The private jet charter industry is growing with more passengers opting for the flexibility of chartered planes over jet ownership. This convenient and cost-effective alternative requires more jet pilots to work in the industry. We spoke to Captain Johan Lagerqvist, pilot and Crew Training Manager at Hummingbird Aviation Services in Stockholm, to find out what it’s like to be a private jet pilot.
WHAT MADE YOU FIRST WANT TO BE A PILOT?
When I was 6 years old my grandmother was dating a pilot and he had a private licence and a small Cessna. He took me for a ride in it – a half-an-hour flight in the summer sunset, and looked at me, and said “your turn now” and it sparked a dream in me, which I never got out of my system. So, in my free time I would play on flight simulators on my computer at home and later went to my local flying club, where I spent most weekends. At 15, when my friends were getting scooters I got a glider licence instead.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR PILOT CAREER TO DATE
I have always worked in the private field. I started out on a small Piper PA-31 which I flew for two-and-a-half years. Now I’m flying a Citations XLS and have been a captain for a year.
WHAT IS THE MOST UNUSUAL OR REMOTE DESTINATION YOU HAVE FLOWN TO?
IS THERE SOMEWHERE YOU’VE NOT FLOWN TO THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO?
I’d love to go to Longyearbyen in Svalbard, it’s way up north and very remote.
DO YOU GET MANY UNUSUAL IN-FLIGHT REQUESTS FROM PASSENGERS?
I love business aviation, there are surprises all the time – whether it’s unique catering, a special movie, or even a particular kind of blanket. Our team handle the requests and they are passed onto us. I’ve stopped getting surprised by them now! Our job is to make sure guests are always satisfied and that we are one step ahead. And that’s what our passengers are to us, they are our guests and we are hosts, so nothing is too much.
WHAT IS A NORMAL DAY LIKE WHEN YOU ARE FLYING?
Usually we’re at the airport two hours ahead of departure to check the aircraft is ready 45 minutes ahead of take off. We need to be prepared for guests if they are ready to go. I start my day with my first officer and go through the planning stages, fuel and weather, and the specifics relating to the destination airport. We go through the aircraft ourselves, make sure everything is clean, that the catering is just right, and that the drinks are chilled. With business aviation 95% of flights have no cabin crew so we take care of everything and act as the hosts. We meet and greet and present safety information. I feel it is nothing like commercial piloting, the flying is the easy part. The work on the ground is the hardest part.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE AIRCRAFT TO PILOT, AND WHY?
I like the XLS, it’s never let me down and it’s versatile. There are different operations it can handle and different approaches, for the example the steep approach to London City. Not all aircraft are certified to make that approach. In the future I might try a new aircraft to further explore my flying abilities and learn more, but right now I’m very happy with the XLS.
WHAT’S A MUST-HAVE ITEM YOU ALWAYS TAKE WITH YOU WHEN FLYING, APART FROM THE OBVIOUS NECESSITIES?
We work a one-week on, one-week off roster, and follow one aircraft for seven days. I find electric adaptors are vital as are your swimming trunks! If there’s a lovely pool at a nice hotel in the summer, you don’t want to miss out! We tend to stay in very good hotels, for example on the Greek islands and we stay close to the airport and check in with what flights are happening during the day.
WHERE DO YOU USUALLY FLY?
The XLS can fly for four hours, so it’s mostly in Europe. Sweden, Norway, Spain, Greece, Malta, Italy, Cyprus, the Canary Islands and Madeira are all frequent destination, as are Azerbaijan and Morocco. It all depends on the time of year, in the summer it’s often the Med, and Majorca, Ibiza, and the French Riviera. In winter it moves to the mountains and the small airports in the Alps close to the skiing resorts.
DO YOU ENJOY BEING A PASSENGER AS MUCH AS A PILOT WHEN YOU TRAVEL FOR PLEASURE?
The honest answer is no! As a kid holidays didn’t interest me but flying there did. I would spend the week waiting to get on the plane and fly back. Now I don’t enjoy being a passenger as much, it’s a logistical thing to get me to my destination. I do however love flying as a pilot as much as ever.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WANTING TO BECOME A PRIVATE PILOT?
The aviation industry is very competitive and landing your first job is hard. There are no guarantees in aviation except that if you give up you will not get a job. You always have to keep trying no matter what, so keep working hard and do your best – even if you are doing a job you’re not keen on – that will give you the right mind-set, and a good reference when you finally need it! My father always told me, don’t just think about sitting down and getting on with the work, you need to actually sit down and study the books, and read them until you fully understand them. It doesn’t matter whether that takes just the one time or you need to go over it again and again.
THE BEAUTY OF STRATAJET IS REAL-TIME BOOKING AND TRANSPARENT PRICING. IF YOU COULD JET OFF SOMEWHERE RIGHT NOW, WHERE WOULD IT BE?
I would definitely say Figari in Corsica. It’s a beautiful harbour city, nestled in a mountain valley and the old part of the city projects into the sea. It’s preserved in a very nice way, there is a modern feel with good amenities for travellers, but the history has not been ruined. When you are there it’s hard to believe that you are still in Europe.
So, if you are inspired by Johan to try one of the many destinations mentioned, and some seamless service, check out routes now on stratajet.com. And who knows, you might even be spurred on to follow his lead and look into getting some of your own flying hours behind you too.