BlueSky: A day in the life of an LEA pilot

Glyn Anderson, senior manager, deputy chief pilot & Legacy fleet manager, London Executive Aviation (LEA).

I joined LEA in 1996. In my role I am responsible for quality control and maintaining standards across the company. The responsibilities that come with this role are varied and challenging but essentially it is my job to support the crew in all aspects of their work and to maintain an oversight of the fleet operationally. My role is so diverse, every day and week is very different.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is my role as a pilot. In the corporate charter sector of the industry, unlike the airlines, there is no regular schedule. A pilot’s notification to fly could be a few days in advance or you could be given a couple of hours’ notice – what we call a ‘go now’. In either case, the process of preparing for the flight is always the same. The flight plan is managed by LEA’s operations team who liaise with the crew as required. Consideration is given to any operational factors dependant upon the destination, which will consist of risk assessments, crew qualifications, route planning and performance. All the necessary paperwork is uploaded to the crew’s online briefing from where the necessary documents can be printed out by the crew.

The crew, which consists of two pilots and one cabin crew member, report for duty 1½ hours prior to scheduled departure. It is the pilot’s responsibility to ensure the flight is legally compliant. Consideration is given to performance, weight and balance, actual and forecast weather. Resulting from this, the crew will decide upon a fuel load.

The whole crew works together to ensure the aircraft is preflighted, fuelled and catering loaded and is 'fully ready' half an hour before scheduled departure. Whenever possible, the captain meets and greets the passengers before they board to ensure swift facilitation through security and customs. Any information pertinent to the flight can also be discussed with the lead passenger if required.

One of the ways in which corporate aviation is different from commercial flight for pilots is that we are regularly interacting with the passengers, which includes informing them of any changes due, for example, to bad weather. On a recent flight from New York to London, heavy fog was reported in Luton. The principal passenger on the flight had a filming commitment on location near Luton shortly after landing. They had cars waiting at Luton airport, the film crew standing by, along with the usual plethora of directors and assistants. There was a possibility of having to divert but we understood from talking to our passengers just how important the arrival at Luton was for their schedule. In this instance it was agreed that we would hold, based upon the judgement of the crew, to further assess the weather conditions and if needs be, liaise through our operations to rearrange passenger ground transport. In this instance the runway visual ranges exceeded our minima after a short period of time and we were able to carry out an approach and landing at our planned destination. The passengers were enormously grateful to the crew for keeping them informed, providing options and in the final event operating safely to achieve their requirements.

During the flight, the pilots generally alternate the 'Pilot Flying' sectors unless there are any specific requirements for the captain to be the handling pilot.

Once safely on stand the priority is once again the passengers. Essentially they are paying a premium to minimise time at the airport. The crew ensures the baggage and possessions are offloaded and en route to the passengers’ transport as quickly as possible. I would usually accompany the passengers, confirming any future schedule, ensuring that their baggage arrives, and be a point of contact to assist with any unforeseen circumstances and establish a meeting point for their return.

You may be surprised to hear part of the post-flight work includes cleaning and re-stocking the plane, which the whole crew is involved in. This is a big part of the job and not necessarily something you’d see pilots involved in on a commercial flight.

During ‘time off’ pilots may have a couple of days to explore a city. But there will likely be a time difference and it’s important to manage our own fatigue. However, it is great to be able to make the most of the opportunity to be somewhere new and explore the area.

The fact LEA has such a diverse client base also makes flying all the more interesting and challenging. Our aircraft are used by businesses that need to save time on travel to international meetings, as well as heads of state, politicians and people from the film, music and sports industries. We respect their privacy and confidentiality at all times and aim to achieve the highest standard of customer care and safety.

The role of being a corporate charter pilot can be exciting, often challenging and hard work. The right people for the job tend to be inspired, capable of autonomous decision making, pragmatic, able to time manage and they must be team players.

Published in: BlueSky 13 February 2014.

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