This month our Perspectives feature reveals the innermost thoughts of one of business aviation's rarest breeds: the owner/flyer. Crowded airspace, complex aircraft systems and tight flight ops legislation all conspire to ensure that most corporate aircraft are flown by professional crews, and rightly so, while the majority of other business travellers will prefer to leave the flying to charter or fractional operators.
However, there will always be those business people for whom the love of flying means that they are determined to find a way to fly themselves. Historically a secretive group of individuals, a few have kindly agreed to share their thoughts with us in the following article.
Some are piloting their own business's aircraft in pursuit of industrial aims unconnected with aviation, others combine work within business aviation itself with a flying role, while many enjoy flying in a purely leisurely capacity. Whichever course they follow, their stories provide an excellent insight into one important sector of the business aviation community.
HansenGroup A/S has bases in Denmark and the UK where it designs, manufactures and installs aluminium facades, curtain walling, bolted structural glazing, commercial window and door systems.
"We do building material components, mainly high rise glass facades," explains Hans Kolby Hansen. "When flying we usually depart at 07.00-08.00, spending one or two hours in the air. Business carries on till late afternoon and then we return or go on to our next destination. I always captain the outbound flight and our pilot the return flights, as I'll have had a busy day."
HansenGroup operates a King Air F90 but is expecting delivery of a new Premier 1A this month. The F90 was chosen because of its short trip capability and speed. The Premier was chosen mainly as an upgrade and to serve 500+nm missions.
The company fly these aircraft for business purposes only but Hansen has a Mooney Ovation that he flies for pleasure plus a vintage Miles Mercury. He says: "Our business would not be where it is today without an aircraft. We have 18 business units in six countries. All units are within 30 minutes from an airport, the closest being just five minutes away."
Hansen was excited by the prospect of upgrading to the Premier and also enjoyed undergoing type rating at FlightSafety Wichita, and he adds: "The planning and flying aspects are most rewarding, but I found the Jeppesen updates most boring, luckily these have now been taken over by the iPad.
"And tomorrow I co-pilot the Premier to the Dubai Airshow. That, I am looking forward to."
Frank Kusserow, director FBO services for Jet Aviation's eight FBOs in EMEA & Asia, with four located in Europe, frequently flies his privately-owned and operated Mooney single-handedly to get around. "I do fly alone most of the time," he says, "but adhere strictly to the limits I set myself for the use of this aircraft."
Kusserow chose the Mooney as he feels it is one of the most advanced single engine aircraft. "It provides greater speed and lower trip cost than any other single engine airplane I know. I can fly eight hours non-stop due to fitted long-range tanks, and it climbs at the usual take-off mass at more than 1,000 feet a minute, well beyond FL100, making the normal ascent a matter of about 10 minutes if required."
From his office located in Dusseldorf, Germany, Kusserow often uses his aircraft to attend meetings at company headquarters in Zurich, the group's largest MRO base in Basel or to prepare for the Olympic Games at Jet Aviation's FBO/MRO facility at London Biggin Hill airport. "The use of the private aircraft provides me with much greater flexibility and often with better economy than flying scheduled airlines, although there are some limitations of the single engine and no pressurisation."
In fact he is looking forward to stepping up to an aircraft that he can enjoy all year round in the future.
Kusserow finds that working for a major company dedicated to business aviation eases his travel. The company's FBOs provide him with all the basic requirements for his trips to be flown according to regulations. He explains: "I send out my schedule and the required information for customs and immigration directly from our FBO APP. All my basic information is stored in this and I just fill out my trip information.
"I usually do my flightplans myself, but if there are short notice changes and I am tied up in meetings, I have used our dispatch service once in a while — there is no greater benefit of having access to experienced staff, and sometimes I am jealously looking at our managed aircraft clients and crews who enjoy this service and flexibility all the time."
Kusserow says he flies for business and pleasure. "It certainly helps with business. In business aviation you need to fully adjust to your clients needs because they use the benefit of their business jets for the very same reason than I use my Mooney – to be more flexible and quicker than others, that is the advantage." At the end of the day, Kusserow says: "I enjoy the feel of satisfaction when switching off the engine, after coming from "on top" and finally being welcomed with a smile."
One incident Kusserow recounts took place in an aircraft other than his Mooney. "Once I had to conduct a safety landing with another aircraft at a small GA airport in central Europe in summer due to smoke in the cockpit. After shutting down the engine and stepping out of the aircraft, airport emergency staff rushed to our plane in a 1950s fire truck, "geared" in T-shirts, shorts, sandals and fire-hats.
"The contrast with the pressure of the critical situation beforehand certainly showed in the bright smile on our faces when these "firemen" jumped out of their truck. Luckily there was no fire or serious damage to the plane, otherwise we would have been afraid that they could hurt themselves – and we were able to keep our smiles through the rest of the day."
Thomas Byron has been a professional pilot for the past 25 years and over that time owned various aircraft to fly for pleasure. "I have flown aircraft from the C152 to the B747-400 and now I have a PC-12 that I use for my business Universal Aircraft Registry based in Jersey Channel Islands," he explains.
"We are an offshore aircraft management and leasing company, so I need to meet clients all over Europe. I usually fly between 30 and 40 hours a month, so I definitely get enough flying in each year. I usually fly alone, but have at times taken on people who have their PPL licence and want to gain time on a more complex aircraft in the Euro control structure."
As Byron explains, the PC-12 is a single engine turbine aircraft and pressurised so it can fly above most weather, has a fairly long range, is comfortable and economical on fuel. "I chose it because of cost and performance. The price is high, but the performance and the economics of a low fuel burn make it pay for itself after five years."
He adds: "I mainly fly for business; for pleasure I try to get into a helicopter or glider which is real flying. When I do it for pure pleasure I don't want to have to hit a deadline to be somewhere. That's why I enjoy glider flying so much – in the air with no noise or distractions and it's real flying!"
Byron's most memorable experiences occurred while flying in the airlines and he has numerous stories he could tell if space allowed, but overall he feels that flying the Jumbo Jet was his most exciting time. "Being the big boy in the air and on the ground is something and it's the best aircraft I have ever flown, and probably the easiest."
A typical day for Byron consists mainly of being in the office but when flying for business, planning takes place the night before with weather, permits, landing clearances and over flights. Once at the airport he carries out the typical pre-flight routine and ensures all paperwork is in place.
"Then it's just get in, start up and enjoy the trip," he says. "But if weather is an issue then it becomes work. The workload to fly, especially when alone, is plenty and it also depends on the time – whether day or night. I try to avoid terrible weather, but if business calls then I go, no matter what."
Kurt Bjerneby has been an aircraft owner/pilot for more than 25 years and has seen first-hand the advantages of using business aircraft to save time and increase efficiency in his job as a sales agent of electrical and electronic products on the Scandinavian market. "This is especially true with airport ground support equipment customers who I usually meet after having parked at the ramp close to their office," he explains. "My company Scanvac Control AB is also active in telecoms as part owner of a company in Germany where I bring customers to meet directly with the manufacturer."
Bjerneby's first business aircraft was a Piper Aztec that was replaced by a Cessna 414 with pressurised cabin and better passenger comfort. The next step was to a Piper Cheyenne II, which he often flew for seven years to France, Germany and UK until the company bought its first jet, a Cessna Citation in 1996.
"We also had our aircraft operated commercially for complementary use since the mid-80s so I trained as a professional pilot and achieved an ATPL licence required for flying the Citations as a captain; an exciting and worthwhile experience," Bjerneby believes.
Since 2005 Bjerneby has flown a well-equipped Piper Seneca IV, which meets his day-to-day need to visit customers all over Sweden, and sometimes to manufacturers in Denmark, Germany and France. For longer distance flights to central Europe, Bjerneby feels that scheduled airlines are now offering prices far below his own aircraft costs, so it is a viable alternative for international travel.
"I normally use our company aircraft for trips where travelling by car exceeds two hours, depending on weather and airport conditions. I reduce my business flying in winter, mainly for travel comfort, but flying is often a safer way of travelling when the roads are icy. I would be glad to fly more, but office duties sometimes limit it."
The Seneca may be flown single pilot, Bjerneby points out, as it does not have the same requirements as faster and more complex aircraft. With the Citations, 90 per cent of flights are flown two pilot crew with strict crew coordination. "The Seneca I am flying was bought new in 1996 and is equipped for IFR flying in all weathers. It was hangared alongside our previous aircraft when we bought it and it became an attractive choice when I heard that it was for sale," he explains. "The Seneca has been a proven workhorse since the 70s so I felt comfortable when we made the deal."
Commercial flying with planning and flying in all kind of weather conditions keep Bjerneby's job interesting. "I flew several medical flights with organs for surgery and also with the patient as a passenger. The flights were cleared as HOSP flights by ACC, often life-saving flights with direct routings and preferences."
Bjerneby's working day usually starts in his office following up current business. Most contact with customers are via email and telephone but at least once a week something comes up that requires a meeting. "That's when aviation is a part of the job and the life," he says.
As a businessman Bjerneby has to satisfy his customers as well as the manufacturer, so flexibility and efficient use of time is key. He points out: "My aircraft is my time machine which makes it possible to see customers within a few hours, an important argument in creating confidence. So I consider that all my business flights have contributed to business and the satisfaction of all parties involved. That's what motivates my business flying after many years of experience."
Patrice Barrault of French company Sunrise Aviation flies between 20 and 30 hours a year, an amount that he feels is somewhat insufficient, saying: "I would like to fly more but I have to restrain myself because of the ridiculous cost of Avgas, at this moment $10.45 a gallon!"
Barrault flies a Baron 55 about which he enthuses: "I find it great since I can fly IFR very safely and can carry four or five people at 175kts. It is a comfortable aircraft and I just enjoy flying it. I only fly for pleasure; flying is too serious a thing to mix pleasure and business. The risk is to practise both of them badly. I love flying IFR, I think it is the safest and most pleasant way of flying."
Recalling his previous experiences Barrault says: "I have had many very exciting ones but maybe the most exciting was float flying in Canada. Actually, I am working on building a new shared ownership company in Europe and spend a lot of time working on it."
A present from his wife of a trial lesson in a PA28 Warrior at Carlisle airport some ten years ago inspired Sohrab Padidar to complete his PPL. After he became involved with the flight school he bought a Piper Archer for his personal enjoyment, while also becoming involved in a business capacity by purchasing a few training aircraft that were leased to the flight school.
"Over time I became interested in pursuing a business in aviation while still being able to fly myself," Padidar says.
"About this time I had decided to upgrade the Archer to a Piper Saratoga as the Archer was not big enough to carry my family and their luggage to our house in France. Eventually, with the rising costs of Avgas, it became clear that moving to a turbine aircraft would be financially beneficial and the right aircraft would also help me to set up a viable business."
After researching many different aircraft types, he says that the Pilatus PC-12 stood out as the most cost-effective, safe and versatile aircraft available in the small business aircraft category. A good safety record was one of the deciding factors, along with the ability to fly into short and unimproved aerodromes. "No other aircraft capable of this can also carry a 3,500lb payload and give ease of access through its large cargo door," he adds.
As an instrument rating is a prerequisite to the PC-12 type rating, the next logical step was to acquire a commercial licence, and Padidar completed his CPL/IR at Oxford and Bournemouth. He says: "Going back to the classroom to study intensively proved to be a tough challenge at the age of 46, but nothing worth having in life is easy."
During type rating, Padidar came across a 2006 Pilatus PC-12/47 with six executive and two standard seats and decided it was the one for him. He found it enjoyable to fly and perfectly suited to providing an affordable, luxury aircraft for people who would benefit through the time saving and efficiency.
"My daughter had decided to follow my footsteps into aviation, and had recently completed her PPL. She completed her CPL/IR and we fly our family and friends whenever the opportunity arises," he explains.
Together, they set up the company Sky Elite to provide leasing, management and sales with a main goal of providing the benefits of owning your own aircraft but "with none of the hassle," he says. "We developed a pioneering concept of dry leasing by the hour, doing away with the large initial financial outlay associated with fractional ownership. Instead, we have a transparent 'pay as you go' hourly rate, enabling our clients to enjoy quick and convenient access to our aircraft."
Nowadays, Padidar says he does not get to fly as often as he would like, due to his other business commitments. "My daughter takes care of the day-to-day running of the company, and we fly together when the aircraft is not being used by one of our clients."
Summing up, Padidar feels that his aircraft has enhanced his business career through its reliability and efficiency, while also allowing him to fly alone or with his daughter. "Highlights of being an owner/pilot have been flying eight family members to Bournemouth for a celebration, and flying through the Swiss Alps en route to the Pilatus factory near Lucerne. Using the aircraft as a tool for growing my aviation business is the main reason for owning the aircraft, but it is nice to be able to use it for my own pleasure."
"On average I fly about four to five times a month which usually equates to around 10 hours. I would definitely like to fly more," explains Lars Thrane of satellite communications equipment manufacturer Thrane & Thrane. "Nowadays, most of my flying is for business so work requirements determine how often I fly."
Thrane usually takes his Beechcraft King Air 200 GT up alone, but sometimes has a co-pilot with him. "When I decided to fly for business, I wanted a twin-engine pressurised aircraft so I could fly in all types of weather. For flying in Europe, a turboprop is almost as fast as similar jets and is very economical to fly."
With his role in the business focused on strategic planning and product development, Thrane's day-to-day working life is very much office-based. But as a global business, he is often required to travel to meetings all over Europe, which is where the aircraft and the satcoms system on-board becomes extremely useful.
With a passion for flying and over 25 years' experience, Thrane is very happy he can do it as part of his business. As a manufacturer of satellite communications equipment for aircraft, the company is also able to use his aircraft as a test-bed, as was the case for the Aviator 200 SwiftBroadband system. "I really appreciate having this system on-board as it enables internet connectivity on iPad, smartphones or any other wireless device."
Thrane has had some amazing experiences flying over Northern Canada and Greenland, saying: "For me, it's an area of extreme natural beauty and I love flying among the clouds and taking in the scenery. I love mountain flying and it's always a pleasure flying in the Swiss Alps."
Thrane's passion for flying is long-held. "It is is something I've always wanted to do and even as a young boy I would look into the sky and see the smaller aircraft and wish that I could be up there. For me, the most exciting aspect of flying is departures and landings, as I'm sure many pilots would agree."
As chief executive of London Executive Aviation (LEA), Patrick Margetson-Rushmore has been a high-profile figure in European business aviation since the company was founded in 1996, regularly commenting in the media and speaking at industry events.
In fact Margetson-Rushmore has been a pilot since 1990, flying not on company business but for his own pleasure. He competed regularly in aerobatics competitions in the 1990s and still owns and flies a Pitts S-2A for fun. He remains involved in competitive aerobatics as contest director at the annual British Aerobatic Association Compton Abbas event.
Until 2008, Margetson-Rushmore also owned a twin-engine Piper PA-31 Chieftain and, although he no longer owns that particular aircraft, he still enjoys flying single-engine aircraft from aero clubs.
Looking over his flying experiences, Margetson-Rushmore naturally recalls the excitement of aerobatics but also highlights the thrill of skiing trips in the Chieftain to Courchevel in France. "Courchevel Airport is literally on the side of a mountain," he says, "with a runway only 525m long and a gradient of 18.5˚. Both ends of the runway are 'interesting', to say the least. As you land, you approach a solid wall in the mountain and, as you take off, the runway ends in a sheer drop! Flying into Courchevel is simply one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences for any pilot."
Margetson-Rushmore loves flying for many reasons, not least "the camaraderie among pilots, from all walks of life, and the challenge of engaging the brain to achieve something most people never do. Another great pleasure for me is seeing the joy non-pilots feel when you take them for rolls and loops in the S-2A."
He also relishes the relaxation that flying brings. "The sense of freedom, even in such a highly-regulated industry. Being able to potter over to France for lunch is a wonderful feeling."
And the downside of being a pilot based around London? "The English weather, of course!"
Dr Keith Hendry is managing director and founder of APEM Remote Sensing, a leading UK aquatic science consultancy firm that began life 25 years ago as a spin-out company from Manchester University. It specialises in aquatic science issues relating to the water and energy industries; anything from surveying fish in rivers to analysing water samples in the laboratory.
The company now has offices and laboratories in Manchester, Chester, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Oxford and Dorset, all located near an airport and with good reason, as Hendry explains.
"The story began in the early 1990s when we developed a river walkover survey method of assessing fish habitats, assessing impacts of water industry-related activities and covering thousands of kilometres of the UK's rivers.
"By 2002 we began to realise that aerial photography might offer a much better and potentially cheaper way of gathering these data. Camera technology and computer processing power were making great strides and we decided to invest in some R&D to establish the feasibility of doing river habitat surveys from the air. Hiring established aerial photography companies appeared to be the most obvious way forward."
Initially, results were quite encouraging but dogged with practical logistical problems says Hendry. For example, for the very specialised nature of the work not only good aerial photography conditions (ie a bright cloudless sky) were required, but also low river levels to see the river bed. These rather restrictive requirements meant that the number of days a year available were few and far between, no more than 40 or 50 a year. "Therefore when conditions were appropriate we needed to be up in the air snapping away. The problem was – so did everyone else with an aerial photography requirement. "As the new kids on the block we tended to be last in line, with established clients getting first bite of the cherry. So after umpteen failed and frustrating attempts we decided to do what we do in every other part of our business, take control of the process from start to finish. That meant employing our first full-time professional pilot and buying our first aircraft."
Things have moved on a lot since then, and APEM now has four survey aircraft; a Brittan Norman Islander, a Vulcanair P68 Observer 2, a Cessna 172 SP G1000 and the newest recruit fresh from the factory, a Vulcanair P68C. Hendry explains: "All of our aircraft are purpose survey designed or modified specifically for the type of work we undertake. We tend to invest in new or factory refurbished aircraft for reliability and, in our view, safety. During our early days chartering we had sufficient experience of 1970s flying buckets to put us off for life!"
While river habitat surveys are still an important part of APEM's business, the off-shore wind and tidal energy industry, specifically sea bird and mammal surveys, have become increasingly important. "We undertake all kinds of biological surveillance monitoring," says Hendry, "doing much of what we used to do on foot, from the air. Monitoring outfalls in rivers and coastal areas is another growth area for us, as well as pipeline and asset surveys.
However, what sets us apart from others in the field is that we control the whole process from start to finish, from designing the survey, flying and gathering the data, to analysing the results, reporting them, and even acting as expert witness in court or public inquiry to defend our conclusions." However, the journey has not necessarily been a smooth one and Hendry says that, as a company with no previous direct involvement with the aviation world, APEM were vulnerable to being "taken advantage of" by some of the less scrupulous operators in the aviation world.
"But despite some very negative, and costly, experiences, we were convinced that a greater involvement and understanding of the aviation world was the way to overcome the barriers we were continually encountering. The best way of doing that was to learn to fly. So three years ago I went back to school to gain my PPL.
"I was fortunate to have a commercial instructor who not only taught me how to fly but also a hell of a lot about aviation. I now have around 250 hours and have just obtained my IMC rating."
Hendry endeavours to fly at least once a week, visiting one of six labs around the country. "It's a great way to get around, flying into Edinburgh to visit the lab at Penicuik, or Bournemouth for the Dorset lab.
"I'm also a frequent visitor to Kidlington, the Oxford lab being situated just across a few fields and our Cardiff office is only 20 minutes from the airport. Staff can easily be ferried in from other offices for meetings at our Chester offices at Hawarden airport."
And to overcome any issues with inclement weather, Hendry says that fair and foul weather routes to each office have been chosen so they can be reached on all but the worst days.
"I tend to fly with either one of our professional pilots or more recently with a part-time colleague, recently retired from a career in air traffic. Not only is he an absolute mine of aviation knowledge relating to anything RT related, but a highly experienced pilot/instructor/ examiner in his own right so I'm extremely fortunate. Most of the time, when it's not on survey duty, I fly the Cessna 172. It's equipped with a Garmin 1000; although I found it slightly confusing and even intimidating at first, I think it is the most fantastic piece of kit and a real asset for the type of routine flying I do between specific sites across the country."
Next up for Hendry are plans to take his twin rating in the near future. "The Vulcanairs both have the Sagem glass cockpit, so not too dissimilar to the G1000 I'm used to. Who knows, one day I might even be allowed to fly the Islander!"
A typical flying day for Hendry might mean arrival at Hawarden for 9.00, a couple of meetings, then jumping in to the Cessna at 10.30 outbound for Oxford, Kidlington. "After a beautiful one hour 10 minute flight and five minute taxi ride, I'll be sitting in our Begbroke office having a cup of coffee with a new member of our R&D team," Hendry says. After a working lunch, there might be more meetings before heading back to the airport, departing to be back in the office in Chester after an ILS approach in the dark into Hawarden. This will be followed by another meeting with the chief pilot: "A reprimand actually, about inadequately completed paperwork – the bane of my flying life – and home by 6.30. Now you couldn't do that by road!"