Lifeline to resiliency: The often-overlooked, simple secrets to successful on-call service

As airports face the challenges of hurricanes, rising water, necessary expansion and repairs, and more, an effective on-call provider can be a lifeline to resiliency, and a long-term, essential partner for success.

Garver Aviation Regional Leader Jason Frank, PE, has 28 years of aviation management experience, including managing a dozen or more on-call contracts for commercial service airports of all sizes, such as Indianapolis International Airport, St. Louis Lambert International Airport, Springfield Capitol Airport, and Central Illinois Regional Airport. Projects he’s managed run the gamut, from runway and taxiway rehabilitations and reconstructions, to extension, widenings, apron designs, new hangars, and new commercial service terminals.

In this Q&A, Frank discusses the tangible and intangible benefits of the on-call contract relationship, and how much an airport’s resiliency hinges on it.

What are the characteristics of a successful on-call contract relationship?

In a successful on-call relationship, the firm plays a number of important roles: trusted partner, extension of airport staff, and whenever possible an archive or knowledge library of that airport’s infrastructure history. As a trusted partner, the firm is looking ahead, keeping an eye on changes in the industry, and keeping the airport apprised of how those changes will impact them ahead of time. As an extension of the airport staff, the firm has to be a full-time resource. The airport should be confident that when an issue arises or they need an opinion, they can reach out to the firm immediately, and that the firm has the expertise to help them find a solution quickly or help guide their decision.

I compare the successful on-call relationship to the relationship you have with your old-school, neighborhood barber: they seem to know everything about where you’ve been, what you like and don’t like, where you’re going and what you need to watch out for. That’s what a firm needs to be for an airport.

And then the other big piece is really simple: the firm has to be available and responsive to the airport. It may seem small, but there’s tremendous value in picking up the phone when the client calls. And - if you can’t take the call at that moment - in sending a text or quick email saying that you’re on another call but will call back right after it ends. And then following up on that promise.

Garver has significant experience providing on-call service to both general and commercial aviation clients. How does the experience of providing on-call services to general aviation clients translate into providing on-call services to commercial aviation clients? Does it offer any advantages?

No airport is the same. But servicing a large number of general aviation clients provides an intangible strength when serving commercial aviation clients: the ability to filter through any outside “noise” and see things from the client’s perspective, for all the stakeholders in the room. That ability is developed through the practice of working on the more personal, one-on-one scale with the general aviation client. When a firm brings that practice of seeing from a client’s perspective to commercial service aviation clients, it’s an advantage.

Why? Because the firm has the practice of thinking through the clients’ unique perspectives, as opposed to just following a check list by rote. That means seeing the challenges of each stakeholder at a commercial airport from that stakeholder’s perspective, knowing what their personal goals are and how those connect to and support the project’s ultimate goal. If the firm is aware of and sensitive to individual stakeholders in this way, it’s in a better position to bring about compromise when needed, to make everyone feel comfortable, and to realize that ultimate goal.

What big challenges can an on-call provider help airports overcome?

One big challenge is making sure that all stakeholders who may be impacted by a project are involved in and listened to from the very beginning. The firm that’s on-call can help airports overcome issues arising from lack of communication by making sure that all stakeholders are identified, given the opportunity to provide input, and have their concerns met.

Having a process, like we do at Garver, of detailing project goals and impacts, listing stakeholders who will be impacted, inviting those stakeholders to the project meetings, and listening to their thoughts and concerns, helps create a strong sense of partnership. Everyone feels their voice is heard equally. That’s a big deal and a tangible benefit. And it goes a long way towards ensuring great project results.

Another big challenge is having access to the innovative thinking and top-of-the-line technology that helps keep airports resilient. A successful on-call provider should have a strong toolbox when it comes to expertise, technology, and innovation. These tangible and intangible benefits - new equipment on the market, innovative thinking, new construction techniques - are how a successful on-call helps the client look ahead and be ready for the future.

What are the lesser-known challenges that on-call providers can help airports with?

Something that I don’t think gets talked about enough is the on-call provider being an advocate for the client when it comes to funding. The client needs to be able to craft the right narrative to put them in the best possible position to receive vital funding. Helping the client craft that best narrative to present to the FAA is something a successful on-call provider should be able to do. And then of course they should be ready to perform the work for the client when the funding is secured.

To learn more about Garver’s on-call service, contact Garver Aviation below.

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