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PERSPECTIVES – Business aviation through the eyes of the chief pilot: They hire, fire, plan and fly yet seeing pilots progress is chiefs' greatest joy
The chief pilot is at the core of any business aviation flight operation, liaising with crew, customers and regulatory authorities to ensure best practice.
Read this story in our March 2014 printed issue.

The chief pilot is at the core of any business aviation flight operation, liaising with crew, customers and regulatory authorities to ensure best practice. Though a good proportion of their time is spent in the office rostering and ensuring conformance to regulations, many of the respondents EBAN spoke to have still not lost the bug for flying, seizing every opportunity to take to the skies.

The chiefs we spoke to have seen it all in their vast pool of experience, including flying in total darkness in the Arctic circle, going on marijuana raids in the mountains of South Africa, and putting out fires, literally and metaphorically. They have flown in their native air force, for commercial airlines, and for companies that they founded from scratch. Some now manage teams of 50 pilots or more, and take on an enormous responsibility as they manage every single operation in as smooth and as safe a manner as possible. Such is the chief pilot's passion for aviation, they take enormous pride in sharing their experience through teaching younger pilots, and in sharing their fascinating anecdotes with a willing listener. Here are just a few of their stories.

Chief pilot at Phoenix Aviation in Nairobi, Kenya, Alessio Gori began his flying career in 1996, working for Kenyan operators and flying an amazing variety of types including the Twin Otter, Fokker F27/28, Cessna Caravan, Dash 7, Beech 1900, Boeing 737-200/300 and DC-9/MD-80. He joined Phoenix Aviation as MD-83 fleet captain in 2010, and was placed in charge of putting together the operating procedures for the aircraft, training pilots and helping phase the type into service. “It was an exciting challenge as the type and class of aircraft was new to the company,” he says. “We operated the MD-83 for just under two years on charter flights and United Nations contracts before phasing it out in early 2013.”

The board at Phoenix then appointed Gori in a dual role as director of flight operations and chief pilot, and trained him on the Citation Bravo and King Air 350 which he flies today. He is tasked with the day-to-day running of the flight operations department, with all pilots, flight attendants and operations staff reporting directly to him. Gori then reports to the company chief commercial officer: “I roster the pilots for flights on a daily basis, organise and monitor all required training activities for flight operations staff – I am the company in-house crew resource management (CRM) facilitator and regularly conduct training courses on the subject – and check on the general discipline, morale and welfare of all staff in my department.

“I also keep an eye on our fleet of aircraft, ensuring that everything from their documentation to their cabin interiors are kept in top shape.”

He says the role he currently fulfils as a chief pilot is much the same as it was when he first held the post for an airline in 1996. He is passionate about his responsibilities: “I enjoy playing a part in making each day a success for the company, in terms of safe, efficient flight operations. I also take personal pride in the immaculate state of our fleet of aircraft as the procedures that I have helped design ensure that they are flown well and properly looked after.

“The company's board is very supportive of me, as is the coo, and this makes my work pleasant and straightforward.”

Gori is keen to emphasise that his team of pilots are the icing on the cake in his job satisfaction: “We are blessed with some exceptionally talented, hard-working and resourceful pilots whose professionalism and abilities in often challenging operations have helped make Phoenix a success. I am very proud to work with them.” It is nonetheless tricky for him to manage his passion for flying at the same time as keeping his team happy. “Our operations can be quite demanding at times,” he remarks. “Luckily, our pilots are generally pretty flexible and some changes I introduced with the daily managing of the pilot roster have eased this task considerably.

“I sometimes go on trips that can take me away from the office for three to four days. Unlike a scheduled airline, where the chief pilot can perhaps slot himself onto specific flights to ensure he is able to balance his office and flight duties, I am often on standby along with the line pilots and it is not unheard of for me to be sent on an air ambulance trip to Europe on a day I've planned on spending in the office. Fortunately I can, and often do, carry my work with me!”

Many of the company's operations manuals have been written from scratch by Gori himself. Even as chief pilot he follows a line pilot's roster along with all the other pilots, including night standby duties. “Many outside observers express surprise that, in many respects, I am the same as a line pilot. This also applies to our coo who is a qualified and current line pilot on the Bravo and King Air.”

Gori feels that, over time, shifts in technology have meant that the role of pilots has evolved from flying aircraft to managing them. This has led to an increased awareness of the need for effective and appropriate training, comprehensive standard operating procedures (SOPs) and careful screening of potential candidates. He says that when he started, CRM was not part of his initial training: “I did my first CRM course in 2001, but now it's a major element of our initial and recurrent training on all fleets, and part of this is because pilots need to be conscious of the fact that the advancements in aircraft technology, especially where the managing of automation is concerned, requires them to be able to work as a team more effectively.”

He says the highlight of his career has been flying the very first, and so far only, Phoenix Aviation aircraft to land at London's Heathrow airport – a Bravo on an air ambulance mission.

Nicolas Tamame Amigues of Helibravo Aviacion in Spain took on his current role when his father's ill health forced him to reconsider his career path: “I started as an operations assistant at the company my father founded, and learned how to manage an ops department thanks to a wonderful Portuguese pilot, Mr Magalhaes, who pushed me to perform as I should.” Amigues had conducted aerial works for other companies in Spain prior to this as a co-pilot with mainly Polish captains. When Helibravo was reshuffled he took on the responsibilities of both chief pilot and operations director. That was six years ago. “I am still learning every day and trying to do my best,” he comments.

“I make sure that I am constantly in touch with the rest of the pilots, and a key aspect of my role is to connect the ops director with the rest of the pilots. I support the pilots in every way I can and represent them in many forms. I am also the first to defend them if required.”

Amigues says that the chief pilot position is ideal for those who thrive off of human relations, and that satisfaction often comes when a solution is found to a problem. “The job is appreciated, because normally people only call you when they have a problem.

“The hardest part, however, is being able to see both sides. You have to be a very reasonable and patient person, capable of discerning the best path for everyone.”

The outside observer may consider the chief pilot position an exceptionally glamorous role, yet Amigues cites numerous occasions where his duties have been just the opposite. “We are not only besuited people going to important meetings or flying those wonderful machines when needed. I think the hidden part of the work is something that people do not know about. The huge amount of paperwork, the work and relations with clients and authorities, the strange needs you are likely to find in your way, the absolute availability for the company.

“I'm not saying it's a horrible part, just that the common image of the pilot is a partial image. There is a not-so-beautiful part. But if you love what you do, this job is the best in the world.”

Last year Helibravo was able to operate five helicopters simultaneously on a firefighting mission, and it is this which makes Amigues most proud. “We really worked as a team in all departments, and the result was impressive. However, I'm still very young and expect to create many more memories and anecdotes in the coming years.”

Nuno Costa was appointed to the position of chief pilot at Valair in Portugal in 2008. Much of his time is devoted to the correct implementation of the company's AOC. He is also accountable for the training of all crew and advises the flight operations manager and the ceo as part of his duties as crew training manager. “I am responsible for a great team and have a good relationship with all pilots and personnel,” he says. “These relationships are crucial – it means that our staff remain flying with us for a long time on vip charter.” As far as piloting aircraft is concerned, Costa says that nowadays there is less workload in the cockpit, because new technology has meant that navigation is as simple as pressing a button, as opposed to the more long-winded methods of previous avionics. This in turn demands increased accuracy from the modern pilot in all precision and non-precision approaches. “We have to be safer in flight and there is increased emphasis on instrument reading and engine performance.” He still relishes the opportunity to fly to Africa when he is able to spare the time.

One pilot who gets to spend far more of his time flying in Africa is Andre Coetzee, who is post holder for Henley Air in Rand, South Africa. When it came to choosing a chief pilot for the company he started in 1998, the decision was simple. “I had to employ someone to the position immediately and the obvious choice was myself.” Coetzee had worked as a line pilot, flight instructor and maintenance engineer at a large general aviation company in South Africa before founding his business. He continues to be responsible for crew and operational discipline: “I must set a clear personal example, ensuring compliance with company SOPs and Civil Aviation Authority regulations, cultivating a just safety culture. “However, my prime consideration is the management of egos: the egos of pilots and helicopter owners, and my own.”

He says he spends much of his time tending to 'soft skills' rather than 'stick and throttle' aspects, that is to say managing his staff rather than aircraft. He does, however, still enjoy taking to the skies and flying helicopters of various types, despite concerns about the influence of regulatory constraints: “We have an over-regulation of an inherently simple industry. These constraints will eventually choke and maim GA if allowed to continue at the current rate.”

Coetzee also believes the advancing technology of recent years can prove to be a double-edged sword: “The evolution of glass cockpit layouts and automation has been rapid in the last ten years. It has obviously had significant safety and end-user benefits, but has at times been designed with an overly-complicated philosophy.

“FADEC has been an incredible jump forward, but has a nasty tendency to embarrass an unsuspecting pilot when something as simple as a weak battery presents itself in the African environment.”

Like many of the chief pilots we spoke to, Coetzee takes great pleasure in observing young pilots as they move up the ranks. “Seeing new candidates start off as student pilots, progressing to becoming private pilots, commercial pilots, flight instructors and ultimately colleagues in our business; this is what inspires me.

“We have invested heavily in hand-picking and training candidates in our operation due to the lack of air force pilots entering the system.”

Mogens Motzfeldt-Haahr is the chief pilot for Air Greenland's DHC-7 and DHC-8 aircraft and has been there for the last 17 years of his career. Having started out as a first officer on the DHC-7 programme, he was promoted to command the BE200 Super King Air. He was then a King Air chief pilot before taking up his current role. “The two DHC types are not similar at all, but the process of running them safely and effectively is basically the same. Furthermore we swap the same group of pilots between the two types as demanded by operations,” he says.

Motzfeldt-Haar is responsible for the safe and efficient operation of Air Greenland's turboprops. He is accountable both operationally and administratively, and manages a group of approximately 50 pilots. He says that the selection of the chief pilot has altered in recent years: “The chief pilot used to be the 'expert' on flying the aircraft; the guys that made the best landings were singled out to for the role.

“Today, the position is a lot more nuanced. Not only do we still need to be experts on the specific aircraft, but we get involved in budgets, risk assessment, company strategy work, hiring processes, compliance and safety work, fuel saving programmes, on-time performance strategies, EFB technology, promoting safety and compliance, employee development interviews, motivational pep-talks, coaching the individual pilot, career planning, and all this while still being able to land an aircraft. Time is definitely an issue.”

It is his ability to implement change which makes Motzfeldt-Haahr's job worthwhile. “I can make changes that not only affect the operation of our fleet, but also, on a more personal level, guide the individual pilot.” The emphasis at Air Greenland is on employing pilots for life, with an average career at the company lasting 30 years. “Our pilot turnover is very low, which is both positive and demanding.

“We must ensure that we continuously offer the best working conditions.”

More than half of Air Greenland's pilots have worked for the operator for at least three years, but live in Denmark, Sweden, or Norway when not at work, which can be challenging. Motzfeldt-Haahr devotes his time to ensuring that all staff are working towards the same goals. He also reveals, perhaps surprisingly, that staff motivation can be problematic. “Flying an aircraft from A to B is inherently very boring.

“We need to continuously address the issues of complacency, especially in our operation where we typically fly six to eight legs every day.

“On the other hand, we do have a very demanding operation in Greenland. We operate in a hostile Arctic environment with a lot of weather issues ranging from high wind situations to icing and turbulence. We operate to small runways with our DHC-8 fleet, 365 days a year. In the Arctic this means issues with reduced braking action and contaminated runways. Three to four months a year we operate in total darkness, north of the Arctic circle.”

These situations demand a workforce of pilots that not only know their aircraft performance requirements and limitations but also know their personal limitations. The company seeks to implement a strong mind-set coupled with common sense in its decision-making process.

The chief pilot has personal challenges too, and time management is at the centre of this once more. “Office and flying needs to be balanced up against time with my family and leisure time. I strongly believe that no organisation needs a chief pilot – they really need the person behind the title. So we need to make sure that our key personnel are not workaholics but strive towards becoming competent professionals.”

For Motzfeldt-Haahr, his role is positioned directly between that of management and of the line pilots. “We do not belong to the top management and are not really part of the pilot union/group. That being the truth, communication becomes essential. The information flow to and from the flight department is crucial, to make sure that everybody is working from the same piece of paper and the same level of knowledge.”

AOC post holder is the key responsibility of Joel Taylor, chief pilot for NasJet in Saudi Arabia. After flying in the US Air Force and for airlines, Taylor has been in charge of contracts for high net worth individuals since 2004. “I am directly accountable for the flight operation, and I also supervise the daily flying schedule,” he remarks.

“My first duty of course is safety, and while I do work for the company, as an AOC post holder, I am responsible to GACA, our regulatory authority.” Taylor believes that the hierarchy in business aviation has shifted in recent times from an autocratic management structure to a more democratic system. He particularly enjoys flying with his crews, and says that much of his energy is focused on managing the relationship between upper management and crew. “I also have to occasionally balance the company's goals and the regulator's requirements,” he continues. Human resources duties also form a significant part of his day-to-day work: “It revolves around recruiting, finance and medical issues. In terms of challenges, we operate within a protected environment whereby getting work permits and visas can take time.”

Despite time-consuming elements, Taylor explains that as and when data is required, it now reaches him faster than ever before: “The ease of getting flight planning data, such as weather and winds, is extraordinary. I tell people that 20 years ago, I still used a sextant to cross the Atlantic.

“It used to take a day of planning to do an ocean crossing. Now, it is done in seconds.” He has also picked up several pearls of wisdom through his career: “An old captain gave me two pieces of advice. Number one: you have already won the argument, so don't argue. Number two: as a captain, you really are only in charge of two things, the parking brake, and the landing lights. If you have a hint you don't think it is safe or legal, don't activate either.”

Mark Reeves is the chief pilot for the fixed wing aircraft in CGG Airborne Surveys' fleet. Entering aviation aged 36, some would say he was a late starter in the industry. He took up his current post in January 2008 and, as is the case with chief pilots at other operators, he reviews pilot schedules and flight procedures, creates additional SOPs if required and keeps a record of these, ensures company adherence to South African Civil Aviation Authority regulations, reports hazards and incidents, promotes the implementation of HSEQ, participates in safety committee meetings and, as ever, liaises with the chief flight instructor.

He loves the hands-on nature of his job, but dealing with colleagues over safety issues can pose occasional challenges: “Management and other persons within the company can sometimes lack an understanding of conducting safe flying operations, and this is a challenge. What is more, handling the flying of turbine powered aircraft at 250 ft above ground level while avoiding hazards like birds, and occasionally flying marginal VFR conditions – this can also be tricky! ATC language barriers in Africa have been a problem, however over the last decade I have noticed improvements.”

Andreas Pfisterer coupled his role as chief pilot for ExecuJet Europe with that of head of operations, until a year ago when he was made customer account manager. “I saw myself as chief of chief pilots,” he jokes. He spent two years working for the Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA), after which his current employer offered him the post of chief pilot and head of training. “At the time, ExecuJet Europe in Zurich was considered to be a small operator, having five aircraft under full management. This was in 2004.”

Pfisterer then oversaw the combination of the two existing AOCs for Switzerland and Denmark, as well as the introduction of a further two certificates and the expansion of the fleet to 40. He was responsible for private jets positioned on the Bermuda, Cayman and Isle of Man registers. Though his position shifted over his ten-year tenure, he has always remained responsible for a safe and efficient operation.

“As the postholder for flight operations, I had to remain in compliance with EU-OPS and EASA-FCL, responsible for the flight operation, establishment, standard-isation and maintenance of all relevant manuals and checklists, issue flying staff instructions, ensure compliance of the flight personnel with regulations, checklists and limitations, and all flight personnel reported directly to me.”

He feels that a move has taken place in recent years from 'a question of leadership and common sense' into a more administrative role. “Today the operation is so much under the control of the authority and under the watch of the quality system internally. There is constant change in legislation which does not leave a lot of room for interpretation. It could fall back on you and you might be made responsible for something you don't have much influence over,” he adds.

Pfisterer believes that the old fashioned chief pilot, as well as the lead captain, is becoming a rare thing: “Today's leaders are afraid to break any rule and in some companies they are also afraid of losing their job. This is the wrong direction; I wish there was less paper, less administration and more time for real problems.

“The safe and best practice operation of the aircraft must be the central focus of every chief pilot.”

Managing or operating aircraft comes down to three parties: the customer, the crew and the operator. Pfisterer had to sometimes act as a go-between for these parties. “In a set-up like that practiced at ExecuJet, most of the crew are employed by the company directly. Over time, some of the crew might tend to move closer to the customer, and forget who their employer is. So that can be a cause of confusion at times.

“But, I am convinced that trust in the company, which is directly embodied by the chief pilot, is the basis for forming strong relationships. Positive leadership by setting a good example guarantees a strong team spirit, meaning that everybody wants to be part of the team.”

The team that Pfisterer was responsible for stretches across several different cultures, and bringing these cultures 'under one roof' kept him busy. He had to play a coordinating role between different countries, and found that was a challenge he rose to. Over time he has learned to say no to a customer, as difficult as it sometimes is, and stick by his decision. “I have to make him understand that I am saying no to him for good reason.

“The best surprise can be that, after a while, the same customer may come back to you and ask you for advice. It is always a very personal and emotional moment which is exceptionally satisfying. We don't ask for it, but a customer's thank you can sometimes be rare in this business.”

Crew resource management, or CRM, was considered crucial in the successful fulfilment of Pfisterer's former role, but he says that the method it is taught by is not conducive to effective learning: “It all seems to take place in the classroom, ticking boxes, and this is a waste of time. Classroom lectures are easy for the instructor, but the crew does not profit as much as they could in a new approach, for example outdoor activities where the crew are being put into a difficult situation and must use their decision making and communication skills.”

Mark Blois-Brooke had already been chief pilot for three companies before he joined TAG Aviation in 2008, although the previous organisations were nowhere near as large. He is accustomed to flying a G550, and operational safety is his absolute priority: “My responsibility is the oversight of safe operations of all our aircraft. This involves assessing airports, permitting operational dispensations when appropriate, as well as conducting safety cases and risk assessments. I am also responsible for interviewing new pilot candidates and ensuring our operations manuals are relevant and up-to-date.”

He looks forward every day to working with his dedicated and like-minded colleagues, and also enjoys catching up with TAG pilots who pass through the office from time to time when their regular base is overseas. He works closely with the director of flight operations to manage customer expectations and make sure they are met. “Sometimes this involves making last minute decisions,” he adds. Recent transitions to paperless cockpits have proved time-consuming, along with the transition to EASA, yet Blois-Brooke explains that the greatest complexities are posed by the diversity of the aircraft in the fleet and their locations. TAG operates 15 different types of aircraft registered in four or five different countries, crewed by pilots licensed by numerous different states. Some aircraft are flown commercially on an AOC, while others are flown privately. Occasionally aircraft are used for both, and managing all of these elements is the domain of the chief pilot.

As to the flying, Blois-Brooke has seen great advances in the technology available to pilots as he has furthered his career: “When I started flying jet aircraft in the 1980s, the basic navigation equipment was VOR/ILS and ADF – and if you were lucky a VLF Omega. GPS, if you had one, was a battery-operated hand-held device stuck on to the windscreen. The level of sophistication and accuracy today is light years ahead of that.” However, the sophistication presents its own obstacles and Blois-Brooke emphasises to his pilots the importance of situational awareness and using an appropriate level of automation. “We do what we can to take advantage of new technology, ensuring that we offer our customers the latest in innovation,” he adds.

Blois-Brooke is the owner of a 1943 deHavilland Tiger Moth which sits at the opposite end of this technology spectrum, and he is calling on his experience to teach his children to fly using the WWII aircraft. “Teaching them, and other pilots, is a great source of enjoyment and constantly reminds me of what flying is all about,” he concludes.

At London Executive Aviation, Karl Ratcliffe has occupied the chief pilot role since 2000. “I oversee all flight operations and head up LEA's department of pilots, as well as supervising the operations manager and fleet managers for our Embraer Legacys and Phenoms, Bombardier Challengers, Cessna Citations, Beechcraft King Airs and our Dassault Falcon 2000LX,” he says.

“Currently LEA has approximately 80 flight deck and cabin crew, and a 20-strong operations department. Our operation takes us worldwide and my responsibilities are to ensure LEA complies with all current regulations bestowed on us by the CAA, EASA and other regulatory bodies.

Ratcliffe believes that the chief pilot's role is varied on a daily basis: “One of the most challenging aspects of the role is adding new fleet types to our AOC, which involves crew training, the cooperation of the CAA and managing logistical delivery issues with the manufacturer,” he says.

As is the case for many of our contributors, he finds that supporting the development of young pilots is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job. “I am less hands-on with the fleets than I used to be, yet helping pilots in their careers as they achieve their ambitions reminds me of when I first started flying and training.”

Technology, especially the use of EFBs, has impacted enormously on business aviation, according to Ratcliffe: “I question whether it wasn't better in the days when we didn't all have mobile phones. I think communication was far more effective by speaking directly with clients and pilots, rather than via email and other communication devices.

“Aircraft are no doubt far better off with advances in IT and equipment such as TCAS, EGWPS, satellite communications and GPS, but in terms of communicating with clients and colleagues, I always try to make a judgement call on how best to do that.”

His fondest memory has been taking delivery of the company's first Citation XL in 2000 and delivering it to the UK. “We knew we were on to something great with LEA. The fleet may have changed but we still have this same aircraft as part of our plans.”

Often, a chief pilot may take on the role after spending time as a flight instructor. This was the case for Kevin Moor, post holder at South Africa's JNC Helicopters. Accustomed to performing charter and sightseeing flights, he has been chief pilot at JNC since March last year. “I maintain the highest standards of professionalism, training, discipline and safety in the workplace,” he remarks.

Safety in particular requires Moor's thorough attention. He regularly reminds himself of accidents which have taken place in the industry that could have been avoided but for poor judgement and decision making by the pilot. “We have frequent meetings with all our staff, pilots and students to discuss possible safety concerns in the industry,” he says.

Moor's work takes place in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. He takes every opportunity to go up in the air, due to the beautiful scenery: “I love every minute in the air and always look forward to it as every flight is different and exciting.

“I also really enjoy teaching people how to fly and have a soft spot for my students. To see their progression and the smiles on their faces after each flight really makes me happy and love my job even more, as they are fulfilling their dreams to fly, as am I.”

Despite the perception from onlookers that the pilot simply has to turn up and fly, Moor highlights the importance of the 'behind the scenes' checks which must be conducted before every single outing. He must check weather reports, pilot time and duty periods, aircraft documentation, and do a weight and balance calculation for the flight, preflight checks, assigned routings, necessary landing permissions for the flight, filing of flight plans, filling out passenger tickets, authorisation books, flight folios and fuel samples. “Fortunately, advancements have drastically reduced the workload of the pilot, resulting in a more focused pilot and safer flying environment,” he concludes.

Malcolm Humphries occupies an unusual position due to the fact that, in addition to his duties as chief pilot, he is also md of Capital Air Charter, based in Exeter, UK. After a successful career in the executive charter market, he decided to take all of the lessons he had learnt and begin his own business from the 'kitchen table'.

Within a few years he was responsible for a company managing nine aircraft with 14 pilots. He flies infrequently nowadays and is often engaged in meetings with other departments, as well as office- based duties. “I am responsible for ensuring the high standard of the flight crew and that the flight department is compliant. I also manage all crew training.

“Essentially, I like being in charge! It's a little like being a headmaster running a school or a parent with a big family. For most of my crew, it is their first flying job and first foray into this world. As far as I am able, I try to make their life as comfortable as possible.”

Many of these 'rookie' pilots have gone on to have exceptionally prosperous careers, with some of them becoming chief pilots themselves. It is an achievement Humphries is particularly proud of: “Over the last 25 years I have employed more than 80 pilots. Despite the hassles of being a chief pilot, I wouldn't change it for the world,” he concludes.

Chief pilot Mike Watt of Twinjet in Luton, UK, worked his way up from being a line pilot to his current position. He first held the post of chief pilot in the 1970s – although not for Twinjet – and today much of his time is spent ensuring the smooth operation of the company's ACJ319. “Our passengers need a tailor-made service, and as the chief pilot, I am responsible for leading a very professional ground and flight team to meet our customer's needs safely and reliably with a careful eye on costs.”

Watt points out his duty to oversee delivery to customers against what he calls 'an industry-wide fear of litigation'. He sees an astonishing amount of auditing and a need for compliance in the current market, and prefers a minimal regulation approach with an emphasis on best practice. He would also like to see the implementation of the 'equivalent safety' approach of days gone by, and still sees his greatest pleasure as being able to escape once in a while for a day of flying. “An important attribute for me is knowing when to lead and when to keep the hell out of the way!” he adds. He berates the amount of reading he is required to do: “I spend more than half of my day reading. It can be reading to refresh my memory, to check a regulation, to prepare to teach or to be taught, to keep abreast of new equipment, innovations in best practice. I read audit and compliance reports, manuals, training paperwork, budgets, management and committee reports, the list goes on.”

Our final respondent is Simon Meakins, a former managing pilot for Aberdeen, UK-based Bond Offshore Helicopters. Meakins has recently been named head of flight ops at Bond, and he started his life in aviation in the Royal Air Force. He took on the above positions at his current employer after being in command of the EC225 and then the Sikorsky S-92.

“Working offshore brings a unique set of challenges and it is my responsibility to ensure all pilots operate safely and efficiently,” he comments. “We remain ready to react to constant changes in weather and other factors that affect operation, and I ensure all flying staff comply with the strict flight time and duty regulations. I am also on hand to answer questions from customers – both management and passengers.” Planning and training can be time-consuming, but once again Meakins manages to squeeze in time to fly on a regular basis.

Communication is key for the operator, and Meakins says this can take many forms. “Whether it is face-to-face briefings, electronic updates, intranet information or flight operation seminars, keeping staff informed and up-to-date with the latest news is crucial. It is definitely one of the most important parts of my job.”

Meakins ensures that each pilot personally briefs the passengers before leading them to their aircraft. “We are really proud of the communication we have with our passengers, whether that's talking to a small group of passengers, or 100 or more offshore workers.”

It seems that whatever region or type of operation the chief pilot is responsible for, every day can bring with it surprises and fresh obstacles to overcome. All of our respondents remarked on the vast technological improvements that have flooded in in recent times, but said that despite these changes to ops, their responsibilities as post holder remain the same. As to the future, the pace at which legislation is revised and updated is something which the chiefs must continually strive to keep up with. One thing is for sure: while they will diligently complete their desk duties, give them even the faintest chance, and they will be in the air before you can say 'EASA'.

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