Life as a Corporate Pilot

  Jeneal McKinleyNov 27, 2017  

Jason Kopp gave a talk on his life as a corporate pilot and some of the places it has taken him. From the Canadian Air and Space Museum in a twin Otter, to the race track at Dulles, where he got to drive a Mini Cooper on Mini Cooper day at 130MPH.

His background prior to his flying career at age 26, was as a tool and die apprentice in Michigan. He did not want to follow in his father’s footprints as an engineer. He loved aviation and thanks to his wife Angie, giving him a discovery flight they decided to make the jump and move to Deland Florida and attend the now defunct Regional Airline Academy.

He completed all of his ratings in 1 year, private to multi-engine instructor in 11 months. He got hired by Continental Express flying an Embraer 145.

In October of `02, he went from beginning his training, to the right seat of a 50 seater. He upgraded to Captain 2 years later. β€œIt’s just timing.” he states.

During the downturn in `08 he was able to hold his Captains seat where he was 100 from the bottom. He was able to build turbine pilot command time which was crucial for him moving onto the next step in his career.

During that time he was looking at going to China. He attended a couple of job fairs looking into going to Emirates. Beginning 2010 China was calling him back and then the opportunity with Blue Ocean came up.

Admitting he is more of an airline guy than a corporate guy but after meeting with the owners he now flies for, “I thought they were great people and decided to take a chance and it’s been phenomenal.”

β€œI’ve been very fortunate in my career to move up as fast as I have and to have the opportunities that I’ve had. I’ve been Chief Pilot for 7 years now and I have a great crew of very talented individuals.”

He has a staff of 8. Three maintenance, 1 scheduler and 4 pilots. He also has 1 designated local contract pilot.

He was asked if he had a favorite flight. He said he did. When he worked for Continental Express, which actually flew more flights into Mexico than Aero Mexico, He went from Houston to Mexico City, then to Toronto and finally Cleveland. That’s 3 countries in 1 trip. He said flying into Mexico City they will clear you at 100 miles out for approach and you have to make your own terrain separation. They will just keep aircraft away from you.

His favorite airports are Chicago and Newark. His favorite plane is the Gulfstream G4, however the Challenger 350 he flies now is awesome. It’s basically a souped up Lear 60 with a blend of nice long wings to handle short runways and plenty of thrust.

They do some kind of training every 6 months, usually a simulator ride with all the B1 cuts, engine loss, hydraulics, and fire. They usually use Flight Safety with Bombardier out of Dallas and they have great training with qualified instructors.

They have international procedures training every 2 years. Escape maneuvers, contingency plans for engine loss, pressurization loss and emergency medical returns so they work through that whole process. He got to experience talking on an HF radio trying to get through Gander, but now with all the new stuff, they are going to CPDLC and you don’t have to make position reports anymore because that automatically sends that to them.

They do fire extinguishing training every 2 years. Annually they will either do a safety like a the Bombardier Safety Stand down which is a great thing to go to. Because of some of the flying he had to do this year with the hurricane relief, he missed the NBAA convention this year, but is planning to attend next year.

As a department they do quarterly safety meetings and case studies. So they look at things like the Bedford crash with the G4 where they didn’t use the check list or any flight control checks. Discipline was horribly wrong and that was a crew that had been together for a long time. There was the Akron crash where the Beech jet got low and slow and unstable on approach and crashed in a field and basically wiped out a company’s executive board. The Mexican crash up in Aspen with the Challenger series is what they are reviewing right now. They like to look at some of the things going on in the industry and how can they be better.

A great web site is run by James Albright, whom he got to meet once. The site is Code7700. He recommends checking it out. Albright has so much information on that website. He can break it down common sense wise and at the same time can give technical info.

They submit reports. They also review those. So if there is anything out of the ordinary, say if they had to do a go around, an aborted takeoff, somethings wrong with the airplane that needs to be addressed, the pilot group as a whole will review those reports. It’s an anonymous form any one can fill it out, whether someone thinks the hanger floor is slippery, it’s not just airplane or aircraft specific.

They look at Flight Risk Assessment Tool (FRAT) trends for every flight. They have to fly 50 hours in 90 days or that’s a threat. Anything over an 8 hour flight day is another threat value that’s on there. Their flight department also has rest rules. If they flew from 14-15 hours, then it’s a 12 hour rest between the time they set the brakes after landing until the next time they can fly. Anything from 15-16 hours is a 24 hour rest period. That way it keeps the pilot fatigue down and it also kind of limits the company and what it can do, so they can mitigate that by sending a crew ahead of time to re-position the plane or the crew and have that flight go. Again a very safety conscious flight department with a lot of buy in from the owners and the company itself which is really great to have.

So then the next section on the FRAT is environmental like is it snowing and precipitation to night flights, whether it has a VOR or a vertical guidance to a runway. A non-controlled airport is a threat unless they are based out of that airport.

Then that bottom section is if something is squawked on the aircraft. They assess every single leg.

Then they try to do upset training every 5 years. This is a new requirement that they just did. Very great training, he wishes everyone could go through that. He is fortunate that he is a corporate pilot and he gets to do those things and it doesn’t come out of his personal pocket but very good training and the insurance company pays for a portion of it.

Typical schedule. They are on call in the corporate world 24/7. His trips vary. He can go from a day trip where he’s just our for 12 hours or he could go fly for 4 hours sit for 3 hours and then come back another 4 hours or so. Or an extended trip where the longest trip he’s done is 4 weeks. It’s great to have a wife that understands and can handle that, not always happy about it but can handle that. On the average 3 to 4 days a week but there are big gaps.

He looked at his 2015 totals to give us an idea. He did 77 day flights and 144 overnights, which is like 40% of the year. He did just under 330 hours of flight. In the airlines his peak year was 930 hours, but most corporate pilots average around 200 hours. He had 197 duty days, where he could fly somewhere and sit for a week before he flies back. Usually if it’s longer that 2 weeks he tries to supplement a crew and bring another crew in to relieve . He can do that now because he has 1 common type of aircraft.

For the first 4 years two of the pilots had three different type ratings, so he would fly the Lear 60 and the G4 and his other pilot would fly the the Leer 31 and the G4 and then each year they would switch. Now they have 1 common type which saves a lot of training, parts, and the schedule helps out a lot that way.

There is a lot of sitting and as Chief Pilot he also has the admin part, so he gets a lot of work done on the road during the layovers. He likes wearing the different hats. He enjoys flight planning. He tries to see if the plan they gave him is what he would do. He likes to land back here with about 2,000 pounds of fuel or about an hour in reserve. So if they can do it efficiently it also saves the owners money.

They do their flight planning, including weight-and-balance, with ARINCDirect from Rockwell Collins. They use Jeppesen charts on iPads with a worldwide subscription. They get clearances from the controller through their flight management system rather than getting it over the radio. It’s a rollout that they are just starting at some airports. If the pilot accepts the clearance, the flight management system sends an automatic message back to the controller so it cuts all the communication right out. They just changed it too. It used to be airport specific. Like if he was out of Teterboro he would have to enter “KTEB” to get into the system. Now they just enter “KUSA” and it covers all the USA airports that currently have it active. Usage requires a Letter of Authorization (LOA) from the FAA, so they are going through that right now. There’s a mandate to use the system over oceanic airspace.

There are two different systems. Here in the US they use the FANS 1/A system which is satellite based. In Europe they use Link 2000 (also used by ships) and so they have both types of equipment in their airplane.

The FAA website is good and ADS-B for weather and always check the NOTAMs. There are some good “gotchas”. Jason’s famous “gotcha” was down in Jacksonville. The very first NOTAM said for international trips you have to contact airport operations. He missed that and so when he arrived from overseas he got put in the penalty box for about 30 minutes by the airport manager. In Jacksonville, it says for any international operations, you have to give a 6 hour notice to the airport manager. The reason for this is because customs is actually at the airline terminal. So you actually come in and park next to a gate and they have to get customs over to the gate. Jason’s moral: If you goof up, admit to it.

Jason took questions and showed some slides and videos.