I’ve always wondered as a professional pilot hopeful, “What’s the life of a charter pilot like?” This summer, I had the opportunity through an internship at Martinair (a Part 91/135 airline – UNRELATED to my last name) to fly roundtrip onboard a Learjet 35A from Richmond RIC to Baltimore BWI.

My goal for the flight was to shadow the pilots through all aspects of their flight, from the pre-flight and landing in Baltimore, to the return and cleanup in Richmond, in order to gain a little perspective on what flying as a charter pilot is like day-to-day. This was my first ever flight on a private jet; what better way to have it than with a jumpseat view?!

Martinair is a Part 91 and 135 airline based out of the Richmond International Airport in Virginia. Most of the aircraft Martinair charters out to customers are owned by individuals or groups. Owners flying onboard their own aircraft (or other company aircraft for a stated rate) are operating under Part 91 regulations, those used by aircraft owners. Part 135 ops are held when a customer charters an aircraft with cash to a destination and back (like buying an airline ticket).

The Martinair Ramp

The Martinair Ramp

Charter pilots often have schedules that are completely dominated by customer demand. When I learned about Martinair scheduling, I saw that pilots request “hard days off” when they had serious conflicts, and just requested off days otherwise. On “working days,” the pilots are essentially on call for a customer who can call up to two hours before departure time. Trips are often times scheduled much further in advance, so pilots have a good idea of what their month will look like.

Pre-Flight

For my flight, I was given the opportunity to sit onboard a Part 91 operated Learjet 35A (N804TF) flight from Richmond to Baltimore. I arrived at around 9am for the flight and waited a few minutes for the pilots to arrive. Once they showed up, I was introduced and the captain and myself began a quick pre-flight check on the aircraft. It was pretty cool to be shown around the aircraft up-close by a pilot who has so much time on-type. The co-pilot had already done a pre-flight on the plane, but the captain wanted to personally show me some cool aspects of the plane.

The Learjet 35 was first flown in 1973, and was produced up until 1994. In all, 738 of the aircraft were built for civilian and military operators around the world. The Learjet 35A has a range of 2,789 miles and a fuel capacity of 931 gallons. It has a service ceiling of 45,000 feet and maximum speed of 461 knots at 41,000 feet. Flying the plane is about as close to flying a fighter jet as you can get in a civilian airline!

DSC_0580

After our walkaround, we went inside to check on the first officer, who was getting a flight plan filed and ready. This is when I began to get a real sense for what pilots experience in a charter airline environment. At many “normal” airlines, pilots walk onboard and are handed a flight plan. Catering is handled separately and flight attendants prepare the cabin. Unlike at the airlines, pilots flying for Part 91 and 135 operators are responsible for nearly all aspects of the flight. From catering, cleaning, and fueling, to flight planning (not to mention flying!) , these pilots have a pretty substantial workload.

After all of the initial work was done, it was just a matter of waiting for the passengers. Once they arrived, it only took a few minutes before we were taxiing out to the runway – which is pretty incredible from a passenger’s perspective. Flying on a private jet means that you’ll get to leave behind the mess of waiting through security, delays, and long lines (which can take up to 3 hours at busy airports), for a quick flight that is literally on your schedule.

Our Learjet 35A for the day had 7 seats: 1 back couch, 2 aft-facing chairs, 2 forward-facing chairs, and 1 sideways facing “potty seat” (in a jumpseat-like position). The “potty seat” is a makeshift lavatory where the seat cushion lifts off, you put up a curtain around yourself, and use toilet. In reality though, it’s much better used as a jumpseat, allowing an excellent view of the cockpit and out the front windows. Not every Learjet 35 is equipped with this seat arrangement, but I sure was glad to have that jumpseat view!

My Jumpseat View

My Jumpseat View

Departure From RIC

Before I knew it, the engines were spooling up and we began taxiing for takeoff out of RIC. Never having been on a small jet before, I wasn’t even sure what to expect during the takeoff. One thing stood out in particular… our time on the runway was incredibly short. The Learjet is as close to flying a fighter jet as you can get, so we were off the ground very quickly.

It had always been a goal of mine to see what flying a jet is like from the pilots’ perspective. The captain was even nice enough to set me up with a headset, plugging me into the intercom so I could listen into their communications with ATC. Being able to see and hear everything they went through during our short 25 minute long flight was amazing and something I’ll never forget. Looking out the front windows while flying a fast jet through cloud layers was unbelievable.

Flying onboard the Learjet was comfortable, even for such a small plane. It wasn’t too loud, I had tons of legroom, and got to have the best window seat in the world – the cockpit! It was a quick 25 minute flight before we began descending into the busy airspace surrounding the Baltimore-Washington area.

Below is a photo of our route:

Arrival Into BWI

We landed on Runway 33R, a 5000 X 100 foot runway that happens to be the smallest runway at BWI. It is a convenient choice for private jets, as the only Baltimore FBO is directly adjacent to it, allowing for a quick taxi!

Once we pulled up to the ramp, the pilots quickly shut down the plane, and opened the cabin door for the passengers. In less than 2 minutes, they were off the plane, and taken by golf kart to the FBO. Once again, it really became clear why people love private jet travel so much. In about 40 minutes, these passengers were able to fly from Richmond to Baltimore, whereas a normal commercial flight could take upwards of 4 hours once all is said and done.

Post-Flight

Once the passengers left, the pilots on our flight began cleaning up and doing post-flight checks. There wasn’t any hop-on, hop-off ability for these pilots, they were the sole people responsible for all operations of the aircraft.

Baltimore has an extremely strict ramp policy, which requires all passengers and pilots to have an airport escort with them on the ramp at all times. (The BWI airport was fined $10,000 recently for an unauthorized entry that ended in an arrest). Immediately upon arrival, and escort is sent out to monitor all activities involving the pilots and their passengers. You can’t access the ramp without an escort opening the sliding doors with a key card, which was definitely unique to see first-hand.

Our stop in Baltimore was only to last for a few hours, until a scheduled departure of about 1pm. In the meantime, I went out to lunch with the pilots and talked with them a little more about their experiences flying charter. The captain said something that really stuck with me (and it’s true for pretty much every pilot), “Life for a pilot is a balance of three things: quality of life, quality of job, and quality of pay. You end up choosing what matters the most to you and it affects the other two profoundly.”

DSC_0497

As 1pm rolled around, the passengers still hadn’t shown up. This brings up another aspect of being a charter pilot: your schedule is determined by the passengers. If they want to extend their stay by a few hours, they can do so at their will. I ended up going out to the plane with the co-pilot to get everything prepped. I got to explore more of the plane during a walkaround and inspection of the cabin.

Departure From BWI

Once it turned about 2:30pm, the passengers showed up and within minutes we were taxiing back to the runway for a takeoff towards RIC.

Below are photos from the flight back to Richmond:

Our second leg of the day was just as fast as the first, about 25 minutes long. Below is a screenshot of our route:

Arrival Into RIC

Shown below are photos and a video from our landing back at RIC:

Just as quickly as we left, the plane was shut down back on the Martinair ramp. The passengers got in their car to go home, a quick trip! The day still wasn’t done for the pilots though. They had to shut down, clean, and cover the plane before it sat on the ramp. The captain even got out a vacuum for the carpets!

All in all, I really got a great sense from that short trip of what many charter pilots experience during a trip. They have a high workload before, during, and after the flight, but nonetheless love their job and get to fly some pretty cool equipment! I was lucky to have this experience prior to deciding which direction aviation might take me. I hope this article gives you a little glimpse into the life of a corporate pilot!

Thanks for reading and watching,
-Swayne Martin
Twitter: @MartinsAviation

Jumpseat View

Jumpseat View

About The Author

Swayne Martin

I started this website to show you why you'll love becoming a pilot. As an owner and editor of Boldmethod Pilot Training, I've spent years working with pilots all around the world to make their dreams a reality. For a full bio, click the "About" tab above. Use the "Contact" tab to shoot me a message.

5 Responses

  1. Tom Thorne

    Great post! I had a similar experience when I shadowed a domestic airline pilot for a couple of days, Nothing beats a jump seat view of the day to day life of an airline/charter crew. It’s a great way to broaden you perspective on the opportunities our there.

    Tom.

    Reply
    • Swayne Martin
      Swayne Martin

      Hey Tom! Thanks for the comment. It sounds like we had some pretty similar experiences. I’m dying to sit up front at an airline, but the regulations here in the USA are very strict on who gets to go up front!

      Thanks again for the comment!,
      -Swayne

      Reply
  2. dick johnson

    Tom
    thanks for the interesting video and commentary. I am currently writing a mystery novel that has a Learjet involved in the plot. I’m wondering if you have any decent audio or transcript of a flight takeoff I could peruse – ie – the tower to pilot dialogue during taxi and, possibly, handover. thanks, Dick

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.