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This is what I do

Upon exchanging introductions with new acquaintances I get invariably asked “So what do you do?” And as I start to explain I often see the eyes of my poor listener glaze over with incomprehension, culminating in a quick nod so I stop the torture.  It is usually also noisy with surrounding conversation, which does not help either.  I will hereby set forth to correct that and record once and for all how I earn my daily bread.

 I work with an aviation services (aka flight support) provider.  It is for the most part a B2B setup, where our clients are the operators of different types of aircraft – be they smaller private jets, larger cargo aircraft, ambulance flights or regular passenger airliners.  These are usually not the ones operating your run of the mill scheduled flights, but rather unplanned flights and sometimes very short notice.

We assist various aircraft, from the smallest Learjet (image via Wikipedia commons)

To the largest cargo aircraft (image via Wikipedia commons)

There are three main areas of services – permits, ground arrangements and flight planning.  At their most basic:

–          Most countries require permits to be issued before an aircraft can fly over them, and these are conveniently called overflight permits.  There are varying degrees of complexity and documents requirements in order to obtain them, differing wildly by country / region.

–          Similarly most airports require a permit in order to land – landing permits (smart huh?). These are sometimes also known as PPR’s – prior permission required.  Unrelated side note: aviation is littered with acronyms, in my opinion evidencing the influence of the US on the industry – around 80% of all general aviation (i.e. non-scheduled) flights happen in the US alone.

–          After an aircraft lands at its destination the pilot cannot just park and leave, there must be services arranged – passengers have to be taken to the terminal and cleared through customs, the aircraft has to be serviced, catering needs to be prepared, etc…  In general this is called aircraft handling and there are usually two main issues in setting it up: whether the agent / airport has the necessary equipment, and how the services have to be paid.  Most operators nowadays do not fill up their aircraft with cash, rather opting to have credit arrangements in place. We pay for the services on the operator’s behalf so they don’t have to worry about it.  Of course this requires having prior arrangements, you cannot just call up a new agent and tell him “don’t worry, I’ll pay you later…”

–          Flight planning is a rather complex subject, but very briefly it covers how an aircraft will get from departure to destination airports, and whether it can actually make it.  The considerations on this latter are: how much fuel it can carry, how many passengers / cargo it needs to carry, and the aircraft performance – how fast it flies and at what rate it burns fuel.  Previously these calculations used to be done manually.  Nowadays we are spared the chore with systems that work it out in seconds.  The route is (almost) never a straight line.  The skies are criss-crossed with airways – roads that can be used by aircraft.  On international flights pilots cannot just fly where they want, so there are rules to ensure safe usage by the increasing volume of flights.

 We also perform charter brokering, which consists of finding suitable aircraft for other parties, the types of which can vary as mentioned above (business jets, cargo, ambulance, etc).  We do not operate our own aircraft, rather contact the operators directly and charter each flight as they occur.

 This should put an end once and for all to the uneasy looks and confused expressions.  When next asked what my job is I’ll probably email the permalink to this post.  I might even think of having the link printed on business cards for offline use.

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