When it comes to living the jetset lifestyle, no one hits the skies as much as a pilot.
As long as we’ve been publishing Jetset magazine, we’ve never really taken the time to talk to some of the people who give us the ability to live the life we lead. To remedy that problem, we talked to Samuel Holmes, a private pilot who works for Discount Tire Corporation. He’s been flying for years now, first with the military, and then in private, corporate and commercial planes, so he’s a pretty solid expert on how the industry operates.
To get a peek inside his head and learn what the life of a pilot is like, we sat down with Holmes and talked to him about the average week, the pecking order of pilots and the world of corporate flying.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be a pilot?
I’ve loved airplanes ever since I was a little kid. I wanted to fly ever since I was 10 years old. I went the military route. I was in the Air Force — I got a scholarship and I got a pilot’s slot down at William’s Air Force Base for training — and I ended up flying a B-52 for 19 years. A lot of that time was in the reserves, and while I was in the reserves I did corporate flying on the weekdays.
What kind of planes do you primarily fly?
I normally fly the Leer 60 and the Challenger 300. The flight department that I’m in owns three airplanes, and they’re three different types. Each of the pilots in the flight department fly two different types of airplanes, just to minimize training.
To someone who has never flown private or corporate before, explain how it works. Do you fly at a moment’s notice? Are you on a tight schedule? We’re not on alert, ready to take off in five minutes like we were when I flew the bombers. We have about a two-hour leash — we need to be ready to go within two hours. So we’re on call a lot. The upside is that we get, as compensation for that, a lot of vacation days — at least in this operation we do — but any days that you’re not on vacation you’re on call, holidays and weekends included. You’re always ready to go. I’m lucky in that with the operation that I’m in, there’s a lot of good prior planning. We have very few pop-up, last-minute types of trips — maybe two a year.
Do you work directly for Discount Tire or do you work with an organization that they hire out?
Directly for Discount Tire Company.
What’s the average week like for you?
We probably fly three to four days a week on average. The airplanes that we fly — they come in small, medium and large — I’m on the small and medium airplanes, so I draw a lot more of the day trips where I go out, pick someone up and bring them home to Scottsdale (Ariz.). So there are fewer nights on the road than in previous operations that I’ve been in. That’s also really nice; there’s a good quality of life.
What other companies have you worked for?
I flew for Flex Jet, which is a fractional ownership company, which is close to a reserved schedule for an airline pilot. I quit that job to go fly for American Airlines, but as the junior guy, after 9/11, I was laid off. I went back to corporate and I flew for Sprint. I flew Gulfstreams for them for a couple of years, and I left there for Discount Tire.
Do you consider it better to fly corporate or private?
What is the pecking order like in the pilot industry?
Traditionally, the long-haul international airline pilot was the top pay scale, but that’s been turned on its head in the past 10 years. In my opinion, corporate flying is where it’s at. There are pros and cons to every job, and that doesn’t matter if you’re in aviation or you’re not.
With corporate right now, I think there’s more interesting flying for me personally. Right now the good corporate jobs are just better jobs than the airline jobs. The pay scales on all of the major airlines have been significantly reduced, the only ones that haven’t taken gigantic pay cuts in the past few years are some of the Fed-Ex and UPS kind of companies — and I also believe Southwest Airlines — has never felt the pain of the rest of the aviation industry. There are very few companies left that aren’t major airlines that are still what they once were. There aren’t very many opportunities there. Those companies go to the same airports over and over again and there’s no variety in the flying.
I like corporate because almost every trip is different. All of the different locations that we go to, and then the people that we fly are usually people we know that we fly day in and day out. They’re passengers that we know and can trust — professionals. To me, I really prefer corporate to the airlines. Now I will caveat that by saying that when I was in the airlines, I was only there for about four years and I never had a chance to get to the top of the pecking order in the airlines. But I’ve always had more fun flying corporate than with the airlines.
Have you ever flown private?
Very little. When I was in the Air Force we had airplanes that we could rent and fly single-engine Pipers and stuff like that. I’ve done a little bit of that, but not a whole lot. These airplanes are the same as the company’s, they’re all privately owned by a single individual. We’re regulated by FAR Part 91, which are the same rules I would have to abide by if I bought my own airplane. The airlines are under Part 121, which has a lot more stringent rules. There’s a lot more oversight required. With Part 91, you have freedom to operate your airplane the way you please, but with a lot fewer restrictions. They’re all just bare minimum safety restrictions. What ends up happening is that these private individuals will use every ounce of freedom to fly their airplane however they want, and corporations and even private companies that have their own airplanes will have an operations manual with rules that are more strict than the Part 91 rules. The safety factor is a lot higher in corporate flying departments than with your general owner/operator.
Which means that you’re less likely to have problems long term.
Correct. It varies from company to company, but most that have their own airplane realize what a valuable asset that airplane is, and they’re not going to let the maintenance lapse or cut corners in maintenance or anything like that. It doesn’t matter what it costs, they’re going to do it the safest way possible.