Frances Jones formed FJ Aviation in April this year, becoming the UK's only female independent jet fuel management consultant. She has worked in aviation for 27 years and specialised in fuel for more than a decade

What got you into fuel management?

I was fascinated by aviation from an early age, and my first job was with British Airways' operations department. An opportunity to work in fuel management arose for the first time in 30 years and I took it. It was a year before I fully understood the jet fuel industry and felt confident enough to negotiate contracts with the oil industry. I had to learn a whole new language. People were talking about barrels and Platts [the company that monitors and produces daily fuel prices based on trends from all over the world].

Frances Jones Working Week
 © Four Forces

What advice would you give someone wanting to enter the industry?

You need a good head for maths, and be adept at adding up figures in your head to deal in litres, barrels and gallons. It helps to have a broad understanding of and interest in world economics. So much can affect oil prices, ranging from political tensions in the Middle East to a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.

What skills do you need?

It is important to have strong negotiating skills and to be a people person. You need to be flexible and able to build lasting relationships. Good relationships with suppliers mean that they will put themselves out if necessary. Some airline fuel buyers have worked as fuel sellers with oil companies. I know a skilled negotiator who worked for a motor manufacturing company and another whose background was from a major supermarket chain.

What tasks would you perform during a typical working week?

My daily duties include ensuring that fuelling arrangements are in place where required at optimal price. This involves maintaining solid relationships with the oil companies. I deal with the major suppliers: BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell and Total, as well as the smaller national companies, such as Cepsa in Spain and Petrogal in Portugal. All relationships are of equal importance and one of the best parts of the job is dealing with such a great community of people.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

I can get a call at any time of the day or night. I recently stood in a supermarket car park and organised fuel for an aircraft that had to make a diversion into Djerba in Tunisia because of bad weather. Within five minutes of the operations department making me aware of the situation I had the fuelling arrangements made. Because I know the suppliers I can make a call to the company's head office, get a price and schedule the lift.

The cargo airline presents one of the greatest challenges as schedules can change at very short notice. I moan and groan sometimes when I have just put everything in place and it changes again, or I am woken up at 2am with a problem in some faraway place, but I accept that is the nature of the job.

How has the last year affected the industry?

Every airline in the world has had a tremendously challenging year. In the past the majority of airlines would enjoy unsecured credit with the oil companies. Now, because of this summer's hike in oil prices, many operators have been forced to pre-pay for their fuel. The oil companies have lost customers as airlines went out of business, which has affected staffing levels in aviation marketing departments. The nature of those jobs has changed as well. Aviation marketing managers find themselves acting more like credit controllers as the oil industry concentrates on eliminating its exposure to risk.


Source: Flight International