Hiring a Crew for Your Aircraft — Originally published in BusinessAir Magazine, March 2017, Volume 27, No. 3.

Aircraft owners often opt to hire a management company to assist them in operating, maintaining and managing every aspect of aircraft ownership. Recently, however, a number of my clients have decided when purchasing their aircraft to start their own flight department rather than using a management company, or to use a management company with more limited services. As a result, these clients have had to procure their own crew for the aircraft.

There are a number of companies in the aviation industry that will help aircraft owners establish their own flight department. Larger corporations may elect to handle this process themselves, since they already have hiring protocols in place and may hire hundreds of employees every year. In addition, a corporation’s human resource department understands the company’s corporate culture better than any third-party provider.

The requirements for new crew members will vary greatly depending on the aircraft type owned and the intended operation. For example, large cabin aircraft used to traverse the globe require different staffing than a turboprop destined for regional travel in the United States. Similarly, crew requirements will vary depending on the size of the fleet: is the newly purchased aircraft the only aircraft owned or are there multiple aircraft to be flown, cared for and maintained? While the crew requirements of organizations may vary, the culture of organizations will also vary. Therefore, when hiring the crew, a potential employee must not only meet the general minimum requirements for the position, but also have the personality to match the principal flyers’ expectations.

The technical qualifications for a crew are generally as follows:

The pilot in command (PIC) should:

• Hold an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate with appropriate type ratings
• Have at least 3,000 flight hours with 500 flight hours in the type of aircraft to be flown
• Hold a first-class medical certificate
• Meet all currency requirements regarding instrument flight time and night landings prior to flying any required trips
• Have passed an instrument competency check in the aircraft owned
• Have at least 500 hours as PIC in turbine-powered aircraft

The second in command (SIC) should:

• Hold a commercial certificate with appropriate category and class ratings.
• Hold an instrument rating
• Have at least 1,500 flight hours
• Hold a second class medical certificate
• Meet all currency requirements regarding instrument flight time and night landings prior to flying any required trips
• Have passed an instrument competency check in the aircraft owned

It’s becoming more common for an aircraft owner to have two qualified crew members that meet the PIC requirements. After spending a substantial amount of money to purchase the ideal aircraft, the difference between paying the salary of one PIC and one SIC versus the salaries of two PICs may not be of significance to an aircraft owner whose first priority is safety and the experience of the crew. While technical qualifications are important, they are not the only factor to consider. Hiring the right candidate who will make a career out of the position requires analysis of another set of factors, which are not easily defined. These include attitude, aptitude, integrity, ability to collaborate, trustworthiness and organizational skills. The list may also include specific items important to the aircraft owner or the corporate culture the aircraft owner has developed over the years in other businesses. Because these factors are not specific to aircraft crew, a member of the human resources department should be involved in the hiring process. In fact, the HR professional is in a great position to help the aircraft owner define and develop the qualifications that are important to the owner, beyond the piloting skills and other technical requirements.

Prior to making any offers to a potential pilot, serious candidates for the position should spend some time with the principal users of the aircraft. The relationship between the principals and crew is a very personal one. While a candidate may look great on paper and interview well, an equally important aspect is that the principal aircraft users must feel safe, secure and happy in the presence of their crew. There should never be a reason to rush the hiring process. If necessary, independent contract pilots can be used until the right new crew member is found and retained.

Lastly, it is very important during the hiring process to perform due diligence regarding the qualifications and work history of the crew member(s) you wish to hire. Aviation-specific laws are in place to allow a potential employer to investigate the background of potential crew members, so that the employer can thoroughly evaluate and confirm that the candidate is qualified and acceptable.