Vice president of business operations for Advanced Air Charters and Jet Center Los Angeles, Barbara Hunt discusses how women can get ahead in the sector.
How and why did you get into business aviation as a career?
It is possible that I have always had aviation in my blood as I was raised around commercial airports and airplanes. My father made a career in customer service and reservations with Continental Airlines so I became an airline passenger at a very young age. To me, the flight was part of the vacation, not just a means to get there.
When I was in my 20’s, the opportunity to enter the world of private aviation came my way and I jumped on it. As the office manager supporting three aviation executives, I learned the business from the bottom up, handling aircraft charter quotes and logistics as well as aircraft sales transactions.
This was the beginning of what has been a completely stimulating and rewarding career, including roles in operations management, charter management, human resources, sales and marketing, customer service and client relations, aircraft sales administration, accounting and finance.
Along the way, I met Levi Stockton, who is currently president of Aviation Air early in his flying career and in 2017 joined his team. We discussed my vision of a role at Advanced Air and I said I wanted to be part of everything listed above. I have lived that and more here and continue to learn and grow even 30+ years later.
Do you think the sector is doing enough to encourage more women to join business aviation companies?
Enlightened industry associations and forward-thinking businesses are working to create career paths and spark a passion for aviation in young people, females specifically. The Women in Aviation Advisory Board (WIAAB) was formed in 2019 to develop and provide independent recommendations and strategies to the FAA to explore opportunities that encourage female students and aviators to pursue a career in aviation.
WIAAB’s mission is to promote organizations and programs that are providing education, training, mentorship, outreach and recruitment of women for positions in the aviation industry.
Of course, more can always be done to attract women and young people to the industry. Successful aviation businesses are wise to maintain a steady stream of available, qualified employee candidates, dictating outreach not only on the national level, but on state and local levels, as well.
What do you think would encourage more women into business aviation?
First, understanding what opportunities are available. Regardless of gender, opportunities abound in all areas of aviation from ground operations, to logistics, to administration, to the cockpit. Aviation businesses and industry associations are consistently looking for ways to increase the pool of candidates.
For women in particular, connecting with women who are already in the industry is a great place to start. Those of us in the industry need to set an example and make a conscious effort to invite others, offering scholarships, mentorship programs, and coaching and training opportunities.
What has been the proudest achievement in your career so far?
That is a tough question as there have been quite a few years in my aviation career. What stands out is something achieved at Advanced Air, specifically being part of a resourceful team who pulled off a logistical improbability by successfully launching our first Essential Air Service route with three new airport stations away from home base.
We had just two months to hire and train station personnel, implement and post a flight schedule, open off-site stations and call centers to manage reservations, ticketing, baggage handling and aircraft marshalling, refine safety and security protocols, design website marketing and signage and the many other undertakings required for initiating service as a young commuter airline.
To add to the challenge, those two months were November and December – so we were working around vacations and holidays at every turn. We pulled off a successful launch on January 6, 2019 and the rest is history.
What advice would you give to women interested in a career in business aviation?
First, be fearless! Never be afraid to ask for what you want and go after it. Be a “sponge-head” and soak up all you can along the way.
Understand that you never know everything – there is always something new to learn. Every experience, every success, every failure or fallback is a learning opportunity, and you will have millions in your career. Exhibit confidence and trustworthiness, and you will earn the trust of your team.
Build bridges, not walls, and never burn a bridge as it can be a very small world. Always think and act with integrity. Last, but not least, remember to share what you have learned; turn around and look behind you to help the next one in line.