How a Startup Flight Department Created Its Training Regimen

Gulfstream G650
Credit: Gulfstream Aerospace

In 2019, Silicon Valley software developer Adobe Systems launched an in-house flight department. As described by Adobe’s lead international captain, Bill Scanlon, this is how they put it together to operate and support a new Gulfstream 650. The operation currently has four pilots and is headed by Aviation Manager Candace Covington. Scanlon, her number two, has broad experience in professional aviation, including previous employment in Boeing Aircraft’s flight department.

“We started at [FAR] Part 61, the type rating requirement,” Scanlon related to BCA. “In fleshing out the flight department, we did not consider new hires specifically with Gulfstream 650 experience; instead, we hired for background and attitude, experience with SMS, and an interest in and excitement about the challenges and hard work of starting a new business aviation flight department for a company like Adobe. The idea was ‘All hands on deck for starting a flight department.’ In April 2019, we accepted the airplane on Memorial Day. Candace Covington was hired to set up the department, and I was hired in late July that year.”

Covington’s first priority was hiring the right people with industry experience and “great attitudes.” Scanlon was not typed in the G650, so his first challenge was to “get over to FlightSafety International (FSI) for initial. The last Gulfstream I had flown was the GV; the other pilots we’d hired also had Gulfstream experience, but that was not a requirement for being hired.”

The next step was PIC qualification under Part 61.58. “If you are qualified in two types,” Scanlon said, “you can spread your recurrent training over two years [i.e., one type each year]. We have the luxury at the moment of only one type to get qualified in, and we have set our recurrent training interval for every nine months.”

Composing an Ops Manual

There are some bare-minimum requirements for Part 91, Scanlon pointed out, but most operators strive to exceed them. “Competency is enhanced by creating a good training program,” he observes. “We used the downtime during the COVID pandemic for administrative work and devising a plan to support our being able to perform well at all times.

For a start-up, he says, “one of the most popular options is to contract with certain training providers for an off-the-shelf operations manual--‘just insert your name and logo’--but the disadvantage to that is that it doesn’t always align with the values, approach and people you’ve brought together to create the operation. That option got us started, but then we went back and started from scratch to develop our own ops manual, written internally, and reflecting the uniqueness of our operation. These off-the-shelf manuals work and meet the regulatory requirements and are good for av managers who don’t have the resources to develop their own.”

There are other resources that operators can use to round out their training, Scanlon points out. “The training providers like CAE and FSI are a great resource; they provide the training to meet the regulatory requirements and can tailor the training to your needs.” He mentioned a previous job he had where “we did ‘special emphasis training,’ an additional day working with the training provider. This costs more money but is well worth it for specific operations that might carry a higher risk factor--for example, approaches, landings and missed approaches at mountain airports like Eagle and Aspen. This is training focused on actual challenges the operation has to deal with in the real world. But it does cost money and the time of your pilots away from the job [i.e., off the trip roster].”

Still Other Resources

While larger flight departments with a lot of internal resources can develop their own supplemental training in-house, Scanlon observes, “We can’t do that now at our stage, so we use other providers like Advance Aircrew Academy [AAA] to meet supplemental training--for example, cold weather ops, international procedures, other subjects based on best practices and LOAs. AAA has developed online training modules to meet the needs of those typical LOAs--a great resource for departments that do not have those resources.”

Networking can also connect flight departments to colleagues who have been through this before. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Editor's Note: This is the third part of a three-part series of articles on training plans for flight departments. Here are the first and second parts.