As a boy Maxwell North, now a line trainer for the Hawker 800 with NetJets Europe, enjoyed adventures aboard his father's Grumman AA1B. But he never thought in terms of a career in aviation until a dissatisfaction with office routine lead him to hunt around for a more interesting career.
Now he believes he has an optimum work, home life and leisure balance with good job security. The demand for pilots has rarely been greater with charter operators expanding fleets and VLJ operations springing up in Europe, Russia and the Middle East. NetJets employs over 1,000 pilots from 20 different countries who can live at a choice of 44 cities across Europe.
Large charter operators have established operations throughout Europe and are offering varied and interesting employment but, when North sought a career, the opportunities seemed very much limited to scheduled airlines.
He recalls: "I learned to fly back in 1998. I went to the University of Greenwich where I studied international business with German. Basically my degree course had nothing to do with aviation. It was a four-year degree and I spent one year of it working in Germany which involved the University of Munich and Shell Chemicals. Although I really enjoyed the experience, I realised at the same time that I did not want to work behind a desk for the rest of my life."
On graduation North went out to Germany to work but decided to research opportunities in aviation. The research was, in part, inspired by happy memories of his childhood fuelled by his father Richard who has a PPL and flew the family around Europe. "My parents and grandparents were very much into aviation but I had not previously thought of a career related to aircraft," North says. "However, after my degree and work experience the time seemed right so I researched opportunities with Cabair at its Cranfield base."
The target was to achieve 150 hours of PPL experience and gain IMC and night ratings. A three-way business arrangement was agreed between Maxwell North, KLM U.K. and Cabair. North took out a loan, gained the first 120 hours of flying experience in the U.S. and then returned to the U.K. to add on the rest. He then worked with Cabair for two years as a flying instructor before joining KLM.
Two years later he was ready for a change from the predictable routine of a scheduled airline. "With KLM U.K. you knew exactly what you would be doing when, which many people would see as an advantage. NetJets have an itinerary which is very well organised but gives more variety and interest. There is an unpredictability about where you will be which I rather like whereas with scheduled airlines you tend to have similar routes most of the time. This afternoon I am flying to Bordeaux and really looking forward to it as it is a place I've never visited. I've also enjoyed trips to northern Africa, including Morocco, and as far afield as Ghana, Cap Verde, Oman and Egypt."
The NetJets timetable is six days on and five days off, although this can vary slightly to achieve the total of 50 days work in a quarter. NetJets Europe says that one of its pilots, on average, will fly to 70 airports in 21 countries in the course of a year.
North started with NetJets Europe in 2004, initially as a co-pilot on a Hawker 800. He became a captain in March 2006 and, in January 2007, became a line trainer for the Hawker 800.
NetJets recently put its 150th aircraft into service. The company says that all its pilots have flown an average of 1.5 million miles and most of them flew military or commercial jets before joining NetJets Europe.
North is enjoying a career he never initially thought of pursuing. "I didn't even consider corporate aviation when I was starting out. I thought more in terms of moving up the KLM U.K. career structure or, perhaps, joining British Airways. But NetJets provides the variety and the security that I like. It is a big company with good financial backing."
He adds: "In the corporate aviation sector you get to meet with the passengers because you provide a vip service which includes welcoming them on board and helping ensure that they get a top-level service."
His father Richard North, now 64, owned a Grumman light aircraft after learning to fly from around 1972. Maxwell North says: "He always flew for pleasure and I remember him building his own aircraft in the garage. He completed everything except the wings and sold it on. As a boy I can remember being flown to northern France. We used to stretch tarpaulin around the wings of the aircraft and camp down for the night on stop-overs."
Maxwell North's wife Kate is a pilot with KLM U.K. With a young child at home she values the more predictable routine of a scheduled airline. "As a family we have a good work, home and lifestyle balance," she says.