Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Day in the Life of a Corporate Pilot

Make no mistake: the years I’ve spent as a corporate pilot have been the most rewarding in my professional career, but there are many times when we really earn our paychecks. One recent two-day trip that took my first officer, Greg, and me from Southern California to the United Kingdom was beset with last-minute snags, reroutes, and diversions that conspired to turn what should have been a routine journey into a constant fight against Murphy’s Law.

That said, everything worked out in the end and, even more importantly, our passengers were never inconvenienced. I'd like to take all the credit, but truthfully, none of it would have been possible without the resourcefulness of the Flight Sentinel team at Honeywell.


Our trip began under bright sunshine at Van Nuys Airport, home base for our small, three-aircraft flight operation. I was looking forward to the next couple of days of shuttling our CEO and her staff to meetings across the country, and then across the Atlantic Ocean; sometimes, this really is the best job on Earth.

Alas, things began heading south from the very beginning, as our maintenance director stopped me as I walked towards the sleek jet to begin my preflight inspection. “We’re AOG thanks to a leaking oil seal in the APU,” he said. “The part will be here tomorrow, probably right around the time you’ll be landing in Luton. We’re pulling [another aircraft] out of the hangar for you now.”

Ugh. I wasn't looking forward to spending the next hour computing our new weight and balance and fuel burn, and changing around identifiers on our flight plans. So, I did what any reasonable captain would: I delegated those tasks to Greg.

Imagine my surprise when he walked over less than 20 minutes later. “All done!” he said. “Honeywell Flight Sentinel has data for the entire fleet; I gave them our new N-number, and they switched everything over right away. Oh, and here's the updated fuel load and weight and balance.”

Maybe this trip wouldn't be so bad after all. By this time, the replacement jet had already been fueled, and I was nearly done with my walkaround. Our passengers arrived minutes later, and we were soon on our way to our first stop in Wichita.

Honeywell Flight Sentinel had already advised us of more favorable tailwinds above our filed altitude, and ATC granted our request for higher altitude without any complaint. A few minutes later, a message came across ACARS of a new challenge. “Looks like there's a connectivity outage about 50 miles ahead,” Greg reported as we flew across northern Arizona.

Over the past few years, inflight connectivity has become a critical flight-planning consideration, as important as total trip time and fuel burn. Furthermore, I knew our CEO had planned a teleconference en route to Wichita, and I didn't relish having to inform her that those plans were off.

Just as I considered delegating another task to Greg, however, he continued his report. “Honeywell Flight Sentinel suggests we deviate north a bit. That’ll keep us within satcom coverage over the Rockies.” 


By mid-afternoon, the skies were much greyer over Kansas than they'd been in California. As I looked at the low cloud cover hanging over Eisenhower National Airport, I was much more concerned about the weather at our destination for the evening in Boston. A band of summer storms approaching from the south looked likely to force a traffic-management initiative (TMI) over the northeast right around our filed departure time in 90 minutes.

Great minds think alike, and when my cell phone rang a few minutes later the team at Honeywell Flight Sentinel was on the other end. “TMIs will go into effect shortly, and ground delays into Logan International will soon follow,” advised the helpful voice. “Are you able to take an earlier departure? You’ll beat the GDP (ground delay program) if you leave within the next 45 minutes.”

After a quick call to the CEO (who, as luck would have it, had finished her lunch meeting earlier than anticipated) we were loaded and on our way. Honeywell Flight Sentinel had already cleared our earlier departure, and a good thing, too: we were climbing through 10,000 feet when ATC advised that all later departures into the Boston area would be held on the ground.

Over the next three hours, the Honeywell Flight Sentinel team provided a constant stream of critical updates along our flight route, including a helpful message regarding a pop-up cell over Cleveland. ATC granted our request to divert south while were still more than 100 miles out, well before the steady stream of calls began from other flights in the area asking for deviations.

Our weather-related woes weren't quite over yet, though. Just as we entered the planned hold over BOS, the ACARS flashed with another message from Honeywell Flight Sentinel: plan to hold for 30 minutes due to weather and high volume of traffic. “We’re good on fuel, right?” Greg asked.

“Plenty,” I replied. “I asked for an extra 400 pounds in Wichita just for this situation.” Sure enough, we were on the ramp at BOS within the hour. Thanks to Honeywell Flight Sentinel, Greg and I were enjoying a fine seafood dinner in Boston while other pilots were stuck on the ground waiting for that GDP to lift. 


You can never be too prepared for a flight across the “pond.” In addition to our own extensive preflight planning, Honeywell Flight Sentinel was there to offer Greg and me up-to-the-minute information about our trip, including a weather update favoring a lower flight track than we’d planned. Thanks to that bit of news, there was ample time to file for the switch ahead of our departure.

“Looks like our luck may be changing,” said my young first officer.

“I wish you hadn’t said that out loud,” I replied, exasperated.

Sure enough, after five hours in the air—around the time we anticipated starting our descent—the sat phone rang. “We just received word of a disabled aircraft on the runway at Luton,” Honeywell Flight Sentinel advised. “You'd best plan to head to Biggin Hill instead.”

“Oh, boy,” I thought. Biggin Hill was more than 70 miles from Luton away by car, and we'd be landing in late afternoon. Our CEO would need to leave immediately after we landed to be on time for a critical business meeting.

Again, though, Honeywell Flight Sentinel was there. “I've already made arrangements for the car service to meet you at Biggin Hill,” the friendly voice continued. “She should still make her meeting in plenty of time.”

I looked at Greg. “You’re lucky Honeywell Flight Sentinel is here to rescue us from your tempting fate,” I said with a grin as I pulled up the approach charts for Biggin Hill.

Corporate pilots are more than aviators; we’re the face of our flight departments, responsible for the safety, security, and convenience of those we’re carrying in the cabin. When challenges arise, Honeywell Flight Sentinel allows me to provide solutions to our passengers before they are even aware of a problem.

(AINOnline News / Honeywell Aerospace)

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