By S. Clayton Moore
Take one highly qualified flight training facility with a terrific reputation. Mix in a specialization in corporate jets in an age when business aviation is taking flight again. Top it off with a deeply motivated new owner and hopefully it will all add up to a recipe for success.
Pacific Airline Systems, currently located in the Jet Source hangar at McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, Calif., has been training pilots in turbine-powered aircraft for nearly 30 years now. Founded in 1976 by Mike Pappas, an airline pilot and FAA pilot examiner, the company helped prepare pilots to fly everything from the Boeing 727 to smaller planes for commuter airlines. By the 1980s, the company had begun to focus on corporate and executive jet training for both owner-operators and professional corporate pilots.
More recently, its new owner has big plans for the company. Chris Skytte is a former TWA captain who once flew the Boeing 747, 757 and 767. After leaving American Airlines a little over two years ago, he was introduced to Pacific Airline Systems through his wife.
“She was working in a bank and came across a business broker marketing the company,” Skytte recalls. “The next thing I knew, I was putting in an offer and buying the company. It just seemed like a good fit.”
Skytte purchased the company from Pappas in 2004 and is taking time to both capitalize on the company’s reputation and reinvent its services for the future.
“I’m kind of trying to carve out my own niche here,” Skytte admitted. “The biggest difference is that I have quite a bit of flight time so my perspective comes from a pilot’s point of view rather than my competitors, who come from other industries. I can bring in more of an airline perspective and a professional pilot’s perspective.”
Currently, Pacific Airline Systems focuses on training its students in the Cessna CE 500 series, which includes the Citation I, Citation II and Citation Ultra and the CE 525 series, encompassing the CJ1, CJ2 and CJ3. The company also offers CE-525S single pilot training and courses on cockpit resource management, high altitude endorsements and reduced vertical separation minimum training.
Although Skytte and his trainers occasionally offer a three-hour refresher course designed for pilots with high familiarity with the aircraft, their primary focus is on their Citation type rating course.
“The five-hour course is our standard,” Skytte said. “The first two days we train on systems and ground school. The third day is weight and balance, performance and some simulator training. The fourth day is flight training, with the check ride on the last day. When all is said and done, students get about five hours in the aircraft.”
Skytte’s customers are split evenly between corporate flight departments and owner-operators; three of the major insurance carriers approve Pacific Airline Systems’ course. For the right customer, training in Carlsbad can mean a significant savings.
“Some insurance companies require simulator-based training, which shoots us down a little bit,” Skytte admitted. “However, what we see is that our competitors can take up to three weeks and cost over $16,000. With us, pilots can get their type rating in five days for about $8,200. They can then go to a three-day recurrent course with whomever they please. They end up saving around $3,000 and still have the simulator-based training that their insurance requires. Not a lot of people know about this option yet.”
The instructors go a long way towards making things easier and fairly priced for their customers. They will even instruct students in their own aircraft on request.
“That saves them some money because we obviously discount the course,” Skytte explained. “If they bring their own airplane, I’m not footing the bill for their fuel and such. We’ll even travel. If a company has a group of pilots to get trained, we’ll come to them rather than forcing them to fly five pilots out here. It just makes more sense.”
Not that he is taking on every customer who walks in the door. Skytte is concerned about maintaining smaller class sizes and the quality of his students’ education.
“Six is about the limit of each course because of the logistics of the training and the check rides,” Skytte said.
He also wants to make sure the pilots coming to Pacific Airline Systems for training are ready for what he admits is a fairly intensive course.
“We explain to potential students that the initial training is a pretty fast and furious program,” Skytte said. “If they’re not up to speed on their procedures, they should really get qualified on those basic items before they come to see us. We do get them some simulator time but that’s primarily to get up their instrument currency so they’re not concentrating on the panel instead of flying the airplane. They really should get some recent experience in the instrument environment.”
Skytte says that his instructors are one of the strongest aspects of Pacific Airline Systems. They include Chief Flight Instructor Roger Nutter, an instructor with the company for over 20 years, and longtime Citation veterans Frank C. Moody and Raymond Hahn. The instructors work as contract employees, keeping the bottom line low for the company and translating into savings for students.
“Our instructors have all been flying these airplanes for more than 20 years, so they know this aircraft inside and out,” Skytte said.
Skytte will also be joining the team not only as the company’s owner but also as an instructor. His responsibilities at the pilot training program at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., have been keeping him busy but he is quickly getting caught up on the Citation.
“By the end of summer, I’ll be up to speed on the airplane and that will add some flexibility,” Skytte said. “We do occasionally run into some scheduling conflicts between the availability of instructors and the availability of airplanes, so if I can eliminate one of those obstacles it makes scheduling easier.”
Skytte also plans to redesign the basic training program as well as adding new capabilities that will integrate more computer technology both inside and outside the classroom.
“I’m in the process of redoing the training program so it’s more in line with the airline training programs that I have known so well,” Skytte said. “We’re upgrading it to more high-tech software-oriented training. We’re also looking into developing training software to be sold in the outside market as well as developing training videos on aircraft systems.”
In the future, he also hopes to implement systems to reduce the amount of time pilots spend at the facility for recurrent training.
“We would like to get things online where if a student comes back, they can get all of their ground training online, take the tests and bring them in,” Skytte said. “Then all you have is one day of flight training and a check ride and you’re on your way.”
The next major step for the company, however, is relocation. The company’s lease at McClellan-Palomar is up in October and Skytte hopes to move the operation to Long Beach Airport by the end of the year.
No matter where Pacific Airline Systems winds up, its commitment to quality flight training will remain the same. By retaining a serious, qualified team of instructors and capitalizing on new technologies, Skytte has made a major investment in the future of the school.
“Hopefully it will pay off,” Skytte said. “We sure hope so.”
For more information on Pacific Airline Systems, call 1-866-359-7274, email email@example.com or visit [http://www.pacificairlinesystems.com].