NetJets Pilot Pascal Lhoest on his Office in the Sky
While the job of a commercial airline pilot is focused almost exclusively on safely transporting their passengers to their chosen destination, the man at the helm of a private jet must meet a higher level of expectation.
The responsibility that comes with looking after a private aviation client is weighted with the knowledge that only the very finest level of service will suffice. It is a job for experienced, customer-savvy men and women with an innate understanding of what makes a luxurious flying experience.
In an exclusive interview with Superyachts.com, NetJets Pilot Pascal Lhoest discusses the challenges involved in his job, why NetJets are leaders in the field, and how he thinks private aviation will evolve in years to come.
Superyachts.com: What would you say are the main differences between being a private jet pilot and a pilot for a commercial airliner?
Pascal Lhoest: Whilst the primary task of all flight crew is to safely fly the plane, there is no doubt that private aviation has a completely different approach towards flying and passengers. Flight crews operating private aircraft need a multitude of other skills on top of their flying skills.
They will have direct contact with the passengers throughout, interacting with them during the flight. This begins with welcoming them at the airport or on board, to providing them with an exceptional service during the flight. Having no closest cockpit door, crew can converse with owners throughout the flight which could never happen on a commercial flight. The Flight Crew offers assistance with food and drinks and are there to ensure the passenger has an exceptionally comfortable flight.
The flying itself is also very different. With private aviation you rarely know your final destination in advance. NetJets flies to over 5000 different destinations, so the chance of flying to the same airport over and over again is very small. NetJets flies to very demanding airports forcing the Flights Crew to be very organised during flight preparation and during the actual flight itself, so enhanced training is required.
Overall, I believe private aviation leaves a pilot with a greater sense of responsibility and accountability.
As a pilot, how do you ensure NetJets’ owners receive the ultra-premium service that meets their high demands?
We have a dedicated team in the Lisbon Head Quarters who know exactly what our owners need. We spend time getting to know our customers and ensuring any requests can be met. We empower our crew to enhance the life of our owners any time they see the right opportunity – that could be a child’s birthday being celebrated on board, or ensuring a customer’s dog has it’s favourite treats to hand when it flies. Often it is the smallest details that leave the biggest impact.
How much of your time is spent flying and how much on directing flight operations?
I aim to fly couple of days a month. Running our Flight Ops Department certainly keeps me busy but it remains essential that I continue to fly and keep in touch with my team of pilots. I also enjoy interacting with our Owners and getting feedback from them first hand – it gives me a unique view in my position.
What are the biggest challenges in your day-to-day role?
The biggest challenge is ensuring we meet our owners’ expectations whilst ensuring we always meet the highest safety standards. We can never compromise on this. Problems do arise and we work hard to find the appropriate solution to them.
We also have a very remote workforce as our Crew live all over Europe. Establishing the proper communication channels and fostering open communication lines is very important in order to ensure we can quickly respond to any issue and ensure we maintain a “team” atmosphere.
What do you think makes NetJets stand out from the crowd in the field of private aviation?
NetJets offers a consistent service that competitors or charter providers simply can’t match. We refer to our customers as Owners. That changes everything about our business model. They are buying into NetJets and as such demand high levels of attention and service. If you choose to fly privately, it is because you want to set your own agenda. To do that, you need a large company that offers scale and scope – NetJets is the only aviation firm with 80 aircraft in Europe that can deliver a jet with as little as four hours’ notice. Nothing about NetJets is “A to B.” Every journey an owner takes is for a different reason but every time, we aim for the same reaction - to make that journey exceptional.
How would you say the demands of private jet users have changed over the years – are there things they expect now that they wouldn’t have, say, a decade ago?
Many customers expect technological advancements today compared to ten years ago. Wifi is installed on many of our Signature Series aircraft and later this year we begin retro-fitting most of our fleet to include this service. People expect connectivity wherever they are. Many of our owners are flying for business – to keep them working in the air ensures their productivity doesn’t have to stop just because they are travelling.
What have been some of the most outlandish and extravagant requests you’ve received from clients?
In all honesty, we don’t really receive outlandish requests. We treat all our owners respectfully so try to meet all demands. We have flown some unusual pets over the years, but if they have a passport, they can travel! It makes things a little interesting for our Flight Crew but most of the time it adds to the variety and enjoyment of their role. You certainly wouldn’t expect to see a pig in a commercial aircraft cabin but we have flown one on board a NetJets aircraft.
How do you think private aviation will evolve over the coming decades?
Private aviation has been, and will remain, at the forefront of aviation technology. Much advancement is already tested in the private aviation sector – for example – augmented approaches to landing. NetJets is taking part in a European study where pilots will use Synthetic Vision Guidance System and Enhanced Flight Vision System to gain better access to airports. The aim is for these advancements to then benefit the entire aviation industry.
You are obviously very well-travelled – which destination has captured your heart the most and why?
I have a few destinations that really captured my heart – Samedan in the middle of the Alps is breath-taking for its beautiful visual approach, Teterboro, close to NYC is exciting due to it’s extremely busy airspace and Quito in Ecuador – is a high altitude operation that requires intense skills but is a wonder to behold.
It is many children’s dreams to be a pilot, and you have gone one step better and become a private jet pilot. Is the reality as good as the dream?
I certainly believe it is, but of course I have been extremely lucky with my career path. Some people say aviation is not what it used to be anymore. I would say it has certainly changed over time, but the opportunities are still there to make this an extremely exciting job. Having an office in the clouds really does take some beating.