There’s always a demand for passengers to fly privately. Those who can afford the privacy and convenience to travel in a private or charter jet are also looking for a great experience. Any registered pilot can fly a commercial liner, but not everyone can or should be a charter pilot and fly for private clientele.
Commercial and private flying share many similarities, but they’re far from the same. There’s more to operating a private plane than just following workplace orders and safely transporting passengers to their destination.
If you’re currently seeking a private pilot, either for your own personal plane or for a fractionally shared aircraft, use these five attributes to ensure you find the right charter pilot every time.
Check Their Flight Experience
Generally speaking, the more flight hours a pilot has, the higher their flying skills. Flight experience isn’t the only factor, but it’s certainly the most important. It’s also especially important if you plan to charter a plane to remote locations or through bad weather, when a highly-skilled pilot is critical to flight success.
Every airline pilot needs a minimum amount of flight hours under their belt. The exact amount varies, but in the USA, it’s usually somewhere between 50 and 70 flying hours just to get a license. Further requirements depend on the job or airline in question.
Pilots start their career with commercial liners to learn the ropes and boost up their flight hours. Most commercial airliners require a minimum of 1,500 hours for full employment and licensure. For a charter pilot, you should look for pilots with around 3,000 hours or more.
Keep in mind that new pilots still need practice hours on each airplane they fly before they can carry passengers. A commercial pilot who begins to fly a small biplane, for example, still requires flying hours on the biplane even though he may have thousands of hours flying a commercial Boeing 747. This ensures pilots are proficient in each aircraft, not just a single model.
As a general rule of thumb, a charter pilot should possess about twice as much experience for charter jobs as is required for commercial flights. This is mostly because charter pilots often fly alone and on call, rather than flying with a partner.
Finally, many charter service providers want their pilots to possess an Airline Transport Pilot certificate. They must undergo this training on their own time as it’s not part of the requirements for commercial airlines. Pilots who own an ATP certificate show dedication to their craft making them suitable candidates.
Do They Fly Internationally?
There’s more involved with traveling between countries than meets the eye. First, there’s paperwork to fill out, travel visas, passports, and customs inspections to account for — all before you even fly across the border. Depending on the country in question, pilots may even be required to hold special licenses or apply for permission to fly.
The good news is that it’s generally much easier to pass through private airport customs lines than public commercial lines. Often, customs officials come directly to the aircraft to authorize passengers rather than offboarding and re-boarding passengers. Fewer people means less muss, and less fuss, but pilots should still possess at least a basic understanding of the differences.
An informed pilot can guide a passenger through the process if they’ve never traveled abroad on a private liner before. They can also assist with any unexpected issues if they arise.
Finding a charter pilot that is experienced with the nuances of international charter flights will save headaches. This is especially true if you’re heading to countries like the UAE or China, where security may be very strict. Easier customs and security is one of the main reasons clients choose to fly private.
Are They Qualified?
Just as it is within the rest of the labor market, some pilots will find ways to fluff their information or certifications. They may find the means to bypass their certifications or forge them, but such a situation is highly unlikely. It also amounts to a lack of due diligence on the part of the charter company.
Good charter airlines always thoroughly screen pilots using robust background screening processes. The right charter company will also be more than happy to share your prospective pilot’s background and qualifications, regardless of whether or not you suspect foul play. It’s about your comfort, your safety, and your confidence in the air.
If your charter pilot is currently flying for another company, ask them for their pilot’s documentation. All pilots provide their employers with their flight hour logs, proof of their ATP certificate, and any other relevant documentation. Feel free to reach out to certified pilot licensing entities and work with them to find out more if you’re feeling unsure.
Also inquire about any potential Air Transport Regulating Authority, or ATAC, protocol breaches. The ATAC serves as a governing body and has the right to enact discipline for pilots. They can even call for license removal in situations of misconduct, reprimandation, or any other issue relating to private flying. A pilot with a track record of bad behavior or protocol violations is most likely not the best choice for your company. Use your judgment when looking through their history; you may find hidden gems in spite of their records.
Can They Fly Consecutive Flights?
One of the many reasons pilots get into the private airline business is to work a flexible schedule. Private airliner pilots enjoy choosing which contracts to take. They can decide how much time to spend at home with their friends and family. Pilots may choose to remain at a destination for a day or two before scheduling a flight home. Having a pool of reliable pilots, regardless of scheduling conflicts, is always a benefit for your company.
Finding a charter pilot who will go the extra mile to take consecutive jobs with no downtime is even better. They will strengthen your business and expand your ability to provide transportation or services, either within your business or without.
You’re sure to stumble across clients that need to travel consistently in a short amount of time. Some of them may require back-to-back flights on a regular basis. Make sure you have a handful of dedicated pilots to cater to these customers and their needs when you create your partnership and you’ll be set.
Are They Customer-Oriented?
Private flying places the pilot in intimate connection with the person or persons flying, especially if the plane is small. The client wants a pleasant experience, whether it’s their first time in a private plane or it’s the 50th time this year. Because most private luxury charter clients expect an elevated level of service, pilots should be prepared and equipped to respectfully deal with clients if and when the situation arises.
If just one or two people fly, it may be too expensive to provide flight attendants. Often, the pilot takes on the most important of these roles instead. Your pilot may need to handle ground logistics for the passenger. They may have to arrange destination or airplane catering services, or fulfill other special requests. Check with each charter pilot you consider and judge their personality; are they pleasant? Can they provide a memorable experience for your passengers?
Here’s an example of when this may come into play. A celebrity charters a flight to England; they bring their child. The child wants to see the cockpit or meet the pilot. This seems like such a small request, but if denied, it could create significant public fallout for the charter company or business using it. If accepted, you could turn the celebrity into a returning client or even an outspoken supporter.
The ideal charter pilot is one who is exceptionally qualified with aircraft and possesses strong customer interaction skills. Remember: the pilot you choose is the face of your business. Even if you’re just hiring a charter to transport important business colleagues to your location to close that big deal, the pilot matters. They need to cater to your clients and be personable in the process, but the most important factor is talent, experience, and safety.