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Nimble flight department supports exacting global flight profile flying Embraer Legacy 500 out of YUL.

By Justin Marchand
Contributing Writer

Rudolf Winter (L) and Darren Winkiewicz serve as both the senior management team and pilots of Air-JPL. They enjoy their “high-tech office with wings.”

Based at YUL (Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Montréal QC, Canada), 2-year old Air-JPL operates an Embraer Legacy 500 for a private Québec ownership group. The small private flight department logs approximately 300 hours a year to support its frequent transatlantic and other global flight activity.

Remaining loyal to the Embraer Executive Jets family, Air-JPL plans to upgrade to a Praetor 600. The company will take delivery of the new super-midsize twin jet in Q1 2024.

Two-man team

Air-JPL Director of Ops Rudy Winter first flew with the Canadian airlines before becoming a chief pilot with Skyservice, one of Canada’s largest private jet centers.

He carried over his experience from the private aviation management side of the corporate aviation industry and his 7500 hours TT to run the day-to-day operations of Air-JPL. Winter operated aircraft for more than a year for the ownership group that comprises Air-JPL before being asked to fly exclusively for the company.

“Because I was the chief pilot there, I saw how the whole operation worked,” Winter says. “So, with that knowledge in mind, I can approach the owner and tell him how to best operate the airplane. The main goal of founding our own flight operation was to save money, because you throw away a lot of money when another company manages your flight activity. We are now saving about $100,000 a year.”

Air-JPL’s Embraer Legacy 500 provides luxury, convenience, and innovative sophistication for passengers and crew alike.

Winter continues, “The boss also asked me how we could operate on our own to have more flexibility. Now, as the owner and operator of the airplane, we support it with a small 2-pilot flight department. I’m the operations manager, and Darren Winkiewicz, the other pilot, is the director of maintenance.

We have some additional office personnel to pay bills and perform other administrative tasks, but everything on the flight operations and regulatory sides is basically done by the 2 of us.”

Winter says that the largest areas of saving fall on the maintenance side of the house, avoiding aircraft management fees, and moving flight planning capabilities in-house. “The maintenance savings are definitely the biggest part,” he confirms.

“When your aircraft is under a management company, they can implement their own maintenance schedule, which is more extensive than what is required by regulations. Maintenance is good business, and most aircraft owners do not know what is actually required. Without compromising safety, we can work more efficiently under our own certificate. That’s where the savings come in.”

EmbraerWorking with this scheme, Air-JPL does not pay extra for flight planning either. “We are our own flight coordinators,” Winter explains. “It gives us a tremendous amount of flexibility when it comes to quick changes with our operations. From flight planning to scheduling to duty times, all is done by me, except maintenance requirements, which are handled by Darren.”

Winkiewicz explains, “Our customer-centric approach has always focused on our client’s primary needs. We do not fit into the typical flight department model.”

Global flight profile

Air-JPL deploys its Embraer Legacy 500 in support of the ownership’s travel profile. This includes destinations in Europe, US, the Caribbean, and South America. “We fly worldwide – all the way down to Antarctica,” Winter says. “We go to a lot of scenic places.”

LegacyThe company does a fair amount of flying to Argentina. This includes trips to both EZE (Ezeiza, Buenos Aires, Argentina) and USH (Ushuaia, Argentina), the capital of Tierra del Fuego and the world’s southernmost city. The crew stops at MIA (Intl, Miami FL) enroute, overnights in GYE (Guayaquil, Ecuador), then flies to EZE.

When flying to USH, EZE is an additional stop. “On the way home, we follow the same route back through GYE,” says Winter. “A big problem down there is insurance. We’re not allowed to fly or land anywhere in Colombia or Peru. So that’s challenging with airport alternates and routing.”

Air-JPL also flies to the Caribbean often, sometimes hopping from island to island. “These types of operations are interesting because we’re not precisely flying a small aircraft,” Winter chuckles.

“We also do a lot of mountainous flying,” continues Winter. “We fly to San Diego CA and Geneva, Switzerland. San Diego is probably our most challenging profile, because we fly in over the mountains and we’re within half a mile of the Mexican border.”

Both pilots are involved in every aspect of the flight department. If necessary, even the operations manager will get his hands dirty.

The Embraer experience

Air-JPL has operated the midsize Embraer Legacy 500 for nearly 5 years. The Legacy 500 was launched by Embraer in April 2008, first flew in November 2012, and was certified in August 2014. The fully fly-by-wire (FBW) Legacy 500, with its flat-floor stand-up cabin, can carry 4 passengers over 3125 nm, but has room for up to 12.

“The Legacy 500 is very comfortable to fly,” Winter says. “It’s a very good product. Everything is electronic; everything is digital. Other airplanes still have some cables for steering and other functions, but that’s not the case with the Legacy 500.”

He continues, “The nice thing on this airplane is that no matter how heavy you are, if it’s nose heavy or tail heavy, or if you’ve got no passengers at all, the flying and the feel of the aircraft is the same all the time. There’s none of that ‘If you’re heavier, you have to pull harder.’”

Winter points out that the owners chose the Legacy 500 in part due to its enhanced safety features. “It was chosen because of its technology and highly advanced cockpit,” Winter remarks. “The aircraft has 1 or 2 of these features that are magnificent.

User-friendliness and fast pre-flight setup in the cockpit are features highly appreciated by the crew.

For example, you have emergency descent management (EDM). The aircraft can make an emergency descent completely automatically.

With this feature, if you have a pressure loss and both pilots become unconscious, the airplane starts descending, then levels off, and even notifies air traffic control by automatically switching the transponder code. It does everything until the pilots gain consciousness again. It’s features like this that make this a very attractive airplane.”

Air-JPL’s Legacy 500 will be sold early in 2024, when the company will upgrade to a brand-new, super-midsize Praetor 600.

Building off the success of the Legacy 500, Embraer enhanced its super-midsize range and performance with the Praetor 600.

The aircraft’s published non-stop range of approximately 4018 nm makes the Praetor 600 the only super-midsize jet capable of flying non-stop for nearly 9 hours, making possible direct flights from London to New York, São Paulo to Miami, or Dubai to Hong Kong.

The aircraft’s FBW control, active turbulence reduction, best-in-class cabin altitude, and ultra-high-speed Internet connectivity make for an impressive combination of range, speed, and comfort.

For any maintenance beyond approved elementary pilot work, Air-JPL uses certified technicians on location.

Unfortunately, for Air-JPL, the Legacy 500 is a few hundred miles too short in range, as described by Winter. “We fly to Paris a lot. If we have strong tailwinds, we can go from Montreal to Paris directly. But we never make it back without stopping somewhere along the route. The preferred stop is at KEF (Keflavík, Iceland) but sometimes we go by PDL (Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal).

“We are flying to Paris soon, and the weather is not the best right now in either place, so it’s very difficult to find a solution. That was the main reason to upgrade to the Praetor 600, because it can take 3000 more pounds of fuel, so we can make the return flight direct.”

The same problem exists for other current transatlantic routes as well. “When we fly to Geneva, even with favorable winds, we don’t make it direct,” Winter adds. “We usually stop at YQX (Gander NL, Canada), and the boss doesn’t like that.”

Customer support

Winter and Winkiewicz admit that, while happy with the flying characteristics of the Legacy 500, customer support is often a challenge. “It can be really frustrating communicating with Embraer, and it can be difficult sometimes to maneuver through issues that we’ve had with them,” complains Winter.

The company has had the same part break twice. “This airplane has 3 big computers, and we had one of the main graphics cards break,” relates Winter. “We had one of the main cards break in San Diego, and it needed to be replaced. In this particular case, they let us know that they had located the part, that it would be sent that afternoon, and would arrive in 2 days. After 2 or 3 days, we hadn’t heard anything.

Again, we asked about the part and this time Embraer said they were still looking for it. This issue should have been resolved within 3 days, but we sat in San Diego for much longer.” The pilots ended up getting 3 different cards because the first 2 didn’t work.

Winter continues, “The same thing happened again in Paris. Same issue. Same card broke. There’s a huge Embraer service center facility in Paris – Embraer Executive Jets Service Centre LBG (le Bourget, Paris, France), so we’re thinking ‘Well, that’s convenient. We’ll just walk across the taxiway.’ But that was not the case. The facility didn’t have a Transport Canada certification, so they couldn’t touch the airplane. They had to fly people in from Switzerland, and it was the same issues again with the parts.”

DOM & Pilot Darren Winkiewicz checks the tire pressure as part of the preflight routine.

Air-JPL future expansion

Winter says the ownership team is so willing to invest and support aviation that at one point they even thought of starting an airline in Québec. The company is currently considering bringing additional aircraft under its operating certificate.

Winter confirms this. “Acquiring additional aircraft is something that we’re thinking about. We’ve only been running for 2 years now, but it’s been working very smoothly and, now that we have the experience in this field, we are thinking of expanding into other aircraft – perhaps a Bombardier Challenger 650.”

The company could even bring on additional personnel, whether to assist with this expansion or with the delivery of the Praetor 600, in order to support its longer operational legs and additional workload.

Winter also mentions the idea of branching out into offering a flight training center in conjunction with the company’s YUL operations. “This would be a small sim for specific training,”  he explains. “For example, a sim to support IFR recurrent training. In Canada, we have regulations which mandate that commercial operators do a specific number of night landings yearly, and this is very difficult to do, especially if a pilot only flies 20 hours a year. You just don’t get that many night landings. But we could offer that possibility with one of those smaller sims.

Growth is in the horizon for Air-JPL, whether by offering training solutions or purchasing additional aircraft. The company expects to log approximately 15% more flight hours in the near future as pandemic-era restrictions loosen around the globe. And with the acquisition of the new Praetor 600, more far-flung destinations such as Japan will be added to its varied flight profile.

JustinJustin Marchand is an aviation journalist who has written about aviation technology with an emphasis on pioneering helicopter operators for the past 25 years.