Cosider­ing a ca­reer in the char­ter busi­ness


Flying - - Contents - By Dick Karl

Walk­ing into the FBO in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, I hear, “I don’t like your stuff. I used to like you, but I don’t any­more. You are drink­ing way too much Kool-aid.” I am a lit­tle taken aback by this tirade. I look up to see a Net­jets cap­tain. “You make this sound way bet­ter than it is,” he tells me.

In ret­ro­spect, he may have had a point. At the time, I was a giddy new first of­fi­cer in the Part 135 char­ter world. I had been hired by a com­pany with the right vibe and the right in­gre­di­ents; it had good air­planes, good main­te­nance, a cool call­sign and, most im­por­tant, a sched­ule. I’d been breath­lessly re­count­ing my ini­tial ex­pe­ri­ences in these pages with pride and a sense of won­der.

The man in the FBO had been do­ing this longer, per­haps a lot longer, and was work­ing in a Part 91K (frac­tional) com­pany. He def­i­nitely had a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. In time, I came to un­der­stand what he was talk­ing about.

I can­not lay claim to a ca­reer in avi­a­tion. I flew full time pro­fes­sion­ally for just three years, start­ing at age 68. Be­fore be­ing hired full time, I had lim­ited con­tract ex­pe­ri­ence on a Lear­jet 31 with a lo­cal Part 135 out­fit in Flor­ida. That fly­ing was in­tox­i­cat­ing — my first jet. A first jet can’t be any­thing but in­tox­i­cat­ing. Even in that short time I could see how a full-time ca­reer could be chal­leng­ing, but I wasn’t full time and was able to cherry-pick the good stuff with­out hav­ing to en­dure some of the more un­pleas­ant as­pects of full-time em­ploy­ment.

If you are the type who likes to take a piece of lined yel­low le­gal pa­per and make two col­umns, one la­beled “Pros” and an­other un­der the head­ing “Cons,” this avi­a­tion-ca­reer anal­y­sis may be help­ful. I will warn you that the pros out­weigh the cons in this cal­cu­lus.

Oh, the Places You’ll See and the Meals You Will Eat

If you’ve never been to Til­lam­ook, Ore­gon, or Cur­rituck, North Carolina, this is the job for you. Iron­i­cally, both of these des­ti­na­tions are beau­ti­ful, and al­though the sup­port for jet air­craft is mod­est, it is ad­e­quate, and the peo­ple man­ning the FBOS in both lo­ca­tions are be­yond help­ful. Charlevoix, Michi­gan, is happy to loan you the crew car — a 1970s mon­ster with ques­tion­able floor­boards on the pas­sen­ger side.

The culi­nary at­trac­tions are pri­mary sat­is­fac­tions in this life. On overnights, elab­o­rate din­ners some­times come your way. Our com­pany pol­icy was 10 hours from last al­co­hol to duty — on time — so many evenings were great cel­e­bra­tions. Oth­ers were re­gret­tably dry. Bar­be­cue in Louisville, Ken­tucky; all-in­cluded re­sort din­ners in Cabo San Lu­cas, Mex­ico; and fresh salmon at that place down the hill by Paine Field near Seat­tle all make you want to take out your phone and take a photo to make your earth­bound friends and fam­ily jeal­ous.

Even if you’re only in these lo­ca­tions for an hour or two, there’s lots to ex­plore. You will get lob­ster

rolls in Bar Har­bor, Maine, and beef on weck in Buf­falo, New York. I can’t re­mem­ber one time when a crew car wasn’t avail­able.

There are other places you will see, and other restau­rants you will fre­quent so of­ten, the servers know what to pour for you be­fore you sit at the bar. You will see just a lit­tle bit more of Teter­boro, New Jer­sey, than you thought pos­si­ble. The Em­bassy Suites in nearby Se­cau­cus is loaded with crews and has sev­eral chain restau­rants nearby; they are chains, how­ever, and you’ll get tired of even the nicest of them.

You will fly into air­ports you’ve dreamed about. On your first trips, you will be sur­prised to find Kennedy re­mark­ably easy to ne­go­ti­ate and O’hare re­mark­ably dif­fi­cult. At­lanta ground con­trol will give you a chance to change fre­quen­cies. At LAX you will un­der­stand the im­por­tance of land­ing on Run­way 25L in­stead of Run­way 24R. The FBOS are on the south side, and an ex­tra 25 min­utes can get tacked onto a trip if you end up on the north side of the field. You get to see a lot of huge Air­bus A380s and Boe­ing 747s, though.

Oh, the Peo­ple You’ll Meet

You will fly the rich and fa­mous. You will soon learn that 90 per­cent of the wealthy are con­sid­er­ate and kind. And 80 per­cent will ac­tu­ally be very nice. As for the 10 per­cent, you learn to ac­cept their in­dif­fer­ence or dif­fi­dence as part of the job, and if you are wise you won’t take it per­son­ally. You will love the pas­sen­gers who ap­pre­ci­ate how lucky they are to be fly­ing in a pri­vate jet. When some­body asks you to take a picture of her group out­side of the air­plane, you will find it im­mensely sat­is­fy­ing. These pas­sen­gers are aware of the priv­i­lege.

The fa­mous pas­sen­gers are re­mark­ably ap­proach­able. A few just want to be left alone. Many are pleas­antly in­ter­ac­tive. This isn’t their first rodeo, but they have learned that peo­ple are in­ter­ested in them. It is con­sid­ered bad form to ask for a picture with the fa­mous one, but some­times one of the crew just can’t help it. Sur­pris­ingly, al­most all fa­mous peo­ple agree to the picture.

Oh, the Friends You Will Make

There’s noth­ing like an eight-day ro­ta­tion with an­other pi­lot to get to know some­body. If the chem­istry is right, you don’t want that ro­ta­tion to end. Hu­mor is a key crew in­gre­di­ent, and many pilots are hi­lar­i­ous. In our group, there were only about 60 pilots or so, so we got to know each other — ei­ther by fly­ing to­gether or by a crew din­ner at Teter­boro. Though I am no longer slug­ging it out in the 135 world and sev­eral of my com­pa­tri­ots have moved on to the big iron, I am still friends with many. They still make me laugh.

Oh, the Money You Will Make

The pay is not bad — start­ing Part 135 FOS typ­i­cally make more than those work­ing for re­gion­als. The top pay is dif­fer­ent. Most pri­vate/char­ter jet cap­tains can make six fig­ures. But if money is im­por­tant to you, you’d bet­ter ap­ply to Delta or South­west. The most se­nior folks there will make more than you ever will. On the other hand, you will get tips, and they won’t. It is not un­com­mon to have a hun­dred-dol­lar bill laid on you for a 30-minute easy flight. In 40 years as a sur­geon, no­body ever gave me a C-note.

OK, the Bad and the Ugly

The hours can be long, up to 14 hours of duty time. You can get up at 3 a.m. for a 4 a.m. show and two days later set the brakes at 4 a.m. Most out­fits are re­li­gious about rest re­quire­ments, but you can still get ex­hausted.

The ho­tels can be vari­able. Most crews end up at rea­son­able places, but if it is grad­u­a­tion week­end or the


Su­per Bowl, other pay­ing folks have made those prime reser­va­tions and you may be far out of town with no trans­porta­tion and noth­ing but a Denny’s for chow. These events don’t hap­pen of­ten, but when they do it is mem­o­rable.

Air­port standby. The the­ory is this: You’ve just landed in Van Nuys, Cal­i­for­nia, and you have six duty hours left. You’ve flown two legs al­ready — about 4½ hours. You’d like to get to the ho­tel, but the com­pany is hop­ing for a pop-up trip. These don’t oc­cur of­ten, but the man­age­ment rea­sons that they are pay­ing you and they don’t want to leave money on the table. I found this to be the most mad­den­ing thing about Part 135 fly­ing.

You’ve got to be flex­i­ble. Just when you think you are tak­ing an air­liner home from Texas to Tampa, Flor­ida, in the morn­ing, you are told you are fly­ing to Cabo, pick­ing up two and a dog, and fly­ing to Van Nuys. If pre­dictabil­ity is a big thing with you, a nice sched­ule with Delta is prob­a­bly a bet­ter fit.

All said, though, fly­ing pri­vate jets, burn­ing some­body else’s jet-a and get­ting paid for it is just about the coolest thing I can imag­ine. Es­pe­cially, if you keep it in per­spec­tive.

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