Cessna flight ops—huge, diverse and tasked with many different missions

Company pilots flew more than 21,000 hrs in 2010 to accomplish flight test ops, demos and exec transportation.

Members of the production flight test and customer support team include (L–R) Mgr Delivery and Customer Support Mark Grimes, Chief Pilot Mark Clark and Senior Pilot Terry Lee.

A CJ2 is permanently assigned to the company's Air Response Team which provides customer product support.

Rex Rathgeber performs the dir of maintenance function for the transportation fleet, although his title is fleet maintenance specialist. Like most DOMs he is expected to produce an airworthy airplane when a trip is ready to depart. A key difference, however, is that every time Rathgeber releases an airplane it is expected to look and perform like a brand new unit fresh off the assembly line.

All scheduled and most nonscheduled maintenance on the Cessna fleet is performed at the factory-owned Citation service center at ICT. Exceptions occur when airplanes require unscheduled maintenance off site, particularly if it involves an aircraft on an international trip.

When that occurs, Rathgeber works with the local Cessna field rep, usually to arrange maintenance at an authorized service center. At any one time 2 or more of the aircraft are typically on international assignment, sometimes on trips lasting 6–8 weeks, so there is an occasional need for overseas maintenance.

The only service functions Rath­geber performs on site are adding nitrogen to tires, servicing oxygen systems and topping up oil levels. The aircraft are fueled from Cessna's factory fuel farm or from 1 of 2 fuel farms at the ICT Citation Service Center.

The airplanes are meticulously maintained to standards and procedures in the factory service manuals. Aircraft cleaning is performed by an outside vendor working in the department's hangar. Line service is coordinated between the flight department and the service center to ensure smooth flow.

High standards

The Cessna flight department is certified to IS-BAO standards and is one of only 75 flight departments worldwide to have achieved IS-BAO Stage 2 certification.

All department pilots are ATP rated and typed in at least 2 Citation models. (There are 7 distinct Citation type ratings.) Dirks says most pilots have at least 4 type ratings and his goal is to have every pilot typed in every model, partly to help keep them engaged and motivated. Pilots fly 2 or 3 models at any one time, and are rotated through models as department needs dictate.

Training is conducted at Flight­Safety Intl (FSI), with pilots typically attending every 8 months. There is also an extensive in-house training program in accordance with IS-BAO standards.

Cessna demonstration and transportation pilots typically work 18–20 duty days per month, and average 6–8 overnights during the period. Pilots typically log 400 hrs or more per year. Duty restrictions and crew rest requirements meet IS-BAO standards.

Trip details are normally submitted to the department's dispatch group via telephone or e-mail. Trip data is loaded into the scheduling software, which is available to all flight crews from remote locations.

The department currently uses Computing Tech­nologies for Avi­ation's Flight Operations System (CTA-FOS) software. Pilots are issued with Black­Berry devices for e-mail, flight planning and weather acquisition. ARINC flight planning is used for most trips.

(L–R) Dir of Production Flight Test & Customer Support Mark Zerener with Production Flight Pilot Robert Lott, Mgr Delivery & Customer Support Darren Stover and Chief Pilot Scott Sims, who are based at IDP, where Cessna's piston products and the Mustang are built.

On international flights third-party handling is sometimes used, most typically from Universal. Flightcrews have final dispatch authority on any trip.

Minimum qualifications for a pilot position with the Demonstration and Transportation Group are 2000 flight hours (including 1000 hrs multi-engine and 500 hrs turbine), an ATP and a 4-year college degree. Cur­rently, 78% of the group's pilots are CFIs. About 22% have military backgrounds.

Dirks says the company looks for diversity of experience. Military and civilian flight instruction experience is a plus, and customer interaction is a critical part of the job. "We're really looking for the right person," he says. "We can teach them how to fly the airplane."
Some aspects of the demo pilot's role call for skills and talents beyond the usual realm of corporate flight operations.

A domestic sales trip typically lasts 1–4 days and may entail multiple demonstrations. "Every aspect of a demo flight must be carefully coordinated and orchestrated," says Nolte. "Frequently this will be the customer's first exposure to the aircraft and the company. Everything has to be totally professional and first-class.

We have to look and act the part, with complete knowledge of the product and its capabilities. We are frequently operating from the customer's home FBO and we have to be completely comfortable in that environment, including details like where the airplane should be parked and how the customer expects to access the product. We have to deliver a smooth and seamless experience to the customer. There's much more to this job than simply flying the aircraft well."

The job also requires extensive international travel. Dirks himself has conducted business jet operations in the airspace of more than 90 countries while conducting Citation demo and transportation flights. An international demo tour might see an aircraft on a schedule lasting 6–8 weeks. This is too long for the crew to be efficient, so 18–20 days into the trip the initial crew will be relieved, with airlines providing transportation for the incoming and outgoing pilots.

As in a growing number of flight departments, Cessna pilots fly as cocaptains, alternating legs while acting as PIC.

Cessna's flight department has an extensive safety management program. Dan Grace holds the position of safety manager, reporting directly to Dirks. Reporting to Grace are safety specialists from each functional area.

Safety team members are Senior Pilot for Demonstration and Transportation Bryan Van Dyke, Senior Pilot for Production Flight Test and Delivery Mike Graham, Senior Engineering Specialist for Engineering Flight Test Warren Hansen, Senior Instructor for Single Engine Training Bill Hoyer, and Senior Pilot for Production Flight Test and Customer Support (IDP) Savio Barretto.

The department took the decision to develop separate SMS programs for each segment of its operations manuals. The Demonstration and Transportation's SMS is complete and was judged to have exceeded audit protocols for IS-BAO Stage 2 compliance in Oct 2010.

SMS manuals for the Production Flight Test programs in ICT and IDP are complete. The Single Engine ops manual for IDP's training program is scheduled to be converted to SMS format by mid-2011, with an IS-BAO audit scheduled for 2012.


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