corporate culture, compensation or some mix of those or others, our goal is providing you information that can better align the needs of your business and your flight operation. Our role is to try to help owners and operators achieve a better flight operation, one that delivers the safest and best possible service to its passengers.

Across the board, our clients have appreciated the close look at what their departments are doing or can do to keep employees. We know that sometimes it’s hard to step back and scrutinize such a frustrating problem in a challenging market. Often, because we work in and follow aviation so closely, we’re able to bring insights that are just outside of everyday experiences.

The HR department of the company operating that East Coast flight department found our findings about below-market pilot pay eye-opening and acted quickly to change the scale. They didn’t want to lose good people. No one does, especially when finding good people is a problem unlikely to go away soon.


About the Author

Neil Kunycky is Mente Group’s Managing Director, East Coast. He has more than 35 years of corporate aviation experience.

During his career, Kunycky has earned the respect and repeat business from customers and clients around the country and especially on the East Coast, where he is based. He has demonstrated and proven experience marketing aircraft and aviation services to corporations, C-suite executives and high net worth individuals.

Neil’s career includes consultative sales roles for Beech, Hawker and Bombardier and as National Sales Director for FlightSafety International.

He holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Southern Illinois University, where he was a member of the National Championship winning precision flight team. Kunycky is a Commercial/Instrument pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours.


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