Corporate Chief Pilot As a Career Choice?

When you look up the title “Chief Pilot” in Google you get a lot of different things but seldom an accurate description of what the corporate Chief Pilot position really is or really does. The focus tends to be on military test pilots and airline chief pilots but in recent years there is another segment of the industry that needs good leaders as well. Corporate aircraft operators consist of two or three categories. Part 91 operators are pilot owners, individual (non-pilot) aircraft owners and corporate aircraft owners. Part 91K operators are companies who sell fractional shares to individuals and companies and Part 135 operators offer air charter services, also to individuals and companies.

While the title “Chief Pilot” is universal title through-out the industry, depending on the size and scope of the flight department, the duties of the position can vary drastically. It is important to review the job description and ask a lot of questions when interviewing for the top pilot seat. It is important to understand the full range of duties and the expectations of the company before accepting the company’s leading pilot position. Up to this point we have talking about the Alpha pilot but there are also other chief pilot titles given to different levels of chief pilot.

Variations of a corporate Chief Pilot Position and Title

Larger flight departments have so many pilots that one person just can’t keep up so companies have added supervisory positions to help out. The Tier 1 Chief or Systems Chief is the highest ranking pilot in the company. Regional Chief Pilots are direct reports of the Systems Chief and supervise all pilots based in a geographical region. For example, a regional Chief might supervise all flight crew based in the southern region of the US, including Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, etc. Base Chief Pilot is a title given to the lead pilot of a particular base of operation. For example Base Chief Pilot for the city of Chicago. Usually, a base Chief will be over a city or specific airport within a city.

Some companies are using Fleet Chief Pilots to oversee the pilots flying a specific make and/or model. For example the Citation X Lead or Chief supervises all pilots flying that airplane or all Cessna aircraft. Assistant Chief Pilot (ACP) is another position that may be utilized by flight departments to offload some of the duties shouldered by the Systems Chief. The ACP may or may not have CP authority, depending on the flight department.

For Part 135 operations the Systems Chief Pilot is the only position required and recognized by the FAA. The persons filling these ancillary positions do not have to meet the Part 119 requirements required for the Systems Chief. The company may elect to list the additional Chief Pilots in Op Spec A006 but generally the only one required to be listed is the Systems Chief.

Corporate Chief Pilot
The Senior Pilot Seat

Up until 15-20 years ago corporate and air charter flight departments consisted of smaller aircraft and only a few of them. Today, that is no longer true. Some companies run a small airline consisting solely of corporate aircraft with hundreds of pilots employed to fly them. Take a look at Net Jets. While most operators are not that big it is not uncommon for a Chief Pilot working at a Part 91 or Part 135 flight department to have 15-20 aircraft and 2-3 pilots per aircraft.

What Does a Corporate Chief Pilot Do?

The Chief Pilot is the lead pilot of the department, and while that does not always mean the most experienced, it does mean the pilot with the most responsibility. Pilots are responsible for the flights they conduct while the Chief is responsible at the fleet level. If a pilot makes an error it may not be his or her fault but it will surely be their responsibility.

Customer Service is an important element of a Chief Pilot’s responsibilities.

The basic duties that most Chief Pilot’s will deal with are recruiting and hiring of pilots and cabin crew, training, position assignments, scheduling and performance management. They may or may not run the entire flight department depending again on the size and scope of the department. Part 135 operators will have a Director level manager and some even have executive level managers that run their department with the Chief Pilot being over the flight crew employee group. A lot of the job revolves around staffing and training. Part 91 CP’s may focus more on the maintenance aspect than their Part 91K and Part 135 counterparts due to the structure and regulatory requirements of the CFR, but all of them will need to make sure their department is properly staffed to meet the demands for travel. They won’t be around for long if the CEO calls for a flight and gets told no due to understaffing or poor planning on the Chief’s part.

Chief Pilot Pay and Benefits

Pay varies from company to company as well as for geographical location. The number and type of aircraft operated and pilot certification requirements will affect pay rates as well. Jet operators will typically pay higher than turboprop or piston operators but exceptions always exist. If you currently hold the position within your company and would like to know what others are making, click here to take a short salary survey. We will share the results with you later when we have enough responses to be of value.

Typical benefits include the industry standards such as medical/dental/vision insurance. Some may receive bonuses based on performance or at years end. 401K matching is hit or miss with Part 91 corporate flight departments being more likely to offer these type perks. Part 135 operators have started offering better packages in order to be more competitive.

For a more in depth analysis of the Corporate Chief Pilot position, click here to read more.

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