We sat down with private jet pilot, Lennert Van Tilburgh, who flies the Cessna Citation XLS and Bombardier Challenger 350, to separate the myths from the truth. A CAE graduate, Lennert first worked as an aircraft cleaner in Antwerp where by chance he met the operations manager of a business aircraft company and became a private aircraft pilot.
Now, let’s debunk some myths.
True or False: You can’t have a life when you are a private jet pilot.
Lennert: I’d day false. We get to choose what days we work and fly, so it’s not like we’re sacrificing our social life. But no matter the trip, you always bring a toothbrush and spare clothes because everything can change in an instant. A client can have a one-hour meeting in London, and you’d expect to fly back, but suddenly they want to go to their beach house or someplace completely unexpected. You just never know when you’re gone. You just say “Yes” and go with it.
True or False: Private jet pilots are on call all the time.
Lennert: That’s not true, you have the right to refuse same-day flights. Even people who own an aircraft don’t fly every day. As a private pilot, you have free time, you just don’t have the same fixed schedule as other pilots. You won’t have every Monday off. But there are ways to manage your time off. It’s really about adapting to the days you have to fly.
True or False: Private jet pilots need to agree to any bizarre customer wish.
Lennert: That’s partly True: Customers are particular and know what they want, but the requests don’t tend to be outrageous. Once in Italy, a customer wanted pizza on board. So, we ordered it and they were late, so the pizza was cold. We try to please the customer when we can, and always remember it’s their second home.
True or False: Private jet pilots meet showbiz stars all the time.
Lennert: I’ve flown a few celebrities. But that doesn’t happen all the time. With A-List celebrities, there’s a lot of photography going on. At the end of the day, people are people. Whether wealthy or famous. Some people are nice, some are not. Each individual is different.
True or False: Being a private jet pilot is more dangerous than being an airline pilot.
Lennert: No, I wouldn’t say it’s more dangerous. Business aviation used to have more accidents, 20-30 years ago, but not today. People today understand aviation and weather more. They won’t make you go when you should not.
True or False: Private jet pilots are nervous about making a very soft landing as passengers are attentive to that.
Lennert: Yes, you need to pay special attention because in a private jet, the customer is sitting right behind you! So, if you make a bumpy landing the customer will come to the front of the aircraft and ask, “What’s up?”
True or False: Being a private jet pilot is very glamorous.
Lennert: I have to say, no. It’s fun and we’re taken care of and get to stay in good hotels, but if the destination itself isn’t glamorous, that’s another story.
True or False: Passengers on private jets are very demanding and behave badly onboard which makes it very difficult for private jet pilots.
Lennert: False. As a private pilot, you are the ambassador of the brand. We’re the contact point for the customer if there is anything wrong or if they want to change their plans. From the moment they start their flying experience, we’re with the customer. We join them at security and as we get to the aircraft, we help the handling agents with loading luggage – all of which helps us get closer to each customer.
True or False: Private jet pilots don’t benefit from staff travel agreements between airlines.
Lennert: Airline pilots get perks like passes and deals on flights and hotels. As a private pilot, you’re piloting yourself, so we don’t get discounted tickets. But we do get points with hotel chains.
True or False: Private jet pilots get the best hotels down-route as they sometimes stay with the VIPs.
Lennert: Although we do get to stay in some nice hotels, there are also customers who don’t want us to stay in the same hotel as them. I can’t complain, but we can’t say we are living the same life.
True or False: Being a private jet pilot is very difficult as you fly to many demanding airports and you never fly twice to the same place.
Lennert: True and false. As a private jet pilot, you may fly to the same destination many times, but you will also encounter unique challenges. For example, in Switzerland, there is an airport located in a valley. At one point you have to fly visually using buildings as markers to make the landing on the tarmac.
True or False: Private jet pilots eat Michelin-star food onboard.
Lennert: True and false. It depends. There are flights where there’s no food onboard. If the customer orders catering, usually we would share that. But I wouldn’t say we count on that.
True or False: Private jet pilots are involved in smuggling drugs into countries.
Lennert: From what I’ve seen that’s fiction. We do have security checkpoints and Customs control. It’s really no different from other pilots.
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