A professional pilot flying business aircraft needs a range of skills not demanded by an airline job. So while experience of airline flying might be welcome in a pilot applying for a job with business aviation operators, they are looking for a much more complete individual than many airline pilots are, according to George Galanopoulos, managing director of London Executive Aviation.
By European standards LEA is a fairly large, multi-base operator with some 25 aircraft of various types in its fleet and 80 pilots on its staff. "The pilots we want need to be able to stand on their own two feet," observes Galanopoulos, remarking that airline pilots often expect everything to be done for them except the flying. He says that although LEA's operations department is a 24/7 organization that backs up the company's pilots wherever they are, circumstances at the more remote airfields in Africa and some of the smaller CIS republics often call for on-the-spot management and negotiating skills. These include business knowledge, says Galanopoulos, explaining that pilots may have to arrange payment direct for catering or fuel, but they also have to know whether the quoted price is fair so they can negotiate not only for provision of the service, but ensure value for LEA. LEA's handling agents are carefully chosen, he says, but there are times when the captain has to step in.
Another vital personality component LEA insists on is a natural respect for local cultures and traditions. The lack of this characteristic can cause difficulty and embarrassment.
There is also a radically different relationship between the pilots and passengers, according to Galanopoulos, observing: "Most airline pilots just turn left on arrival in the aircraft," pointing out that the only attempt by most airline pilots to establish a relationship with the passengers is made on the cabin address. The business aircraft pilot must have a strong personality, he says, enabling him/her to interact with the passengers in an easy way so as to establish their needs and preferences. This also applies clearly to the cabin crew, but it cannot be left to them. It is not enough, says Galanopoulos, for the pilots to be aviators: they must also have charm, a sense of humour and, when things do not go according to plan, to be able to explain with calm authority what the problems and potential solutions are.
Beyond that, the company must be able to trust the crew's integrity and personal standards. Galanopoulos says that LEA conducts a criminal records check on all applicants, and will not accept a candidate even with a driving offence if it is a serious one. Regular customers frequently ask for their favourite crew, says Galanopoulos, and if they do, LEA tries to arrange it. This, he says, is what LEA wants to hear, even if rostering prevents the company complying with the request.
So where does LEA find these paragons of personality, talent and virtue? Galanopoulos says most have an airline background, and a small minority come direct from a consolidated ab-initio course. Most of them choose to stay once they join, he claims, pointing out that several have been with the company for all the 17 years of its corporate history. At present LEA requires pilots to have a type rating when they first join, but if they subsequently swap types in the fleet, LEA meets the cost. The company uses third party type rating/training organisations for its recurrent training, at present mainly CAE at Amsterdam and Swiss Aviation Training.