I’m often asked: why pursue a career in business aviation? Most professional pilots measure their career with two metrics: compensation and quality-of-life. If scheduled airlines provide more of one or both of these, why would any right-thinking pilot consider private, charter or corporate flying as anything other than a stepping stone to a 121 gig?
It’s a good question. I suppose each of us who work in this corner of general aviation have our own reasons. From where I sit, business flying offers aviators a much richer arena of jobs, destinations, lifestyles, insights, technologies, and so on. For example, we tend to be more intimately involved in maintenance, outfitting and refurbishment, and management. We see first-hand the benefits our work provides to those who employ us. And there’s something to be said for job satisfaction as a result.
We have access to some of the latest and greatest equipment in the skies, aircraft which fly higher, faster, and further than anything else in the civilian world. The next non-military supersonic aircraft isn’t going to be an airliner. It’ll be a business jet. Get on one and you’re likely to have a more comfortable seat, better in-flight service, faster airborne internet, better food, larger windows, and lower cabin altitudes than an airliner. Those things aren’t just for the passengers. I’ve often said, “Nobody ever goes hungry on a Gulfstream”, and so far I’ve been right.
I also love business aviation for the behind-the-scenes look it offers at the how and why of aircraft operation. The general public wonders who these people are that fly privately, where they’re going, and why they’re using such an expensive mode of transportation. I know the answers to those questions because I’m right in the thick of it all.
I’d be the last one to suggest that flying is boring, but some pilots do start to feel that way after a while. In business aviation, there are myriad opportunities to expand one’s horizons. For example, as the lead pilot on my aircraft, I have access to management statements and review them for accuracy each month. It’s enlightening, to say the least. After doing this for a number of years, you’d think I’d get used to the size of the figures contained therein… but I never do. The cost of operating a business aircraft is astronomical, yet so many companies own them anyway. I know these people; most of them are not splurging. The value they extract from operating the jet simply makes the expense economically worthwhile.
Business aviation careers build valuable relationships and sometimes lead to “bigger, better things” (as if there’s anything bigger or better than flying!). I know numerous pilots that have gone on to start their own charter or aircraft management firms, brokerages, training operations, consulting gigs, or assisting in purchase/sale transactions. Others have moved into management positions. Each of these can be far more financially lucrative than flying for a living. Me, I have some sweet writing jobs that I probably wouldn’t have been approached for were it not for my work in this business.
One of the best parts about a business aviation career is the opportunity to be recognized and rewarded for your own job performance rather than simply exist as a seniority number and miniscule cog in an enormous machine. Even the largest publicly-owned companies have relatively small flight departments, and that means people know your name. They can offer opportunities which cater to your desires and talents because they are aware of what your wants and capabilities are. And if they don’t? You can move horizontally within the industry. A new job doesn’t have to mean starting all over at the bottom of the heap.
Though they’re improving steadily, I don’t know if bizav will, on average, ever rival the total career compensation or quality-of-life you might be able to get with a major scheduled airline. That’s one of the major impediments the industry is dealing with in their effort to recruit and retain talented individuals. But I do know this: business aviation offers many things which can tilt the value proposition in that direction, if you’re willing to do a little digging.
As Scully and Mulder said, the truth is out there.
You are among the lucky ones who have found a corporate gig that fits your lifestyle and gives you ultimate job satisfaction. As a 20 year USAF fighter pilot and 15 year Part 121 captain I am envious of your status but point out the fact that all corporate positions are not a bed of roses. After retiring from USAirways I looked for a corporate job here in North Carolina. I’m in NASCAR country and many of the teams have biz jets. I found that the success of the team flight department is directly dependent upon the success of the team driver(s) on the track. In a losing year the first perk to go is the team jet! Not the sort of job security I was looking for so I set my sights on more stable ventures. I ended up with two part time jobs; one with a Part 135 carrier and the other as an air show entertainer. Retired from both now, I enjoy aerobatic competition and judging with the IAC. Life is good! Enjoying your writing. Keep it coming.
Gold Hill, NC
Hello Ron! I do feel extremely fortunate about my career progression — although, as I wrote in “Know Thyself”, one’s perspective can have a major impact on job satisfaction as well. You’re absolutely correct in stating that not all business aviation gigs are a bed of roses. That’s an important point, and one that the industry should not try to hide. After all, even those jobs with less than stellar pay and/or quality of life can provide valuable experience, opportunity, and connections to aviators who are in need of those things on their journey.
I was not aware that the NASCAR teams would let go of their aircraft so easily, but it probably shouldn’t be a surprise because corporate America often does the same thing. Any flight departments is an expensive operation and one which sticks out like a sore thumb when cost cutting is on the table. I’m not sure it’s always the wisest decision, but when a company (or team) is in survival mode, sometimes you have to do what’s necessary.
Speaking of careers, yours doesn’t sound too shabby! I am a big fan of your advocacy efforts with the RV series in IAC and was glad to see you were re-elected to the Board of Directors. Hard to believe it’s been more than 11 1/2 years since I wrote about the virtues of aerobatics in the RV series for Sport Aerobatics. Anyway, thanks for the kind words, and for being a reader!
Wow, eleven plus years sure does make a difference. Here are the current RV build stats:
As of December 19, 2018 10,380 RV aircraft have been completed and flown!
Listed by Model
In your 2007 article you said: “I’ve flown the RV-4, RV-6, RV-7, and RV-8. I wouldn’t consider them to be especially well suited for competition, primarily because the clean design, flush riveting, and careful fairing of the draggy bits mean the airspeed will build quickly when pointed downhill. That’s not to say they cannot be flown in competition. They can, and they have been. You’d just have to work harder to ensure the airplane’s limitations are not exceeded.” A true statement and the reason I am so determined to fly the RV in competition… It’s hard! Getting the absolute best aerobatic performance out of an RV is a challenge and who doesn’t like to be challenged? If it was easy everybody would be doing it.
The RV ranks have doubled since you wrote about them in 2007 yet there are only a handful of RV pilots actively participating in IAC competition. It’s a pretty elite group and we are always welcoming new members.
Thanks for the updated stats, Ron! I love the love that the RV series gets from all walks of aviation life. In fact, I hope to own an RV of my own in the future. Probably a 6 or 7 that I can use to teach people in. Not sure I’ll compete with it, but it will definitely see acro.
I don’t know why more RVs aren’t seen in competition. You can get a good 4 for the price of a Citabria or standard Decathlon, and the performance is worlds above the Bellanca. I mean, the biggest time suck in practice/instruction is just climbing back up to altitude, and with the RV it’s quick and easy—when you have to do it at all. Probably half my 1000 hours of Decathlon time was spend climbing after a spin series or working through a few split S figures with a student.
The only gotcha with acro in the RV is that they aren’t always easy for dual situations, so perhaps that’s what keeps more people from jumping in?
Anyway, the RV is definitely more work, but it’s like learning to fly in a tail wheel: it makes you a better pilot. I do hope to see more of them flying aerobatics, both competition and elsewhere.
I’m the kid at the fence in awe of the Biz-Jets and those who fly them. Its been a 50 year fascination and still is just as strong. Many of my happiest moments were those aboard a Gulfstream or LearJet after making a new friend who delighted in sharing his passion and airplane. Always enjoy your articles Ron and thanks…
The kids at the fence are the best! They aren’t there with any ulterior motive beyond a pure love of airplanes. Who wouldn’t be inspired by that? I have to say, more than one “kid at the fence” has revived my spirit with their excitement and passion for all things flying. I can recall many at the fence along taxiway Bravo at Van Nuys, or hanging on to the chain link at FBOs of John Wayne Airport. Or on those bleachers at Santa Monica. It’s awesome to hear that people with turbojets will give a ride to an enthusiast just as someone with a recip might!
I was involved in developing a wireless internet service for business aircraft, although as a pilot, instructor and aeronautical engineer I was as interested in the aircraft side as I was the network side. I was trying to understand how anybody not made of money could justify replacing a slower jet with a Citation X of Gulfstream 650, and the answer I got was that if it saved a few tenths of flight time, it paid for itself. The numbers are big.
Now I’m getting close to retiring from telecoms and moving (back) into aviation full time, and I’m considering business aviation. What is the entry point to such a carrier? I’ve just exceeded ATP mins, but haven’t added it yet.
The financial side of turbine aircraft purchases can be rather complex. For certain companies, the ability to depreciate the cost of an aircraft purchase makes it worthwhile even if they don’t strictly NEED a new bird, because the depreciation can help offset a large tax bill in a year when earnings are high. If they sell the aircraft during a lean year, the recaptured depreciation might be taxed at a lower rate. But you’re right, the numbers are huge! A plane full of C-level executives might be earning a collective hourly sum which makes the airplane a prudent financial investment. Or, the cost of having, say, a Ford assembly plant offline due to a problem makes the cost of flying engineers out to fix it a trivial expense. And remember, a company like Ford has manufacturing plants, assembly lines, dealerships, test tracks, racing teams, car shows, etc all over the globe.
It’s difficult to answer the question about the “entry point” into business aviation, because it varies widely depending on the job. I’ve seen people get into the right seat of a King Air with less than ATP minimums. If you’re talking about a large cabin turbojet on a 135 certificate, an SIC position might have minimums in the 2500 hr w/ 1500 multi range. Those figures sound high, but remember: once you get that first job, you might be logging 4-500 hours a year, so your experience will compound very quickly.
My neighbor flies for NetJet and loves his job. His words; He has nicer equipment, not as nice as some of the experimental stuff yet but, and he gets to fly, not just mange systems! He see’s a lot of the US with a different airport on deck everyday. And he gets to meet some extraordinary people along the way. Another thing he brings up is maybe his pay isn’t MD 350 level but he doesn’t get furloughed every few years either so his life time earnings will be closer to the big boys.
All true, Larry. And NetJets provides a sustainable quality of life with their 7 on / 7 off schedule. (They even have schedules with fewer work days than that, although they pay a little less as well.) You can live wherever you want, because NetJets will airline you out to start your duty rotation. Not a bad gig.
As you’ve said before, I guess it’s all about finding the career path that suits you best. I’m sure many pilots find it in the airlines and the equipment, infrastructure and structure that goes with that. Others seem to find it in the what’s-next life if police/medical helicopters. Shiny equipment sure is nice, but I bet those guys at Buffalo Airways think operating a vintage C-46 is the best job in the world too. I wonder if we just need to give Instructing a bit more of that glam…
And those RV stats are awesome. Wow!
I would hope that everyone could agree that operating a Commando would be the Best Job in the World! Well, except for the guys flying that B-29 around. Or the ones at Kenmore flying those seaplanes… or… oh, now look at the can of worms you’ve opened…
Instructing, yes! Question is, how does it get it that treatment? Feels like people have been trying to glam up the profession since about 10 minutes after Wilbur and Orville’s famous coin toss. But to me, that’s the missing puzzle piece. If that side could be restored, the rest would sort of fall into place.
The RVs are an amazing fleet. I predict eventually there are going to be way more of them than there are Cessnas and Pipers. Wrap your mind around that!
Well I’m no real fan of either of the major spam can brands, so bring on the RVs! I can’t wait. Every bit of their success is richly deserved.
Right? I’m not either. When they start making tail wheels again, I’ll reconsider. Till then, gimmie a Cub or RV any day.
I’m training to be an airline pilot but this post has made me research more into the private business jet side of things…
Glad it was able to expand your horizons, Taylor! Best of luck with your training.
We work with many corporate pilots and for the most part they seem pretty content with the business aviation life and work-style. Some would like to fly for the airlines, and some appreciate what they have. Everyone is different!