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The secret lives of Chief Pilots


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Having been a Chief Pilot for several different operators, I decided to start the discussion on the subject for those who are interested.


It not a job for everyone. If you want to do it for the ego trip, it is a job you should consider avoiding. There really isn't any glory in it. It is NOT a pilot job. The bigger the company, the less flying a CP does. The smaller the company the more likely it is that the Chief Pilot position is an additional assigned duty. Depending on the company and it's policies, you might have a hard time keeping current. However, the Chief Pilot must remain current in at least one aircraft the company operates. So it is a real possibility that you could be left out when new equipment comes on line. The Chief Pilot at a larger company is not really a revenue generator, so you might be kept current in only one or maybe 2 aircraft. You are really never off duty. I have gotten calls at all hours of the day and night. Maintenance calling to bitch about the pilots, dispatch calling to complain about the pilots, the owner calling to bitch about the pilots and to ask why one of them did this or that. Captains calling to bitch about dispatch, maintenance or the copilot. Copilots calling to whine about the Captains. There will be times that you will think if we didn't need pilots to operate the equipment, there would be a bounty on them. Maybe a couple of pilot heads mounted behind my desk.


While many think that the Chief Pilot's job is to manage the pilots, this item is down the list a bit. His first job is to protect the company. The second is to protect his pilots. Then he manages them.


It is not a job for someone who is lazy. You will work harder than any of your pilots. Primarily, it is an office job. So plan on being in the office during normal business hours, Monday through Friday. Your flying could be only on weekend and evening. Or if a crew member 'NO SHOWS'.


If you hate paperwork. It is definitely not a job for you, because you will deal with paperwork by the truck load. If the company does not have a director of training, you will manage all the pilot records, all the document revisions and trip paperwork. You will keep the W&B paperwork, maintain the Operations Manual, the Training Manual, the SMS Manual, MEL’s, Flight Manuals, Checklists and so on. Oh, and you need to check the figures on the flight log and on the W&B for correctness. For some reason, pilots and simple math is a bad combination. Two plus 2 seems to equal everything, but 4. I don’t care if you have a Doctorate in advanced Math, get a cheap calculator and USE IT! If in a two pilot crew, one does the math and the other checks it. You will work with the Director of Operations and the Director of Maintenance to co-ordinate maintenance, training and flight schedules. Depending on the company policy and who is Director of Operations, you could be dealing directly with your POI at the FSDO. And I mean a lot. Sometimes, several times a day.


Even a small problem can keep you on the phone for several hours. You are listed on the Management Operations Specifications as a member of management. So if anything happens, you will be one of the first persons the FSDO calls. If there is an accident or incident that requires a FAA, NTSB and/or DOD investigation, it is highly likely that you will represent the company during that investigation. And that will not be a pleasant experience.


It is not uncommon, especially in smaller companies, for the Chief Pilot to be just a placeholder while the owner makes all the real decisions. If this is the case, don’t walk away. Run away just as fast as you can. You are named on official records as having Operational Control and responsibility. If the owner isn’t listed in the Operations Specifications and something happens, you could be left hanging out to dry.


‘a pros list’


From my experience there really isn’t any pros to the job, mostly cons.


‘are you currently working in that area, or in the past, if in the past, how long ago and for how long.’


I am currently not a Chief Pilot, however I have been Chief Pilot or Director of Operations for several Part 135 operators. Most recently in 2007.


‘money made, why it's less or more, AND, how did you make that better or worse.’


Pay depends on the company and how they pay their pilots. If the company pays pilots per flight hour, it is quite likely you will make less than the higher paid Captains. Normally, if everyone is on salary, the Chief Pilot will make a little more. In my experience, if the pilots are paid flight pay, the Chief Pilot is on salary and may get flight pay for whatever trips he does fly. It also depends on how good a negotiator you are and how bad the company needs a Chief Pilot.


‘if it's in the past, would you go back? if you did, what would you do differently’


In the last couple of months, I have been offered a Chief Pilot and a DO position. I turned them down. Over the years I have learned several good lessons. One of the first things I do, if offered such a position, especially if I am being hired off the street, is call the Certificate holding FSDO and talk with the company’s POI. Now officially they are not allowed to say much. However, you listen to what they don’t say and how they don’t say it. It will tell you a great deal.


Authority and responsibility must be equal. If you don’t have the authority to do your job and meet your responsibilities, you already have major issues. I do make it clear to my higher ups, that I will communicate fully and in a timely manner. However, if I have to handle something right away and I can’t get a hold of them, they will hear about it after the fact. Remember, it is much easier to get forgiveness than it is permission.


The last time I was Chief Pilot, it was with a very small operation. Just 3 pilots and a mechanic. So meetings were very informal and unscheduled. In larger companies, you may see management meetings scheduled on a regular basis. Personally, I prefer meetings on Monday morning and Friday after lunch. When I hold them, the meetings will include the Chief Pilot, DO, DM, Head of Dispatch/Flight Following and the owner (or his rep). On Monday, we will discuss what happened after normal business hours on Friday to Monday morning. Flights, Problems, Maintenance, etc. Then we will discuss what is on tap for the week. What aircraft are coming due for inspections. What trips are on the books and so on. On Friday, we talk about what happened during the week, but not in the degree of Monday morning, since most of us have been in the office. We do look at maintenance quite heavily on Friday. Mostly to ensure we don’t run an aircraft out of time during the weekend. We do that by restricting the callout lineup, restricting availability and so on. Doing that is less expensive than having an inspection run out over the weekend and losing a trip. Also discussed is who has the weekend duty for operations, flight following and maintenance. Some companies will do management meetings 3 times a week. It depends on the company and what is going on. I know of several companies that during the aftermath of Katrina, went from 2 or 3 management meetings a week to 1 everyday.


Every time I deal with the FAA, I make a ‘Memo for Record’. It includes the date, time, locations, who I talked with, what was said, etc. I sign it and hand write my personal notes, observations and feelings about this event. Then I put it in a ring binder I keep for this purpose. Keep in mind, this type of document has standing before a judge. They have covered my butt more than once when dealing with the FAA. I keep copies of all my letters and e-mails to the FAA and their responses. Plus a memo for record of all my dealing with the company owners. Watch a trial and see what police officers do when testifying. They almost always refer to their notebooks. This gives them credibility with the judge and jury. You might want to keep that in mind.


One of the things that really upsets management pilots is being blindsided. When I was DO at one company, they purchased a different type of aircraft. I didn’t know about the purchase until the aircraft was taxiing onto our ramp, late Friday afternoon. And then the owner tells me, he wants this aircraft to start flying revenue trips on Monday. I had to tell him that if he had told me when they had started the purchase process 2 months previous, that it might have been possible. But from right now, a month or more down the line was more likely. Due to the FSDO we were dealing with, it took almost 6 months.


Causing your Chief Pilot to get blindsided is one of the worst things a pilot can do. If you cause me to be blindsided, I will put a down mark next to your name. If I have to reduce staff, guess who I let go first. That’s right, the guy with the most down marks. After all, I want to keep the guys who cause me the least amount of problems and get the job done.


I don’t like to get calls from my PIO that start out like this. ‘I got a call from this other FSDO and they did a ramp check on your aircraft. They found this, that and those things wrong.’ My first reaction is ‘What ramp check?’ Or the call from an approach control, complaining about something one of my aircraft did wrong. ‘Did I even have an aircraft there?’ On the other hand, if I got a call from the pilot, telling me that they had been ramped and they found such and such wrong, my reaction would have been more like, ‘Have you talked with maintenance?’, ‘What is maintenance going to do?’ and so on. And in the morning, I would call our POI and say ‘One of my guys got ramped and they found these things that needed correction. The DM has corrected them. Do you need a copy of the log sheet?’ If he does I will fax a copy over. That way, the POI is not blindsided either. So when he gets a call from the other FSDO, all he has to say is ‘I know about it and it is already taken care of.’ If you get ramped, write the inspector(s)’ names down. Unfortunately, they all seem to want to play Dick Tracy and just flash their ID’s. If they can hold your certificate and write down the information, then they should let you write down their information. Many of them will not tell you what office they are out of. Insist. Just blame it on the Chief Pilot. ‘It is his policy that we get this information for my trip report’.


If ATC is upset with you. Call me. Don’t lie to me. If you do, I will throw you to the wolves myself. I will not throw you under the bus, I will bury you under the bus. The instant you lie to me, I can’t trust you. And if I can’t trust you, I don’t need you. Tell me straight up what happened and I will do what I can. Depending on what happened, the FAA may accept what I have done to you as enough. Or if you screwed the pooch by the numbers, maybe you will get a letter in your file for a year or two instead of a violation. Having your Chief Pilot go to bat for you, cuts a lot of weight with the FAA. More than you would think. Getting to the company POI first and telling your side of the story and what I have done to you for punishment is an important key. ‘Hey, one of my guys screwed up and did this at KXXX. I have assigned him all 300 FAA FASST Team and AOPA online courses to be done by tomorrow evening. Then he is going to get a day of remedial training. After that he will fly for 2 weeks with our toughest check airman, Bubba the ogre. Before and after each of these duty periods, he will receive 100 lashes with a wet noodle. Plus he must write in chalk all the way down our 11,000 foot runway, ‘I will not screw with ATC ever again. I will not screw with ATC ever again. I will not screw with ATC ever again. ……..’


Other Chief Pilot pet peeves:


Lack of detail in maintenance write-ups. ‘The aircraft is broken’, really doesn’t hack it was a write-up. Maintenance and I want details. What happened, what was the altitude, what were you doing with the aircraft (climb, descent, level off, etc) altimeter setting, airspeed, OAT and so on. The more detailed the write up is, the easier it is for maintenance to fix it and fit it correctly. If it takes more than one log page to do it, use the extra page(s). A log page is much cheaper than a mechanic’s time.


Whiners: I have never had an issue with valid complaints. Problems don’t get fixed until someone brings it to management’s attention. But when you have a complaint, offer up a solution or two. Anyone can complain, not too many people seem to be able to solve problems. ‘Why do I have to load bags, my buddy over at XXXX doesn’t have to load bags’ ‘You were told right up front what you duties would be. Maybe you need to go to work over there instead. Don’t let the door knob hit you in the a$$ when you leave.’ ‘The Captain is mean to me. He’s always yelling at me.’ ‘If you would do your job without always back talking to the Captain, maybe he would be nicer to you. Grow up!’ ‘How come you upgraded this other guy. I have more time with the company than he does.’ ‘Well if you would do your paperwork neatly, properly and in a timely manner, quit tearing up the equipment, stop leaving the machine a mess, do the revisions like Jepps, Ops Manual, MEL, Flight Manual and so on like you are suppose to and stop bad mouthing everyone, it might happen. As it is, I question your suitability for your current position.’


Admit your mistakes: It really bugs me when a pilot does something really stupid and an aircraft receives some minor damage. But instead of manning up to his mistake, his only answer is ‘Oh the insurance should take care of that.’ Guess what? Helicopter insurance is expensive. They have high deductibles. Depending on what the company does, they could be self insured. Besides that, you were responsible for the aircraft. I really have a problem with irresponsible pilots. That aircraft is your paycheck. If that aircraft goes off line, what do you think happens to your paycheck? Who do you think gets laid off? The pilot who didn’t take care of his aircraft or the junior pilot who takes care of his? That’s right, the one who couldn’t take care of his aircraft. Keep in mind, that aircraft is also my paycheck as Chief Pilot. You are putting my livelihood at risk. That makes me VERY UNHAPPY.


At the Heli Success Seminar in Vegas, Barry Lloyd talked about pre-flights and during the question and answer session, talked about post-flights. I always do a post-flight walk around. Whenever I bring this up to pilots, I almost always hear, ‘Its not on the checklist.’ So what! You are suppose to be a professional. So act like a @#$% professional.’ A problem upon arrival is just a problem. A problem 10 minutes prior to departure is now an emergency. Plus some engines need to have their oil level checked right after engine shut down.


Lyn talked about some of the smart alec responses to job ads. Well guess what, most Chief Pilots who get emails or faxes like that make a note of where they came from. Guess who doesn’t get hire or even interviewed, the next time that person sends in a resume? That’s right. Terms like ‘Team player’ and ‘must be able to follow directions’ are not saying that you would be expected to break regulations. When you go out and operate an aircraft, even single pilot, you are not by yourself. You are part of a team. The EMS crew, the chocker setters, the hookers, maintenance and so on. You have got to be able to play well with others. If you can’t follow simple directions, like how I want your resume sent to me or in what format, how can I expect you to follow more complicated directions like, FARs, Ops Manuals, OpSpecs, Flight Manuals, Company Policy and Procedures, etc? I also make notes of who has worked for me before or who I have worked with. I have two lists. Guys I will hire and people I don't want anywhere near me. Several times, when I have not been Chief Pilot, I have been asked to review resumes and applications. And I have told the hiring people not to consider several people. And when I know they are looking, I have recommended many people I have worked with for jobs. Be careful of what bridges you burn.


One important thing to keep in mind. Several years ago, I saw a sign inside a guard shack on a marine post. It stated “A Marine on guard has NO FRIENDS”. It has been awhile, but knowing how AR the Marines are, it is most likely still there. Well guess what, a Pilot in Chief Pilot mode has NO FRIENDS either. A good one only grinds the company ax.


And guess what? These are all experiences from my time as a Chief Pilot. I have not had to ask anyone else for examples. I really didn't even scratch the surface.


Dennis, this turned into a longer piece than I intended. Guess I need to put away my soap box.

Edited by rick1128
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Rick, great post! I wish every up and coming pilot and CFI that wants a job, has a job or wants to move up in job position reads this and figures out how to be a pilot, team player, and professional in both actions and attitude.


If you had to sign your name to everything you did and knew all of your peers would always see it, what kind of job would you do? What words would come out of your mouth if everyone would hear you?


I tell everyone it is not wrong to get everything you can from an employer and job position but you should also give everything you can to the company that you work for!


Jobs are hard to come by now. If you have one, take a few minutes to evaluate yourself, your attitude and the Company. Maybe tomorrow, you can be a better employee, pilot, team member and person. Maybe you can bring something extra to your day and everyone around you.


Be Safe,



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Dennis and Mike, thanks for the great comments.


I tell everyone it is not wrong to get everything you can from an employer and job position but you should also give everything you can to the company that you work for!


Jobs are hard to come by now. If you have one, take a few minutes to evaluate yourself, your attitude and the Company. Maybe tomorrow, you can be a better employee, pilot, team member and person. Maybe you can bring something extra to your day and everyone around you.


You are correct Mike it is not wrong to get everything you can from an employer. But you also have to give back. How do you give back? By making a minimum of a 110% effort in your work. Speaking positively about your employer. Taking care of the equipment. And so on. You take the company's Shilling, you are obligated to grind the company's axe. If you do these things, you will standout from the rest of the pilot group. Pilots who standout like that tend to have a lot of good things come their way.


This has worked quite well for me. Over the years, I have had employers pay for 4 of my 5 type ratings. Sent me to several factory schools. Paid for my CFII and Multi engine instructor. Sent me to Argus SMS manager training. Paid for my accident investigator training. All in all, pretty close to a million dollars worth of training.


Many years ago I was made Chief Pilot at an air ambulance operation in Florida. The company had just gone through a station audit by their FSDO. The owner who had been DO and let things go. So the fairly new Chief Pilot became DO and I became Chief Pilot. The company's POI had told the owner that we had 30 days to get everything corrected or he would pull our 135 certificate. The POI told the DO and I, that if we were making progress in 30 days he would give us another 30 days. And because it was his belief that even 60 days was going to be a stretch, if we were close at the end of 60 days, we would an additional 30 days. The DO took the training program, I took the Ops Manual and I assigned a MEL program to each of our 3 copilots. Bill and I provided them guidance. Two of the copilots went right to work. The third one just complained that it wasn't his job. Even after The DO (Bill) and I explained to him that his job was at risk, if we didn't get this problems fixed. The first two copilots got their assignments done fairly quickly and they had to help the third copilot finish his. The POI was amazed when all the paperwork hit his desk 31 days after our talk. Why did Bill and I assign these duties to the copilots? Well first of all, we needed the help. Second, it was career enhancement for them. They learned a skill that they will carry with them for the whole career. The first 2 copilots, I will hire any time, The third one, well I always keep an industrial level paper shredder next to my desk.


A few years ago, the company owner asked me to check out a young woman from marketing in an aircraft. She had a commercial, instrument and multi engine rating with between 3 and 400 hours total time. So I gave her some ground school, gave her a copy of the Flight Safety manual for the aircraft and did the requirements of Part 61. Told her, she could sit in the aircraft at any time and get familiar and ask me any questions she needed answered. The next month, I took her on a trip as my copilot. It quickly became apparent that she had not even cracked the manual open. I had to go to the owner and tell him that I could use her anymore, because she was not willing to put forth the effort. If I had been given that opportunity when I was at her level, my only question would have been 'Who do I have to kill?' They would have had to drag me out of the aircraft when they closed for the day.


How can a pilot standout in a positive manner? It's in the details.


If you are not busy, go help the mechanics out. They almost always need an extra hand from time to time. You get some knowledge of the machine that didn't have before. Plus the mechanics will give your maintenance write-ups more respect. I had one mechanic show me items on a preflight, that could be major problem areas. Somethings that no one had ever mentioned before.


Communicate with maintenance about the health of your aircraft. Has there been a sudden change in the aircraft? Oil temp, pressure, consumption, etc. A quick change in oil consumption, a quart every 3 hours to a quart every 2 hours for example. Something has changed. And not for the better. Do you write it up? It is still within limits. But something is changing within the engine. Communicating with maintenance allows them to check it out and plan their next move. They have time to do give it the attention it deserves.


If your employer is having a ground school on an aircraft or program, you are not involved with. Ask if you could monitor the class, work load and schedule permitting. I have never been refused. Showing an interest helps. It allow you to bring more to the table in your current duties. And guess who the company will look at first if they need someone for that program? That's right, you, even if you don't meet all the requirements.


If you see a need for something. Try to fill it. Over the last few years, I have developed several PowerPoint presentations for training. The companies I was working for, got them FAA approved so they could use them in their training programs. More giving back.


One thing I forgot to mention on my first post. A few years ago, I was Chief Pilot and we got a new DO. I will not go into details. However, I talked with the owner and decided to return to the line. The company was going through a RASIP at the time. RASIP stands for Regional Aviation Safety Inspection Program. This program has inspectors from the Regional FAA office come into your office(s) and look at just about every piece of paper you have. We had probably the most complicated certificate in the FSDO and we had an FNG for a POI. The man was struggling. I tried to talk with the Operations Manager for the FSDO about this. His comment was that I was upset about losing my job as Chief Pilot. My reply was ' I lost 90% of my aggravation, 60% of my responsibility and I didn't take a cut in pay. Did I miss something? NO!'

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Rick, once again a great post! I hope that all of the "X Games" generation of pilots will read it and "Get It"!


I hope that all pilots, after reading Ricks' two posts would stop dead in their tracks and do an honest self evaluation as to what more can they be and what more can they bring to their current employer.


Maybe go to the Chief Pilot/Flight Instructor and ask how can I make "OUR" company better?





Edited by Mikemv
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