FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE
Flexible point-to-point service using short runways grows with 30 Pilatus PC12s now and more to come.
VP of Flight Operations Ray Torres says the key to being a successful PlaneSense pilot is the ability to interact well with owners.
Qualified candidates are sent an application package that includes a take-home exam. From the returned applications, PlaneSense selects candidates to come in for a 3-part interview process, which includes meetings with HR personnel and with senior pilots (Chief Pilot Chris Loprinze and Assistant Dir Ops Eric Goucher) to evaluate technical knowledge and instrument competence. It also includes a simulator session.
"In the simulator," says Goucher "we give them some time to get used to it, then put them on instruments to see if they can keep the airplane upright, set up the avionics in a way that makes sense, execute an approach procedure, go missed at the appropriate time, fly the missed approach procedure and enter a hold."
All 3 sections of the interview process are scored, and a cumulative score establishes each candidate's position among the pool of potential new-hires. Leading candidates are invited to join the next new-hire class. But that's just the beginning.
VP of Human Resources Robyn Moses-Harney initiates the search when PlaneSense
needs to add new pilots.
Training is the responsibility of Casey Hoch, director of flight training, and begins with a 9-day ground school, taught by PlaneSense's own ground instructors, Eric Cannon and Tim Cloutier, who are line captains.
The course includes all Part 91K and Part 135 requirements and also covers aircraft systems, avionics and crew resource management. After ground school, students go to SimCom in Scottsdale AZ for training on a PC12 Series 10 simulator, which most closely matches PlaneSense's legacy aircraft.
The 4-day SimCom course is accomplished using PlaneSense instructors and a syllabus developed by PlaneSense.
After flight training, the new-hire class moves on to Survival Systems in Groton CT for its full water emergency course including underwater egress training, advanced first aid and CPR.
Then it's back to PSM for about 1.5 hrs of actual aircraft flying to cover maneuvers such as circling approaches, which Hoch says don't translate well in the simulator.
At last, there's a final check ride in the aircraft. It's rare for anyone to fail the final check ride, Hoch says, but not every candidate who began training is still around to take it. There are elimination points during the training process, including after ground school, at multiple points during the simulator training, and also after the final flight training event in the aircraft. About 20% of the candidates who begin training will have been eliminated before the final check ride.
Maintenance Technician Jay Breen keeps a shadowed tool box to ensure that all tools are properly returned after use.
After making it through training and graduating to flying the line, new PlaneSense pilots remain on probationary status for the first year. The critical element, says Torres, is the ability to interact well with the owners.
"We have a curtain that stays open between us and the owners," he says. "They're not passengers—it's their airplane and we're there to make sure that owning it and flying in it is a great experience.
That's a key part of the job. If at any point during the probationary period [pilots] are not meeting standards, we cut them loose. We're not hesitant to say, 'This isn't working.' It's too important to us for owner retention and for the safety of the flight. Both of those things drive us to be pretty picky."
For those pilots who do fit the mold, PlaneSense is a good job. "The PC12 is fun to fly," says Torres. "It's pretty sporty for somebody moving up from a piston single. For a lot of our pilots it's their first airplane with a 1200-shp engine, an 8-ft prop and really advanced avionics systems. It's a lot different from a Cessna 172."
A predictable schedule
Maintenance Floor Supervisor Jon Hammond gets ready to make an adjustment to a PlaneSense PC12.
PlaneSense operates with a published advancement schedule so that pilots know what to expect. First officers begin at a salary of $30,000 annually while 15-year captains top out at $80,000. Upgrades to captain are performance based, with some occurring at less than a year. All the standard commercial pilot benefits are included.
Maintenance on the PlaneSense fleet is subcontracted to company affiliate Atlas Aircraft Center, of which Antoniadis is also president. Atlas is an FAA Part 145 repair station and authorized Pilatus PC12 service center. In addition to the PlaneSense fleet, Atlas performs work for other PC12 operators as requested. The maintenance control segment of the company's ops center schedules all Atlas activities.
Atlas VP Service Todd Smith directs a staff of 30 technicians who maintain PlaneSense's PC12s in accordance with the Pilatus factory-approved maintenance program. An exception is that, as a fleet operator, PlaneSense has qualified for 5000-hr overhaul intervals and hot sections on condition for the Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67 engines that power its PC12s.
Maintenance intervals for all engine components, including fuel controllers, fuel pumps and prop governors are similarly extended. (Normal overhaul interval for the PT6A-67 is 3500 hrs with hot sections at the halfway point.)
PlaneSense uses Pratt & Whitney Canada's trend monitoring system on its engines, with reports on torque, temperature and fuel flow on each engine sent every 4 flight hours to the flight ops center, where they are scanned for anomalies. A library of trend data collected there supported the TBO extension.
As a part of its capabilities, Atlas operates a complete avionics shop and performs all major maintenance on the 30 PlaneSense PC12s. All Atlas maintenance personnel attend Pilatus initial training at the factory facility in Denver CO, as well as Pratt & Whitney PT6 initial training in Montreal QC, Canada.
When an airplane comes out of maintenance, it is expected to be pristine.
"We take a lot of pride in the airplane," says Smith. "Whether it comes out of scheduled or unscheduled maintenance, it will be washed and waxed, with all the catering done, and all the details cleaned and taken care of, per the checklist.
"We aren't putting the airplane out there for someone [who] just bought a ticket on a website," he says. "We're putting the airplane out there for an owner. And the owner doesn't care that the airplane has been on the road for 3 weeks or 3 days—the owner wants a clean airplane that looks as close to new as possible. And that's what we deliver."
With its all-PC12 fleet, PlaneSense has built a unique fractional operation that appears poised for continued growth.
Mike Potts is an aviation consultant and freelance writer. He worked in corporate communications for Beech and Raytheon Aircraft between 1979 and 1997.