Corporate or Private Aviation covers a wide variety of aircraft and roles, from the long-range luxury ‘Business-jets’, to single-pilot aerial work – such as survey or light cargo delivery.
Because most normal flight training routes are intended with airline careers in mind, there are a lot of misconceptions about the sector, the opportunities, and how to get involved!
‘Corporate’ aviation traditionally means the aircraft owned by a company for the private use of their senior staff and clients. Though some big companies still own aircraft, or even fleets of jets, it is becoming less common – often being the first thing to be outsourced or closed during budget cuts.
More usual is charter aircraft, or fractional ownership schemes. These aircraft are either owned by dedicated charter aircraft operators and clients charter the aircraft and crew when needed, or in the case of fractionals, a regular payment allows access to the aircraft owned by the company on an ongoing basis.
Some aircraft are privately-owned personal aircraft, being used by an individual or family. This may be for their exclusive use, or sometimes sub-charted for others to rent (and offset the cost).
Another important element of charter flying is urgent cargo delivery. This can be all manner of items, such as engineering components, perishable items, animals or AOG (aircraft-on-ground) stores – parts for bigger aircraft unable to fly without the replacement component.
Medical charter and Air Ambulance operate to move patients, medical teams and organs for transplant. Whilst helicopter air ambulance are the most visible to the public; a variety of small fixed-wing aircraft operate for long-range air ambulance (e.g. to the Scottish Hebrides), or for repatriation of patients injured or ill abroad. This could be in specially modified ambulance aircraft, or using standard passenger / cargo models for simpler medical cases. The helicopter air ambulance or HEMS type service are covered in more detail in Service Sector
As a pilot, the main point to consider is that this sort of flying is quite different to scheduled (airline) flying. Whereas airline pilots will be rostered sometimes months in advance, with only occasional standby shifts, most private aviation pilots operate to short notice schedules. Airlines are all about keeping to the schedule and keeping costs down, charter and delivery work is meeting the client requirement, at whatever time they need, and at whatever they are prepared to pay.
Rotary wing (helicopters) can cover a lot of the work already described, but also have specific roles – such as oil rig transfers, tours and public service (rescue, police, coastguard etc). Military pilots often dominate this sector, as helicopter training is relatively expensive, but it is still possible to work up from no experience to CPL(H), or convert from a fixed-wing licence.
So, how do you train and get into a pilot job in Corporate or Private Aviation? Firstly, you will need to obtain a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL), either (A) aeroplane, or (H) helicopter. This is the same training that airline pilots do, flown on complex single-engine aircraft, and completing a number of ground theoretical exams, culminating in a flight test. When qualified, you could undertake some work on this type of aircraft (such as aerial survey or air taxi charter), but this work it fairly limited. To fly more advanced or larger private aircraft, you need to add a type rating to your licence.
A type rating is issued for a specific ‘type’ of aircraft, or for very similar types. This involves an ‘initial’ course of ground-school and simulator training, combined with ‘base’ or ‘line’ training on the live aircraft. For first-job airline pilots, it is usually a straight choice between Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 family, with some pilots choosing to pay for or be ‘bonded’ to a company by such ratings.
However, for private aircraft, there are so many aircraft types possible, it is generally considered very unwise to pay for a rating without a guaranteed job offer. Bear in mind that, because of the relatively small numbers of pilots trained on private aircraft types compared to airlines, training costs are relatively expensive. A type rating for the turboprop King Air may be around £8,000, whereas a long-range private jet (such as a Gulfstream 550/650, Falcon 7X or Global Express) may cost in excess of £50,000. Some operators may finance an initial type rating, but expect to be ‘bonded’ – i.e. to be contractually bound to remain with that company for a set period.
Many jobs in private aviation are not advertised; operators do not have the advertising and recruitment capacity of the airlines. Instead, private operators will often find pilots through networking or recommendations. Hence, it is important to know the operators in your chosen sector of the industry, and build up contacts to be aware of any jobs.