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A Day in the Life: The Corporate Pilot

Like most people who are reading this, it all starts with “the itch;” the undeniable need to leave the ground and defy gravity. I was fortunate enough to have, not one, but two grandparents with airplanes. Having early access to flying started me down the path that I am on today.

My aviation journey began at the University of North Dakota (2009-2012). I cannot speak highly enough of my time at UND. The courses were engaging, and the people I was surrounded by all shared my passion. If there is one piece of advice I have for young aviators, it is to earn your flight instructor certifications. Teaching and re-teaching the fundamentals, Federal Aviation Regulations, and aerodynamics will, without question, make you a better aviator. It will not be the most exhilarating flight time; but, as corny as it sounds, it will be some of the most rewarding. I was fortunate enough to instruct for UND - Grand Forks as well as UND - Phoenix.

My next step was into the Part 135 world of cargo. The infamous “freight dog” life was hands down the most challenging flying of my career. I flew the PA-31-350, BE-99, and BE-1900. All of these operations were single pilot and an amazing learning experience – a true learn-on-the-fly opportunity. For a more in-depth look at single-pilot Part 135 operations, I recommend reading Dustin Van Norman’s blog as he hits the nail on the head.

From cargo to passengers, my next jump was to the now defunct JetSuite, Inc. This was my first corporate flying position. I flew Phenom 100s and 300s both as a first officer and captain. In 2020, a furlough and eventual bankruptcy of JetSuite, Inc. led me to my current position as a First Officer with Jet Linx Aviation where I fly the Citation XLS.

The Corporate Schedule

The typical corporate schedule tends to be some form of working days and off days. The schedule I have seen most often has been eight days on and six days off; however, each company may have its own take on this. For example, Jet Linx is unique in that I bid for eight hard days off per month (typically two four-day blocks). Personally, I prefer having a set schedule and knowing exactly what week I will be free from any work related duties. It is pretty amazing to work for a week and then get a week off. The detriment to this is that sometimes it can be a chore to plan around special events. However, like any job, if you read your policies and procedures, learn the proper methods for requesting vacation and using paid time off, you can make most of your plans work.

Like most flying positions, the holidays will always be a busy time. Do not count on being around for Thanksgivings, Halloweens, Christmases, etc. A piece of advice that applies to more than just planning your schedule in aviation – never put off what can be done today until tomorrow. Your time at home is precious, so take full advantage.

Working with Jet Linx means that along with operating under Part 135, I also conduct flights directly for the owners of the Citation XLS. This means flying Part 91 flights and a fluctuating schedule. If the owners want to fly on a day that I have scheduled off, I’m still required to fly it. Now, DO NOT let me talk you out of Part 135 or 91 operations. It has been my experience that anytime my schedule has fluctuated, the Jet Linx scheduling team has gone above and beyond to try and help me out in either that month or the next. A positive attitude will go a long way in making your life easier when dealing with schedules.

The Gig

One of the unique things about flying part 135 charter is that the pilots are pretty much responsible for every aspect of the flight. Planning ahead leads to a hassle-free day of flying. This means that I need to look at the schedule, check the weather forecast, run performance scenarios, and develop a flight plan the night before a flight.

Unfortunately, passengers don’t always bring the exact amount of luggage that dispatch seems to think they have. This means that I need to plan for the best- and worst-case weight and balance scenarios. Another cool part about Part 135 operations is that each trip may begin in a different location. In these scenarios, I will fly via a commercial flight to the location where the trip originates.

Even though I may be in a different state or country, my day will pretty much start the same: gathering coffee, ice, and newspapers for our clients. This will be the gold standard of what I ask for when I walk into the FBO. Then we will fuel up, preflight the aircraft, obtain a clearance, load up our flight plan, and the most important part: hurry up and wait...

All flights will be assigned with a captain and first officer. Good communication makes all of this preparation seamless and easy with a divide and conquer mentality. Depending on how many flights I have that day, it tends to be a wash, rinse, and repeat exercise. Some days I will start early with a 4 a.m. wakeup, and on other days I won’t start until 10 p.m. On the same note, some trips will take me through the busiest of airports on the worst weather days, while others bring me to an uncontrolled field equipped with a shack, which technically fits the description of an FBO. This job truly keeps me on my toes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Highlights

Flying corporate charter has been a wonderful experience. One of my favorite draws is the locations to which I get to fly. The flying is varied in that I can start a trip on the beach in sunny California, journey to the mountains covered in snow, and end up back

on a beach in Florida in just a few hours. Each and every trip will be unique.

This means there will be opportunities to explore new cities, hike new trails, ski mountains that I have only read about, and eat diverse cuisine. There is also a wonderful sense of pride that I take in being responsible for my aircraft. As a crewmember, I am very much out on the front line and even though we have company support, a majority of the operation depends on our planning, efficiency, and decision making. Corporate charter is truly a rewarding experience and some of the most fun a pilot will have in the skies.

All the best,

Brian Smith

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