This week we caught up with Elevate Holdings Chief Pilot Joe Naughton to hear what a day in his life as a private jet pilot is like, what he loves most about flying and how changes within the industry, such as the current pilot shortage, are affecting his role.
Here is a peek into our interview:
Q: What does a typical day look like for you on the day of a flight?
A: It depends on the time of day of our departure, but let’s say I’m on duty and we have a morning departure… I get up in the morning, check the weather, and check anything new that operations may send over as far as chain changes of the schedule. Our operations team does a good job of taking care of the details and leaves the flying to us — there are a lot of pilot jobs where the pilot does everything from catering to transportation. After, I’ll report to the airplane, generally about an hour and a half before departure. I then immediately go into our pre-flight checks, and depending on the airport, the pre-flight checks take about 30 minutes. Then we fuel and prepare the airplane for the guests, like stocking it with pre-ordered catering. When the passenger arrives, someone on the crew greets them and walks them out to the airplane. And then we take off.
Q: How does your day look different when you aren’t flying?
A: If we’re on duty, but there is no flight scheduled, I’ll take care of a lot of desk work that I have as Chief Pilot. In the past, I have also taken advantage of local sites and scenes. A couple of weeks ago, I went to a museum. I’ve gone to battlefields in Virginia while in the Washington, DC area. I’m free to do other things as long as I’m within a short distance of the airplane because I can always get a call saying we need to leave within two hours.
Q: Do you have a favorite city that you’ve been to or somewhere your job has taken you that you might not have had the chance to go to otherwise?
A: With Elevate Holdings, I’m only flying within the U.S. But I have been lucky enough to travel internationally. I’ve had the chance to spend a lot of time in South America, but it would have never been on my radar to visit. In Brazil, we saw some great scenes. On a day off, we chartered a boat, floated down the river and saw some fantastic waterfalls. Columbia is such an amazing place too. The terrain there is unbelievable — lush and green with huge mountains with big ravines and people farming on the side of them.
Q: What has been your favorite career moment to date?
A: Every day is full of little moments all the time. I grew up in Kansas and never really traveled much, so one thing that comes to mind is the first time I flew over the Mississippi River. I remember that being exciting — same thing when I crossed lake Michigan for the first time and saw both shorelines from above. Or crossing the North Atlantic and looking down and seeing nothing but water. I guess my favorite moments are just seeing things I haven’t seen before — the deserts of the Middle East or the subtropics of Singapore. It’s an amazing world.
Q: Has the pilot shortage affected you in any way? Have you seen a difference? How is that affecting what you’re doing every day?
A: As a Chief Pilot, I’m the hiring manager for our airplanes. For pilots, everybody that wants to work is working. So when you go to interview someone, you’re taking them away from something. At the same time, while we’re shorthanded and eager to hire, we still have to do our due diligence and make sure they’re the right fit. Also, many pilots now aren’t full-time employed because they are doing contract work and can make money in some cases. There are no guarantees on earnings month to month for them, but it’s difficult to pull them away. They’re not ready to settle down for a full-time job. Salaries are also increasing, so we always have to consider and adjust to attract the right talent. I think one of these days, the shortage will taper off. The music will stop, especially for the contract positions, and everybody is going to start looking for a chair. The hiring has been a lot of work, but we’re getting it done.
Q: Why choose to work at Elevate Holdings?
A: The people. Everybody here works as a team. Everybody has the same goal in mind. Everybody tells me that our schedule is great — we’re on for ten days and off eight.
Q: What is your advice to anyone hoping to be a private jet pilot?
A: If you don’t love it, don’t do it. Most pilots I know love it, but it can be hard sometimes being on the road as much as we are and the long hours. So if you don’t love it, don’t get into it just for the money. I’ve been in it for a long time, and I still love flying every day. But for young pilots, opportunities are abounding right now. It’s a great time to jump in.