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Owner/pilots: flying your own aircraft is good for the soul
Many of our readers pilot their own aircraft, be it helicopter, turboprop or small jet. Some use it for business, some for leisure, others for stunt flying. We thought it was about time to talk to these aviation addicts to find out the answer to the eternal question: what comes first, the business or the PPL?
Read this story in our August 2017 printed issue.

Many of our readers pilot their own aircraft, be it a helicopter, turboprop or small jet. Some use it for business, some for leisure, others for stunt flying. We thought it was about time to talk to these aviation addicts to find out the answer to the eternal question: what comes first, the business or the PPL?

We all know that US actors John Travolta and Harrison Ford are keen pilots of their personal aircraft, Ford perhaps less successfully so. But you don’t have to be a film star to turn left at the top of the steps. EBAN’s owner/pilots come from different industries and different backgrounds, and they share their fascinating stories about transitioning from first class airline customer or business aviation passenger to pilot.

The hardy Kodiak

Edouard Rossillon has combined a career in plastic surgery with a love of geological expedition thanks to his Quest Kodiak. Not so long ago he had two clinics, one in Belgium and the other in Switzerland, and would fly himself from one to the other between consultations. He could see a patient in Brussels in the morning and be in Valais for a post-op visit in the afternoon. The full IFR flight-into-known-icing Kodiak particularly suits flying in Belgium where the weather can be challenging; there is always fog in Brussels South Charleroi airport apparently.

While he no longer has the Belgian clinic, he still uses the Kodiak to explore northern Europe. Since 2010 he has been part of a Greenland geological expedition visiting Alaska once or twice a year, in fact he has crossed the north Atlantic more than ten times now. From Switzerland he flies first to Iceland, then on to Iqaluit, the capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut that sits on Baffin Island in Frobisher Bay, and finally to Fairbanks, Alaska, where he stays at a friend’s lodge.

He finds the Kodiak is well-suited for these trips, being a mixture of bush plane and travel plane. He briefly considered a PC-12 but it couldn’t land on the very short 150-200m runways he uses in Alaska; the PC-12 needs at least 600m. Not only does Rossillon need a very STOL aircraft, but one that can cope with rough runways where there may be a river on the left and trees close by on the right. He also discounts the PC-6 as too old and slow, and the Caravan, which again can’t land on the shortest strips.

In 2014 he spent a month in north Greenland as part of an expedition for the University of Graz in Austria to trace the origin of geodynamics: the Alfred Wegener Memorial Expedition, named after the German polar researcher, geophysicist and meteorologist. Rossillon’s group took two aircraft, the Kodiak and a Cessna 180, to survey and photograph the entire north east Greenland Caleconides, the remains of an ancient mountain range that stretched from the Appalachians in North America, through the Atlantic plates, to Scandinavia in the time of the Pangea supercontinent. The Kodiak could not land on soft ground so it was used for supplying such things as fuel; with its bush wheels the Cessna could land the exploration teams on beaches and rocky terrain. All went well apart from one landing in the middle of the arctic tundra. Rossillon recalls: “We were surrounded by musk ox. I thought there were very gentle animals but as we approached them one gave a loud bellow and made as if to charge. Not so peaceful after all.” But the most spectacular discovery was of the original sled from Wegener’s 1912 expedition. It was found some 30 km from its expected location in the Dove Bugt region of north eastern Greenland.

Rossillon’s love of flying came from his father, a military pilot who flew for the Belgian army, and from his friend Paul Claus, who Rossillon says is the best bush pilot in the world. Claus is a former winner of several short take-off and landing competitions in Valdez, Alaska, and flies a Piper Super Cub which can land on ice glaciers, mountain valleys, even a sandbar at the edge of a forest. Rossillon enjoyed many sorties with him and since he was then running a volunteer healthcare project in Nepal he thought an aircraft would be useful. He decided to become a pilot. He bought the Kodiak but didn’t have a pilot licence, so in the six months while waiting for delivery of the aircraft he underwent instruction. He trained with the Spokane, USA-based Missionary Aviation Fellowship where his company has a voluntary medicine programme, and then returned home to achieve his EASA Instrument Rating in Cannes and Switzerland.

He is currently flying in Mongolia via Russia and Siberia, taking one month to explore a part of the Altai mountains to prepare a tourist programme for one of the most remote and beautiful places in the world.

Get ahead, get a jet

So says Michael Osborne, MD of Isle of Man-based property investment company MOP. He has property holdings predominantly in the middle of England, in Burton-on-Trent, together with nursing home interests. As he lives offshore he realised that having a PPL plus a decent aircraft would make managing these property interests easier, so 25 years ago he trained at the Donair Flying Club at East Midlands airport and subsequently at Oxford for his IR rating.

Eventually he bought an Eclipse 500 jet that he flies for around 130 hours a year, or twice a week. He had considered a TBM but it proved too expensive to fund and would not fly above the weather, and when the 500 came out 12 years ago it seemed a more attractive proposition. He invested in Eclipse because he understood that Bill Gates was a shareholder and thought that if Gates were involved, the chances of the company going bust before he received the aircraft were remote. Indeed Vern Raburn, founder of Eclipse Aviation, serial entrepreneur in the technology world and designer of the aircraft, was previously president of the consumer products division at Microsoft.

But that wasn’t Osborne's first aircraft. Previously he had various singles and twins but had an accident in a Beechcraft where he suffered major burns and spent some time in hospital. However the Eclipse was already on order and returning to the cockpit was always his plan. He got his licence re-validated on medical grounds and has been flying it for just over eight years.

Osborne feels the Eclipse serves the owner/pilot particularly well because it is fast, it can land on 890 m strips, and it is just about affordable for the private individual. He uses it slightly more for business than leisure. It takes two and a half hours to fly from the Isle of Man to Mandelieu in the south of France. To the East Midlands it is 34 minutes and to London 50 minutes.

“Having the jet is so important for business,” he says. “I am one of the few men I know who can leave the Isle of Man at 07:00, get to the UK, do three or four appointments and be back in the office at 14:00. That’s the benefit of a fast aircraft; more meetings, less time wasted.” But he doesn’t underplay the importance of regular practice or of being well rested when doing a full day’s business and then getting in the cockpit of a fast aircraft and flying back in poor weather. The onus, he says, is on the pilot to be very much on his game. His wife accompanies him in the cockpit and is useful as a second pair of hands, especially when coming out of busy terminal airspace such as London. And if he thinks the weather is off-limits he won’t consider flying. The Isle of Man can be a severe weather location but fortunately has a permanent meteorological office.

The retro good looks of a Cessna 310

Tyrone Courtman is a partner in UK-based business advisory company PKF Cooper Parry. As a chartered accountant and licensed insolvency practitioner his business takes him across the whole of the UK and Ireland, the Channel Islands and often into Europe, for which he flies a Cessna 310 twin piston. While his interest in aviation drove his purchase ten years ago, he also finds it to be a useful business tool.

He first took flying lessons at his local Leicestershire Aero Club where he achieved his PPL in 1993, and his night, IMC and multi-engine piston ratings in 1999, often flying a Piper Seneca II. But the limitations of school aircraft with their standard avionics and short-term rents pushed him to get his instrument rating as a private pilot in 2002, and subsequently his commercial pilot licence and frozen ATPL on a C310.

He likens his passion for the aircraft to that of owning a classic car. He did his instrument rating in a 310 and that fired his interest in the model, so while its performance is great, it is the aesthetics of operating a mid 1970s period aircraft that appeals to him.

What are the downsides? The issue of Cessna’s Supplementary Inspection Documents (SIDs), mandatory in the UK, has been the subject of much debate and expense. The first round came at the end of 2006 when the works necessarily included the removal of the gear, tip tanks, rudder and tail, engines and support beams. That took the aircraft out of operation for three months.

In 2007, with around 1,600 hours on the 25-year-old engines, he suffered a port engine failure and decided to replace both with factory remanufactured engines. And in 2012 there was another round of major SID works. Then 2013 saw a bare metal respray and a new blue leather interior and carpet.

And the upside? “Before I had my plane, my business was not as extensive as it is now,” Courtman says. “The growth of the business has come as a consequence of my interest in aviation. My range is greater than that of many of my competitors, for whom a trip down to the Channel Islands could take a couple of days. I can be down there for a meeting in the morning and back at the office through East Midlands airport in the afternoon.”

He has been involved in trying to help turn around a couple of aerial surveillance businesses, and he has also been the receiver for a display team involving an English Electric Canberra, a british first-generation jet powered medium bomber, as well as two Hawker Hunters, transonic British jet powered fighter aircraft developed for the RAF. The UK-based flying team Midair Squadron was popular on the airshow circuit but ran into financial difficulties following the Hawker Hunter crash at Shoreham, when the CAA introduced immediate restrictions on flying vintage jet aircraft over land. Courtman was responsible for taking control and realising the disposal of the three vintage aircraft.

For Courtman, having a passion for aviation business and an interest in operating a C310 means he can go further faster and achieve more. In a business environment where responsiveness and the building of a personal relationships is key, a C310 fulfils many personal and business needs.

However, he flies primarily for leisure. The C310 is not pressurised so its useful endurance is the duration he can bear to be sat in the aircraft without needing a toilet break, but trips to Copenhagen, Berlin, Cannes, La Rochelle, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow are all within comfortable range. The ideal flight time for him is between 60 and 90 minutes. For anything over three hours he needs to restrict his fluid intake the night before.

A great tool to access airfields not serviced by airlines

Pilot Andrew Gratton, founder and CEO of Stockholm, Sweden-based Scandic Aviation, first used his aircraft for business; it gave flexibility to the day’s schedule and instilled confidence in his team’s abilities and experience with clients. Now, however, he has an Extra 330LT that he uses for both business and pleasure. His is the touring version of the high performance aerobatic aircraft, so not only can he get to meetings quickly but he is able to fulfil his passion for aerobatics competition. A perk of the job is that he is also able to fly the historic de Havilland Vampire fighter jet.

Gratton grew up in South Africa and built up his flight time for higher pilot licences by working at flying schools and charter companies. At the time he thought this was terrible, but in hindsight, invaluable. He learned about all aspects of aviation: sweeping the hangar floors, accounting, HR, maintenance tracking, in fact the turnkey management of a flying school and medium-sized charter company. Through this he learned the importance of networking and delivering on promises. The connections he made along the way are now friends and clients of more than 15 years standing, and have enabled him to substantially build up his business organically, without advertising.

At one time he did a great deal of single pilot flying on Cessna Caravans and King Air B200s for private owners and large businesses. He has flown VIP business jets and turboprops on mission for the United Nations. He still holds a single pilot rating on the C525 series, but tends to fly with a co-pilot for the most part. “Having the single pilot endorsement is great for positioning the aircraft or for short local trips, but on a longer ferry flight we like to take along pilots with fewer hours in order to build their experience,” says Gratton. “The high production charter environment I find myself in now legally calls for a co-pilot, and rightfully so. Airfields like Engadin St Moritz and London can be demanding in high season.”

Flying offers freedom, even in a highly-regulated industry

As chief executive of Luxaviation UK (formerly London Executive Aviation), 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. He 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 also used to own a twin-engine Piper PA-31 Chieftain and still enjoys flying single-engine aircraft from aero clubs. He enjoys the excitement of aerobatics and also recalls the thrill of ski trips in the Chieftain to Courchevel in France. “Courchevel airport is literally on the side of a mountain,” he says, “with a runway only 525 m 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. Then there is the challenge of engaging the brain to achieve something most people never do, and seeing the joy non-pilots feel when you take them for rolls and loops in the S-2A. He also learned to fly helicopters a few years ago and is rated on the Robinson R22 and R44. He adds: “I love the freedom that flying helicopters provides as you have far greater choice as to where you can take off from and land. I tend to fly from Sloane Helicopters' in Sywell, Northampton.”

East African safari

Mark Ross trained as a wildlife biologist and now runs his safari business in Kenya. He started flying about 30 years ago and says at this moment in time he is the only full-time professional guide in Nairobi who is also a commercial pilot. He has his own fleet of aircraft that he flies around East Africa for international groups of clients, individuals, photographers, film-makers and fellow scientists.

Once the proud owner of a Cessna 206 with reduced STOL kit, he now flies a Blackhawk Caravan. “I can take it anywhere I took my R/STOL 206, which is terrific,” Ross says. “But I can cruise at 185 knots and carry 12 guests, so its a huge improvement for me.” He has a PPL, commercial, IR, gas turbine, commercial float plane and taildragger ratings, and has flown 6,000 hours over Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, east Congo, Mozambique, Madagascar, Botswana and Zimbabwe. He takes groups to see the gorillas in Rwanda, the Congo and Uganda; to visit the Serengeti in Tanzania; to Zanzibar or to climb Kilimanjaro. He says the sheer scale of this range is enough to keep people coming back for years.

Ross also owns and flies a Pitts S2B aerobatic biplane, just for fun. A few years ago a pilot from the Flying Doctors’ Society of Africa told him that if he wanted to improve more quickly he should fly aerobatics. After one month of flying and vomiting he mastered it and claims that it has been really great for his footwork.

He flies alone with an Aspen dual-EFIS system in the aircraft. He does all the fuelling and flight planning but has a company, which also owns four Caravans, to do all the periodic checks and maintenance.

From Golden Eagle to Citation

As a business man working in imports and exports Philippe Horowicz started flying 32 years ago in a single-engine Mooney with VFR. Then he became an IFR pilot. He bought a twin piston Cessna 421 Golden Eagle, pressurised and IFR compliant, which he flew for business around France, Spain, Italy and Greece for 14 years.

As his business developed he created a flight operations manual to operate commercially. He would take businessmen around Europe and in this way built up 5,000 hours of time and experience. He is currently providing flight support for a Taiwanese car racing team in a factory-new Challenger 350.

In the beginning Horowicz dealt with everything himself, from flight planning and suitcase carrying to paying the taxes. “Private aircraft operations used to be as simple as organising the car insurance,” he says, “but with the introduction of part-NCC things have become more complicated.” However he enjoys the complexity of flying alone. “Entering a holding pattern all by yourself as a single pilot with no SMS and no computer to help you out, you have to handle the aircraft with just the simple equipment that you have. When you are a co-pilot flying a Citation equipped with GPS and SMS computer you just set it up and programme it in, and it flies the holding by itself. It is much easier to fly a two-pilot aircraft.”

If he flew just one or two legs a day he wouldn’t get tired. He says the difficulty comes when flying three or four legs a day for a commercial client who demands up to 10-14 hours of duty with usually very little food on board for the pilot. And then the pilot can be expected to be fit to fly again the next day. He takes care to organise just one or two legs a day for his own staff.

He sold the Golden Eagle about 15 years ago, just after he started flying a Citation II. A colleague who had that same model of 421 aircraft was flying out of Zurich on a very rainy day. A fuel provider had supplied the wrong fuel into the aircraft, Jet-A1 rather than Avgas. Both engines stopped after take-off and his colleague died. At that time Horowicz had been flying the jet one day and the 421 the next, but consequently decided to concentrate solely on the Citation.

Qualified pilot and air traffic controller for the Algerian National Air Navigation Institute Feth el Nour Gacem can still remember the moment when he aligned his aircraft on the runway for the first time and the thrill hasn’t left him yet. That first flight was in Paris, France, at Tossus-le-Noble airport in a Robin HR200. It was a sunny day with a few scattered clouds and he found the view over the city incredible.

It seems that everyone remembers their first flight, and the flying habit is addictive. Managing an aircraft may not be easy, quick or cheap, but how satisfying must it be to have a hobby that pays dividends in the business arena too?

The King Air proves itself a practical family aircraft

A passion for piloting is obviously not restricted to those who own their own aircraft, and retired graphics and software entrepreneur Etienne Veen has a dedicated captain and co-pilots on-call for the family use of a King Air B200. He lives in Switzerland but his children are in the Netherlands and they use the aircraft to travel between their homes. When he worked he would fly scheduled but he discovered private aviation just five years ago, after he retired. He was visiting a Dutch friend, a former captain with KLM, who kept an aircraft in a hangar at Lelystad airport. Veen saw the Beechcraft for sale and he thought it might be handy for personal use.

He lives in the Swiss Alps, in Gstaad, during the winter and in Ascona on Lake Maggiore in the summer. At both homes there is an airstrip within a 15 minute drive, and given that the airfield at Locarno is only 800 m long the Beechcraft suits it well. He has the full Platinum Raisbeck version with wilderness tyres, which gives him the capability to land on grass, useful when travelling to the UK. He is currently in discussion with Rockwell Collins to buy the Pro Line Fusion system so that he can fly 24/7.

Since buying the aircraft he has bought his own hangar at Lelystad, just a half-hour drive from his family. With three small grandchildren they need a lot of luggage but the King Air has plenty of space on board. He considers it to be the most practical and economical aircraft to use in Europe. Veen relishes the time saved over driving. Within two hours he can fly from the Netherlands to Switzerland; in the car it would take 11 hours.

Twenty years ago he had his own business in the USA and would fly first class. Today he has no time for the hassle of crowded, noisy and unfriendly airports. Instead he drives to Lelystad where he hops on board, reads a newspaper or takes a nap, and lands in Switzerland two hours later. Fifteen minutes after that he's home. “I often think I should have bought one years ago,” Veen says.

Former navy pilot swaps fighter jets for Phenom

While owners enjoy the freedom that piloting their own aircraft gives them, in the corporate world there is also a certain amount of flexibility in the structure of a company pilot's day.

André-Marie Clipet is now captain of a Phenom 300 based in Morlaix, Brittany in France, used mainly for business in Paris, Geneva, Spain, Mallorca, Germany and Italy. Besides operational responsibilities he deals with the scheduled maintenance programme, the pilot training programme, safety management system, Part NCC, flight operations, FBOs and hotel accommodation for crew. “It's complex but it's interesting,” says Clipet. “I like to take care of everything on board. For me it's like a beautiful car; I like to look after the cabin and the cockpit. But I get a team in to clean the exterior every three months.”

In his youth he spent 17 years as a pilot in the Navy. He flew an Embraer 121 turboprop, an ATL2 and a Falcon 20 for anti-submarine warfare, intelligence and search and rescue missions. He left in 2012 to join Eastern Airways, a UK regional company, where he flew a Jetstream 41.

Nowadays, he enjoys the lack of routine in his corporate work. A typical week's roster may start on Monday with a flight to Palma airport, one of the most crowded in Europe, and on Tuesday a day trip to Teuge in the Netherlands, which has a 1,199 m runway.

He finds handling a corporate jet to be a good mix of high technology, with the glass cockpit, and his flying ability. He particularly likes to take off between the big jets. “On the ground, taxiing behind an Airbus or a Boeing, the Phenom feels so tiny. But once in flight and cruising at FL 450, it's the turn of everything else on the ground to look really small,” says Clipet.

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