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Perspectives – It takes a top pilot to keep the flight department on the straight and level Part 1
At the heart of any flight operation, the chief pilot generally rules the roost over many vital aspects of successful business flying. Hiring and firing flight crew, ensuring full compliance, organising effective training and much more.

At the heart of any flight operation, the chief pilot generally rules the roost over many vital aspects of successful business flying. Hiring and firing flight crew, ensuring full compliance, organising effective training and much more.

But being a great pilot does not necessarily mark any individual out for promotion to chief pilot – the skills required are different and more wide ranging.

Every pilot is accountable for the safety of the passengers they carry and so will be used to accepting responsibility, paying close attention to detail and protocol. But the chief pilot has to take this one step further and be responsible for the whole team of pilots, their organisation and the regime under which they operate.

Says Executive Helicopters' Chris Shiel: "There are only a small percentage of pilots that suit the role of chief pilot. I think they need to have an interest in the position, be well versed in the regulations and be a line pilot, and preferably a TRE. They also need to be experienced in the area that the company operates and the type of operations it carries out. As with all these positions, they should have good commercial sense and get on with people.

"Providing specific training for a chief pilot is useful," he adds, "but you need to find a suitable candidate for the position first and work from there. The operations manager can be a big help to the chief pilot."

For the purposes of this Perspectives feature we are considering the chief pilot to be the person with overall responsibility for the flight crews in an organisation, and for some AOC operators this may come under the title of director of flight operations. But every organisation is different, as Mike Roberson of AirMed points out: "The chief pilot is not normally the post holder for flight operations. In our case, the chief pilot is the post holder for crew training."

Despite the increasing volume of paperwork and regulation, most of the chief pilots we talked to still find plenty of time to go flying. Some things will never change!

Meet the chief pilots

Steve Woodfine is newly-promoted chief pilot at the UK's Gama Aviation with responsibility for the management of Gama's pilots and all aspects of safety for the pilot teams. "I am responsible for the safety and efficiency of Gama's European and Russian operations – embracing 28 to 30 aircraft and some 105 pilots of varying experience," he says.

"I take a pivotal role in recruiting pilots, we are recruiting now having added three aircraft to the managed fleet. Typically, newly qualified commercial pilots start flying with our Scottish Air Ambulance contract aboard the King Air 200s, progressively moving on to be type rated on a business jet. I am also responsible for HR, new pilot contracts, disciplinary issues and will play an active role in any flight safety issue."

Pilots can be on up to 16 or 18 different types of contracts owing to the registry of the aircraft they are flying, Woodfine explains. "In Europe we have UK registration, Cayman Islands, Bermudian and Isle of Man (private flying only) registries, so it can be a complex business. I have a team of seven fleet managers reporting to me and we work closely together, meeting monthly to discuss issues."

Training at Gama Aviation meets and goes beyond statutory requirements, with the introduction of in-house systems.

"Training is thorough", says Woodfine, "with CAE and FlightSafety providing simulator time, plus ground school for initial and recurrent training. We always carry out proving flights before a new type is introduced to service and before an aircraft comes on to our AOC – just as the commercial airlines do. We are currently working on a new style of recurrent training closer to airline systems which we hope to roll out company-wide in January 2012."

Primarily Gama's business aircraft fleet is managed, but it operates an 80-strong aircraft fleet across Europe, the Middle East and the USA, flying types from 10 different business aircraft manufacturers (soon to be 11), so the company has plenty of familiarity with the characteristics of a variety of types. "Indeed, aircraft owners occasionally ask our advice on the best type for their mission. Our latest fleet additions in Europe are the CJ2, Global Express XRS and Falcon 2000," Woodfine adds.

He flies the Challenger 604, Learjet 45 and the BBJ for a private owner that Gama manages, averaging about 30 hours a month.

A five-year Gama employee, Woodfine joined as a pilot on the Learjet 45, before moving to the Challenger 604 and becoming fleet manager on the Challenger fleet. "I have 30 years' commercial flying experience and gained over 12,000 flight hours with various airlines including South African Airways, Virgin Express and, before joining Gama, at easyJet as captain on the Airbus A319/A320."

Woodfine says he loves the variety of his role. "Every day is different. I especially like helping young pilots develop, seeing the young guys develop their careers."

Gama supports the Fly2help charity for terminally ill children and provides an occasional pleasure flight. "It is tremendous to experience the pleasure these children derive from flying. It gives the whole crew massive pride," he says.

Trying to meet the high standards of the UK regulators is tiresome, believes Woodfine: "Only to find that the European playing field is not as level as it should be. Managing expectations can be frustrating. We enDEAvour to deliver a consistently reliable service all year round. Sometimes inclement weather or other unlikely scenarios develop that are completely out of our control (for example last year's ash cloud) which stop us from delivering.

"Private charter is all about managing time and for the client – putting them in control – but sometimes we are not immune."

Rotana Jet Aviation (RJA) is a new face in the UAE, receiving its AOC in April this year.

Offering on demand charter and aircraft management services, the company brings together a management team with a wealth of operating experience within the Middle East and worldwide.

RJA's director of operations is Brian Harrison-Barry. He told us that, unlike many regulatory bodies, in the UAE the General Civil Aviation Authority does not recognise the chief pilot as a nominated post holder position. "In common with many local operators," Harrison-Barry explains, "we choose to have the director of operations assume the traditional responsibilities of chief pilot. And we will likely add line managers as our fleet grows."

Currently operating a Gulfstream 450 with three pilots, RJA is poised to add a G550 and three more pilots. An A319 Business Jet is expected to join it in the second quarter 2012. "We look well positioned to add at least five aircraft a year over the first three years of operation," says Harrison-Barry.

Rotana Jet crews work a two months on/one month off schedule. "Initially, I was sceptical when it was suggested that such a rotation was more cost-effective than other non-rotation options. However, after conducting a careful study it was found (regionally) to be the case." Recurrent training and vacations are scheduled during crew time off.

Harrison-Barry feels that aviation has been particularly kind to him; starting his early flying career in the UK he soon determined that he was best suited to the challenges and rewards of being based overseas. "Apart from the Middle East and the Far East, I flew in North America for Fedex and the fractional operator Flight Options. I was with Flight Options during 9/11.

"That event prompted phenomenal growth as the company expanded from five aircraft to 220 aircraft and 50 pilots to 1,050 pilots, seemingly overnight."

Administration and advance planning form a large part of Harrison-Barry's responsibilities, alongside balancing the expectations of the corporate sales department with available resources such as crew and aircraft.

"I know from past experience, as more crew arrives, I will increasingly be called upon to 'put out fires.' The challenges of working and living in an alien environment can sometimes blow fairly insignificant issues, professional and personal, out of all proportion. An open door policy and (a little grey hair) can often defuse the situation and show a way forward."

And he adds ruefully: "Somewhere along the way, I seem to have been sucked in to the management role. However, I firmly regard myself as pilot and manager – not manager and pilot!"

The GCAA have adopted the European CAR-OPS (EASA) as standard and crews must also train to additional, regional standards mandated by the GCAA, therefore Harrison-Barry feels that regulatory oversight of crew training is considerable. "Although administratively cumbersome, this combination of requirements results in very highly trained crew," he says.

Looking at his position as a whole, Harrison-Barry ranks sitting at a desk attending the necessary administrative matters among the most tiresome aspects, and operating globally is always challenging – a sense of humour is essential. But on the positive side: "I have been fortunate to meet and sometimes chat with many world leaders and celebrities. I regard it as an honour that they entrust me with their safety.

"Certainly, the joy I experience when advancing the thrust levers of an aircraft loaded with passengers and fuel embarking on a long journey gives me a smile from ear to ear. I fly as often as I can, and I anticipate 600 hours a year."

He concludes: "The greatest enjoyment always remains – making my parents proud of what I do."

Chris Shiel made his way up to chief pilot by learning to fly and to instruct, and setting up his own training and then charter business Executive Helicopters.

As owner of a leading helicopter business in Ireland, he is post holder for training and operations manager. He employs three highly trained pilots, but Shiel ensures he takes the controls himself at least two or three times a week. "I enjoy the flying the most," he says.

And when he is not flying, his most important everyday tasks involve operations, crew, training and checking.

At Executive Helicopters there are always new challenges, such as introducing an AS355N late last year (see EBAN April, page 14) for the Irish electricity power line inspection contract.

"I started off training on an R22, gained my PPL and then went on to get my CPL and instructor rating. Then I started up a training school with an R22, developed that business, next moving into maintenance, sales and charter," says Shiel.

"We have operated a number of different types and I have been rated on R22, R44, EC120, EC130, AS350, AS355, B222 and S61N. I am a type rating examiner for the company and flight examiner for the Irish Aviation Authority. I hold a JAA ATPL with 7,000 hours and also FAA helicopter and fixed wing licences."

Shiel recalls his most unusual trip as when he flew a Bell 222 from Los Angeles to Ireland, routing through Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the Faro Islands and Scotland. "The conditions in north Canada during the end of February and early March are quite cold, -35 to -40°C, and the airport locations isolated," he explains.

Jonathan Gordon is chief pilot at Atlantic Bridge Aviation based at Lydd Airport, Kent, and takes on additional duties as accountable manager and training manager. Alongside flying as often as possible he sees regulatory compliance as his key responsibility. "And keeping an open atmosphere that encourages honest exchange is also important," he adds.

Atlantic Bridge employs five pilots and uses home grown rostering and flight time limitation control. Particular emphasis is placed on line training. Gordon says he particularly enjoys line training a really receptive and willing pilot. "Conversely, I dislike training pilots who are basically lazy and want to do only the minimum acceptable. We usually find these pilots are poor on paperwork and need constant checking."

Gordon's flying career begin at Oxford Air Training in 1975, followed by a spell with British Caledonian flying BAC-1-11 and DC-10 as first officer and captain on long and short haul routes. Later on, Gordon specialised in setting up airlines, operating Sky-Trek and LyddAir from Lydd airport for the last 14 years. He is rated for BAC-1-11, DC-10, F27, King Air series, multi-engine pistons and Hawker 400A with UK and FAA ATPLs and has flown 13,500 hours.

Looking back, Gordon remembers some tricky situations: "We used to operate Trislanders and sold the last two to the Philippines in 2009. I flew them both out. The Monsoon in July 2009 was particularly severe when I flew through it. The Trislander is built strong (I can testify to that) but lacks niceties such as radar and autopilot – and it lets the water in!

"I have also had to off-load drunken passengers and cope with passengers opening windows and blowing up life jackets in flight."

At global business aviation organisation Execujet, chief pilot Cedric Gitchenko is also post holder for ops and training, focusing on ensuring that everything runs safely and smoothly.

Gitchenko explains the company's set-up: "We employ about 200 pilots organised through lead pilots who are responsible for an allocated number of staff."

Pilots receive additional online training with CAE and the company's own training, including line oriented flight training at various locations around the world.

Gitchenko frequently has the opportunity to fly. "One of my recent bigger projects was flight training for the German Air Force. I have just returned from a trip to South America where we did some ground training, and various approaches and landings in many quite challenging locations such as Cusco, Peru, where the airport lies within a mountain range.

"I have done a lot of flying in my life, including medevac operations with Rega, all over the world, flying in aerobatic championships and flying vintage aircraft.

"On our last flight training trip to South America I took dog biscuits with me for the custom's sniffer dogs. You could say I "bribed" them, but of course we had nothing to hide on board!"

Gitchenko says that one of the most enjoyable aspects of his job is working with the crew. "Everyone is different but making us all operate as a team has been one of the most interesting aspects of my job so far."

Aviation Service srl, Milan, is a small operation where Gianpiero Allegri is chief pilot, among other senior duties. Everyday tasks include supplier management involving checking routes/terminal charges, maintenance operators and handling companies. Allegri is aided by two part-time pilots and each is responsible for their own training.

The company manages a Baron 58P and a Do328-100 and has recently taken into consideration a Cheyenne. Allegri says that he is finding less opportunity to fly than before.

His career began as an investor in small aircraft, moving into consultancy in financial solutions for general aviation companies. He is type rated for the Do328 and has programme rating for the Citation 500, is approved as an auditor and quality manager and an expert in business planning.

One of the inconveniences Allegri says he encounters as chief pilot is that some handling companies try to charge unfair fees, taking advantage of their position.

"I am the nominated post holder with the title of director of flight operations," says Richard Thomas at UK general aviation services provider Twinjet. "In addition to my post holder position, I fly the company Airbus A319 regularly and am officially 'half a pilot', the other half being the senior training captain (STC). I also deputise for the STC and ground operations manager."

Thomas considers his most important daily task to be the overall supervision of the operations department, including monitoring all flying activities. Liaison with the CAA, manual revisions and general day- to-day administration keep him well occupied. "Also, as DFO, I have been closely involved in the implementation of a safety management system into the company and this has taken up quite a chunk of my time," he says.

Twinjet employs nine pilots, four of whom fly the Challenger 604 and five the Airbus A319. Pilots are rostered but, as Thomas explains, the nature of the ad-hoc charter business often makes forward planning impossible as many trips are arranged at short notice. "Flexibility is the key, while paying close attention to FTLs."

Generally, Twinjet's pilots stick to mandatory training. "It is so extensive, but we do practice certain activities more often than required because of our type of operation, such as ETOPS, MNPS and circling approaches. We make full use of online training, in addition to the usual classroom work, to cover mandatory ground training.

"Furthermore, if any crew member felt they needed specific training to enhance their overall performance, the company would do all that it could to meet such requests."

Flying single seat aircraft in the military for many years was the starting point for his career, before Thomas left to join Airtours (My Travel) flying A320s for three years.

"For the next eight years I ran an organisation that operated a vvip Airbus A340 worldwide. Apart from flying the aircraft, I was responsible for every aspect of the operation: safety, operations, HR, administration, finance and maintenance activities. All-in-all a fascinating job in which I was constantly challenged."

He adds: "Nowadays, I fly the ACJ regularly, not only to keep up to speed on the aircraft but also to keep abreast of what is happening at the coal face."

As chief pilot, Thomas believes every day is different and eventually the unusual becomes the norm. "I would say that a chief pilot in the vip/corporate world views everything as 'business as usual'.

"I enjoy the variety that the job provides and the people with whom I work. I like the unpredictability the business brings which can be difficult domestically, but makes life interesting.

"The endless paperwork and the constant work on company manuals are my least favourite part." John Dundon is head of flight operations, head of training and and head of flight safety at Diamond Executive Aviation, headquartered in North Yorkshire, UK, with a fleet of Diamond DA42 Twin Star aircraft.

He maintains a close overview of day-to-day tasking, operational constraints and ensures safe execution of those tasks by nominated crews.

Three active captains, two co-pilots and a number of pilots in the training programme make up the crew roster. Captains are tasked by mutual agreement between themselves and ground operations, while the co-pilots, who are only used on flight calibration missions and repositioning flights, generally act as ground operations support when not flying.

Dundon believes that single pilot IFR is possibly the most demanding of commercial flying disciplines, saying "It seems the gaining of a commercial licence and instrument rating are a long way short of the genuine piloting abilities we need for our operation."

Dundon first acted as pilot in command of an Air Cadet glider at the age of 16 some 39 years ago. Having joined the Royal Navy as an aircraft technician he was promoted into flying duties in 1981. "I flew Lynx helicopters for eight years and spent the final eight years of my commission on exchange with the Royal Air Force, flying Bulldog and eventually T67 Firefly fixed wings," he explains.

"I completed my service life as an instructor with Elementary Flying Training Standards Squadron in 1997. I then operated Bagby Airfield for almost 10 years prior to joining Diamond Executive Aviation." And now? "I fly as often as I can, I'm often close to my FTL limits. We all have to do our bit in a small company."

As for job satisfaction, Dundon enjoys the successful completion of a difficult calibration task ahead of schedule, despite any obstacles in the way. On the downside, he dislikes chasing issues that need addressing which may seem obvious but sometimes drift over the heads of crews, as well as "finger marks on the G1000 glass cockpit and crews not leaving aircraft as they would like to find it!" he says.

Dimitris Kehayas explains that GainJet Aviation SA does not have a chief pilot position, instead he undertakes relevant duties as nominated post holder for flight operations manager.

A private charter operator and management company with headquarters in Athens, the most recent addition to the fleet was a Global Express.

Kehayas' duties are typically wide-ranging. "I am involved in the day-by-day running of our operations control centre where we monitor the aircraft and DEAl with any problems such as bad weather, rerouting, airport capability, crew availability and competence.

"I ensure the legality of our operation in all its aspects, including overseeing maintenance and compliance with EASA standards and regulations and HCAA requirements."

Supervising the flight standards division and the cabin crew is part of his daily routine, as is the hiring process and validation of pilot training.

"Bringing our company to the highest level of safety is the most important achievement I am pursuing," Kehayas adds.

GainJet Aviation has around 35 pilots on its roster, with a few freelancers used mainly for training purposes. Pilots are organised mainly by aircraft and then by fleet, requiring the cooperation of the training manager and crewing department.

Piloting only for line en route evaluation approximately twice a year for each aircraft type and sometimes for training evaluation, Kehayas does not have much opportunity to fly.

With around 18,000 hours as captain on YS11A, B707, B727, B747, A300, A310, A340 types, Kehayas' career has also encompassed roles such as flight ops control director, safety manager, a ceo in Macedonia and HCAA flight operations inspector. He has a degree in airline operations management and is an accident investigator.

When flights are running late or an ad-hoc request comes up, Kehayas says that finding a solution can be very complicated. "This can be especially difficult when disruptions occur that are out of our control, such as bad weather causing aircraft to be grounded. An alternative solution is always a challenge."

Kemal Suler is general manager of Istanbul-based Kaan Air, operating a fleet of helicopters flown by three pilots to provide executive air transport and air tours.

Suler does get involved in the selection of aircraft for the company, with Agusta helicopters being the most recent additions.

"I fly often myself," he says before concluding: "flying makes me feel good." Portugal-based Aero VIP is a transport company operating two Dornier 228s, one Piper Chieftain and one Shorts 360 with four permanent crew at its service. Being a small company means that chief pilot António Alberto Fernandes Correia can personally hire the pilots he feels are the best for the job.

Correia says that the company aircraft were chosen specifically for the kind of operations that are the vocation of the company. "Right now I am looking at the Dornier "New Generation" to renovate our fleet," adds Correia. "Negotiations are at an early stage but with a steady pace."

Presently, Aero VIP's core business is regular flights between Lisbon Vila Real and Bragança, but the company also operates charter flights.

Correia says: "As a small company I fly often, not only to keep proficient but also to be close to the crew, it's a hands-on philosophy. Being small helps me to know everybody in the company, but has its disadvantages because I have a lot of administrative work, that robs me of the time to do what all pilots love to do best – fly."

A love of aircraft for Correia grew from living near an airfield. "I often helped at the Monte Real Count airfield where I mingled with lots of famous Portuguese pilots. Fuelled by these experiences, I enrolled in the Portuguese Air Force in 1973, and I earned my wings in 1974. I have flown many types of military and civilian aircraft."

From 1975 to 1986, he was a pilot instructor and was then transferred to 503 Squadron during which period he performed many missions from sea search and rescue to medevac. "In one of the medevac missions in which I was captain, a baby was born and named after the aircraft in which he was born!"

Following a period at the Portuguese Air Force High Command as a flight training coordinator he was requisitioned in 1997 to the Portuguese Ministry of Defense where one of his duties involved coordinating the Open Skies mission.

"In 1999, I was contracted by civilian company Aerocondor Transportes Aereos where I was chief pilot until its demise in 2007, then I was chief instructor at Leavia School of Aviation. Later I was invited to launch a regional flight between Lisbon Vila Real and Bragança with Aero VIP."

Among many interesting episodes as a pilot, the strangest situation Correia has had to DEAl with was at Aerocondor Transportes Aereos. "I had to replace a pilot because the commander refused to fly with the co-pilot assigned to its crew, due to an incompatibility of personalities."

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