FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE
Flexible point-to-point service using short runways grows with 30 Pilatus PC12s now and more to come.
(L–R) VP Flight Ops Ray Torres, Assistant Chief Pilot Mike Woytek and Assistant Dir Ops Eric Goucher review new pilot résumés. They look for men and women with lots of night instrument time who are also great with customers.
PlaneSense has leveraged the PC12's capabilities and strengths to provide services that its jet competitors simply can't. It allows customers to schedule flights as short as 30 min, while most jet programs have a 1-hr minimum.
That allows PlaneSense to offer price competitive service from the New York or Boston metro areas to the nearby islands of Martha's Vineyard, Block Island and Nantucket. "In the summer we make those trips hundreds of times," Antoniadis says.
In the Caribbean, PlaneSense aircraft routinely land on coral runways inaccessible to larger jets. "You can always fly a Gulfstream to somewhere close, but that last 50 miles is a challenge," Antoniadis says. "We can take you the rest of the way."
Mike Baur is director of the Flight Ops Center, which coordinates trip requests, scheduling and aircraft maintenance.
PlaneSense aircraft even operate into some of their owner's private airfields. "For those customers, we have redefined the meaning of door-to-door service," he says.
As a fractional, PlaneSense operates under FAR Part 91, Subpart K, which was created to bridge the differences between Part 91 operations and Part 135 charter. Flights are also available, as needed, under Part 135. These are operated by Cobalt Air, an affiliate Part 135 operator.
The key to making PlaneSense work, Antoniadis explains, is recruiting, developing and motivating outstanding employees. "Not long ago a client said to me, 'George, what do you do to make your people so great?' The answer is that we hire the best people, train them with systems we've developed and proven ourselves, and give them the tools and incentives they need to succeed. Nothing pleases me more than hearing from our customers that our employees delivered them a great experience."
Responsibility for delivering that great experience lies with 3 key executives in the PlaneSense operation—VP Flight Operations Ray Torres, Dir Airworthiness Todd Smith, and Dir Flight Operations Center Mike Baur.
Torres joined PlaneSense 5 years ago after a 30-year career in the US Air Force where he flew the Lockheed C5 Galaxy. Baur was an executive with another fractional company before coming to PlaneSense, while Smith has an extensive background maintaining Pilatus aircraft as well as a wide range of corporate jet types.
"Our group provides Mike with the pilots he needs to accomplish the job and Todd's group provides him with the airplanes," says Torres.
Baur directs PlaneSense Flight Operations Center, which is housed in a separate building in the Pease Industrial Park at PSM. The ops center controls all PlaneSense activity, taking trip requests, scheduling trips, assigning flightcrews and coordinating maintenance.
Todd Smith is director of airworthiness, with responsibility for maintaining the PlaneSense fleet of 30 Pilatus PC12s.
A team of 34 people receives and directs incoming calls from owners scheduling trips and from pilots on the road awaiting instructions. The system is designed to ensure that no customer ever gets a busy signal or has his or her call unanswered. Antoniadis reports that PlaneSense has achieved an ontime departure rate of 99.7%, not counting weather or customer-induced delays.
PlaneSense pilots fly for 8 consecutive days followed by 6 days off—a schedule designed to provide optimal staffing on the company's busiest days, which tend to be Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. Pilots may start work from either of 2 locations where PlaneSense pilots are based—PSM or PDK (DeKalb–Peachtree, Atlanta GA)—or they may join a trip in progress at a remote location.
Pilot requirements and training
General Counsel Gary Arber (L) and Deputy General Counsel Lorri Badolato manage contracts and handle other legal affairs for PlaneSense.
New PlaneSense pilots begin as second-in-command (SIC) in the legacy aircraft. Upgrading to the PC12 NG requires 2 days of ground school plus 15–30 hrs of flight training.
While all pilots are trained in the legacy aircraft, 80% are trained in the PC12 NG. In the next couple of years, when NGs are expected to equal or exceed the number of legacy aircraft, some new SIC pilots will move directly into the NGs.
PlaneSense pilots receive 3 days of recurrent ground school training and 2 inflight check rides each year, with 1 in each aircraft model for those pilots qualified in both. PC12 NG pilots take their annual instrument check rides in an NG aircraft. "We are very cautious to make sure the dual-qualified pilots are trained and checked in both aircraft each year," says Torres.
In addition to flying the airplane, a key part of any pilot's job at PlaneSense is interacting with the owners and providing "an extraordinary level of service." And, both because the pilots play such a key role in creating and maintaining the customer experience at PlaneSense, and because the operating environment in the northeast US can be tough, pilot hiring is an exacting process.
"Bad weather at night in New England is a lot of what we want our pilots to be able to do," says Assistant Chief Pilot Mike Woytek, who is responsible for hiring. "We look for that initially in the résumés.
Flight Operations Center Mgr of Training Greg Chag describes how the Ops Center coordinates trip requests, scheduling and maintenance to keep the operation running smoothly.
You can have a great résumé, but if you're flying on the weekends with 5000 hrs and teaching somebody to fly in good weather in the daytime—that's not what we're looking for.
We're looking for the men and women who've been in charge, sometimes probably by themselves, at night and in weather, because they're usually the kind of pilots that fit very well with us."
When it needs new pilots, the Human Resources (HR) Dept—led by VP of HR Robyn Moses-Harney—advertises, seeking candidates with a minimum of 1200 hrs and lots of actual instrument time.