Previous Chief Pilot of Richards Bay Air Carriers now Corporate Pilot Flying for Hangar 8 PLC
by Lloyd Bowles
(Cheltenham, United Kingdom)
Piper Navajo (Previous Aircraft)
My aviation career began back in 2006 when I attended Zero Four Flight School in Margate. The choice of the school was mainly due to its proximity to my grandparents, so I could lodge with them to save the cost of accommodation. I completed my PPL in July of 2006 taking me just on 3 months and this was no push by any stretch of the imagination however things have changed a bit since then with the arrival of the online PPL exams.
However after having completed this license I decided there was no turning back and the long trek to a commercial pilots life began. I decided to join 43 Air School for my advanced training, and I attempted to enroll on their course in August however they were fully booked till January 2007. I returned back to the UK where we as a family had emigrated in 1998 to earn some good old British Pounds till my return on the 7th January 2007.
In December of 2007 I qualified with a Multi IF CPL and I decided that I wanted to return back to the UK to be closer to my family. There was another reason for this. A few of my friends who had the UK JAA or JAR licence where getting jet jobs after they had qualified. So in 2008 I began my next stage of studying and a small amount of additional flying to attain my UK JAA (f)ATPL. This happened 8 months down the line and then I was unfortunate enough to have qualified as the economy crashed.
Searching for a job for 3 months in the UK where every answer was no was extremely disheartening however I then fell back onto my SA licence. I knew of potential job opportunities in South Africa and after 2 weeks of AVCOM and some phone calls I decided to book myself a plane ticket back to South Africa on 12 December 2008. I arrived no job, very little money but a hunger to continue my passion of being in the sky.
On the afternoon of the 16th December 2008 Richards Bay Air Carriers management phoned me and asked me if I could come and work for them. The advantage of working for them was that from the onset I had the availability of flying a multi-engine piston where many organisations you can go 3 or 4 years with single engine aircraft. I started on the 18 December on a very basic salary that was not enough to cover all my expenses so the small savings that was left over after all this flying, was dipped into. I felt that I had to just push for a couple of months to prove my worth and my salary would be adjusted, which it was.
Now onto the exciting part that has laid the foundations of my flying career for the future. As the title mentioned I became Chief Pilot of Richards Bay Air Carriers and had a fantastic time flying a variety of aircraft from the Cessna 150 to the Piper Navajo which was the biggest aircraft we operated. Obviously as time went on, my love for flying single engine pistons reduced and my love for flying the Navajo and the Baron 58 increased.
The routes flow varied massively however there are a few routes which were more regular which included Queenstown, Kruger International, King Shaka International, Grand Central (Johannesburg) Vryheid, Dundee, Newcastle, Phinda and for a time Ficksburg and Bloemfontein. These flights varied in duration from 4 hours continuous to 20 minutes and needed the appropriate planning for weather as not all of them had navigation aids available to them and other planning was for fuel!
Carrying guests to various parts of the country was interesting and the important thing with all the flights was to keep the clients as happy as possible and to try and have as smooth a flight as possible. Guests vary in their complexity and their want for interaction with the pilot and it is this that you have to manage and interpret as well as being the baggage handler, forecasting the weather, filing of flight plans and completing flight logs, which have to be filed.
Overall the charter industry is one made up of trust and reliability wrapped in a blanket of utmost safety whilst providing your client with a service that is enjoyable and time saving in relation to being on the road. Included in the above is cost, which has become an extremely important factor and to run your flight efficiently and effectively is the difference between a profit and a loss.
If I have to say one thing now, it is that hard work and pure passion for flying is what will ultimately get you your first job. Once you have your first job, show your employers what you are made of and how you will add value. This will ultimately be your means of gaining a higher salary and start to move your way up the income ladder to be able to finance other aviation related endeavours!
As for me now I have moved from a small family owned company operating piston engine aircraft to a larger company that now runs 37 private jets. Jumping from a Piper Navajo to a Hawker 900XP was a step up but not massively difficult once the type rating was completed.
Working for a company that manages corporate aircraft instead of having gone into the airlines makes every day different. Also another benefit of being in corporate aviation is that you tend to interact with your clients instead of just being the effective manager in his ivory tower. If you are a people person and like that interaction then I would suggest trying to enter into the corporate jet market.