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David Rimmer  

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Helping airline pilots transition to business aviation

By David Rimmer, President of Talon Air Jets, a leading aircraft charter and management company in New York.



With as many as 10,000 or more airline pilots facing unemployment this Fall as federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds run out and airline demand remains severely depressed, many pilots are considering a career transition - to business aviation.

For some, flying private or charter sees a return to their flying roots and familiar territory. For those who have never flown Part 135 or Part 91, however, it could be a rude awakening. The flying experience is similar to airline flying, but the similarities end there.

I have had the pleasure of interviewing, hiring and working with veterans of legacy carriers from American, United, TWA, Delta and Continental, as well as former regional airline pilots and expats at major carriers in Asia and the Middle East. Some were unemployed due to furlough, others became disenchanted with airline life. Others may want to continue flying past the mandatory retirement age of 65 in Part 121.

In each interview I have tried to be brutally honest with candidates about the good, the bad and the ugly of business aviation. While there are opportunities to fly state of the art equipment to glamorous destinations with an assortment of prominent passengers in the back, there are some challenges that may come as a surprise.

With that in mind, and given the likely influx of airline pilot applicants to our industry, I’ve assembled some tips for newly available pilots to consider as they ponder a flying career in business aviation.

1. Be honest about your intentions. Your sole interest may be in having an uninterrupted income stream and the opportunity to continue flying. Ours is continuing to serve our customers, rebuilding businesses deeply hurt by Covid-19 and to provide job security to our team members. Most of us view this as more than just a job and we are passionate about what we do. If you don’t share that passion, or intend to leave at the first opportunity to fly an airliner again, please be honest with yourself and with us before we commit to one another.

2. Humility goes a long way. Just because you were a great Boeing 777 captain does not guarantee you will be a successful Hawker 900 pilot. Confidence, experience and a focus on safety and service are qualities we value. Being the right ‘fit’ is also important. Candidates who are disagreeable in an interview only get worse once hired. Cockiness and arrogance, especially in a highly competitive job market, will not get you hired.

3. Prepare for a lot more ‘do it yourself’ than you are accustomed to. This may include filing flight plans, loading bags, negotiating fuel purchases, arranging catering, securing landing permits, stocking your aircraft and some degree of aircraft cleaning. It is all part of what business aviation pilots sign up for.

4. Don’t look down on the job. There are numerous pilots for whom business aviation is their chosen career, not a consolation prize. The easiest way to be disqualified during the interview process is to show that you think that what we do is any less important than flying hundreds of passengers in Boeings and Airbuses.

5. There’s less insulation between you and all other company personnel. As you would expect, you will have extensive contact with fellow pilots, cabin attendants, dispatchers, flight followers and flight operations management such as the chief pilot and director of operations. But you may also hear directly from senior leadership, charter brokers, aircraft owners, charter customers and their representatives. And you will be the face of the company to passengers and vendors in the event of any flight disruptions.

6. Change is a constant. No two days are ever the same, and many days will change from the moment you duty on. Short layovers may turn into long layovers, a single leg may transform into a multi-leg max duty day and destinations will almost certainly change – sometimes multiple times. Unlike the very limited number of cities served by scheduled airlines, virtually every airport in the world is a potential destination as long as the weather co-operates and there is enough runway. There are some exceptions, but they are the exception not the rule.

7. We are taking a huge chance on you. Our investment in you - from initial hire through the completion of simulator training - can range from $15,000 to $50,000 or more before you’ve even touched an aircraft. Many operators will require you to sign a promissory note to cover the cost of training in the event you leave within the first year of completing an initial type rating. Even if that leaves us financially whole, it is very disruptive - especially on a two pilot aircraft. Don’t be surprised if we press you on your level of commitment in your interview.

8. Customer satisfaction is our lifeblood. Unlike scheduled airlines, where customer satisfaction often seems secondary, customer satisfaction in business aviation is second only to safety. Indifference to customers can impact your livelihood and the careers of everyone around you. There is little insulation between you and dissatisfied passengers. Not even a hardened cockpit door separates you.

9. Expats seem to have the toughest adjustment. Not only are they adapting to life back on U.S. soil, expats must also accept the differences between being an airline captain overseas and flying VIPs here. One of those differences is accepting much lower pay, since overseas assignments traditionally come with compensation packages that every pilot dreams of.

10. Try to embrace change. Career transitions are among life’s most stressful events, even more so when they are involuntary and in times of crisis. While aviation careers will always be cyclical and subject to world events, business aviation is a viable and respectable option to continue flying.

I have had unexpected successes and failures when hiring ex-airline pilots. It is a difficult transition for even the most resilient personalities, but it can be done successfully.


Talon Air


David Rimmer   David Rimmer is President of Talon Air Jets, a leading aircraft charter and management company in New York. He is former president of both Alerion Aviation and ExcelAire and was the founder and CEO of Bliss Jet, an innovative private jet start-up connecting New York and London. David has written extensively about private aviation as a Senior Editor at Business & Commercial Aviation, and has also written for Fortune Magazine Custom Publishing, as well as Airways and Airliners magazines. An outspoken aviation safety proponent, he is a survivor of the 2006 midair collision between an Embraer Legacy 600 and Gol Airlines Boeing 737-800 over the Brazilian Amazon.

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BlueSky Business Aviation News | 3rd September 2020 | Issue #571



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