Building a career as captain

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In a new series on Business Airport International, we speak with some of the recipients of NBAA’s 40 Under 40 awards for 2018. This week, Brandon Williams, lead captain of training at Richardson Aviation, discusses his career in business aviation, the challenges he has faced and his perspective on new technologies impacting the industry.

What was your first job in the business aviation industry?
Let me paint a picture; I had just gotten yelled at by an O’Hare Airport ground controller. I was sitting in a ragged out E145 with probably 20,000+ hours on a cold winter day, contemplating life as a regional airline pilot, when a long-time friend and mentor who had been very successful in his career contacted me to discuss a potential business aviation opportunity.

Given the situation, I was all ears at that point. Soon, I was fortunate enough to interview at a growing part 91 flight department and learn not only more about the company, but the business aviation industry in general.

I am a big believer that sometimes you have to take one step back to take two steps forward, and I am saying that because for me to leave the regional, I would relinquish my seniority number and guaranteed flow to American Airlines. That was no small decision to make! I knew my new business aviation opportunity would not be where I retired, but serve as a fantastic stepping stone that would allow me to grow as a well-rounded professional and learn an incredible amount about the industry.

From the interview, I was able to see how much more involved and hands on I could be in business aviation. Moreover, that I could drive my career in any direction, to any altitude I choose. In terms of success, the sky was the limit. Eventually, I was offered a position as a first officer at that part 91 department, and I have never looked back.

How has your career progressed?
Initially, I was hired as a first officer. I used that opportunity to improve my craft and earn a position as a captain, then training captain, and ultimately assistant chief pilot. Those positions enabled me to grow not only as a professional but as a person. They molded my abilities and contributed to me earning a position as captain at Richardson Aviation, where I now serve as the lead captain of training.

Why do you enjoy working in the business aviation industry?
The bottom line is I want to make a difference, not only in my company but the industry as a whole. I want to be a contributing member of a high performing team. I enjoy the dynamic environment that corporate aviation brings to the table and the sense of accomplishment of a job well done.

Also, unlike the airlines, flying is a small part of what we do. With business aviation, I am able to assist the company outside the cockpit. Monotony and I do not get along well, so you can say that my personality thrives in business aviation.

What is one of your fondest memories from your business aviation career so far?
Being offered a position at Richardson Aviation because everything I had accomplished leading up to that point was to be a desirable applicant here. It did not come without its struggles along the way. I failed at my first and second opportunity. I started to question my decision to leave the airlines and I assure you I didn’t fail for lack of effort or preparedness. I just was not ready as a professional. If I had been hired during my first attempt, I probably would have struggled and thus, been more of a weight than a contributing member of the team. They say hard work, focus and dedication pay off, and when I look at my career leading up to getting hired here, that is what it took. Each failure made the success that much sweeter.

What has been one of your most challenging times in this industry?
I want to talk about what I call the ‘grey hair methodology.’ It is the idea that you have to be a certain matured age, have flown around the world multiple times, have at least five type ratings and have been in the industry for 20+ years before you are considered capable of touching the controls of a business jet.

Although the industry has evolved tremendously over the past 30 years, that is how many of today’s managers were raised, and thus still try and implement those practices today. Even much of the public has a certain grey-haired perception of pilots. For instance, when they think of a professional pilot, they picture someone like Captain Sully. Good on him, he is the epitome of a professional airline pilot. His grey hair, age, and professionalism exude ‘pilot’.

I on the other hand, at 22 years of age, had concerned passengers asking if I was going to be flying the aircraft, or if I was old enough to be in the cockpit. In addition to that, when I made my transition to business aviation, I was told passengers generally wanted grey hair in the cockpit, so much so, that the manager wished I not fly the aircraft for quite some time. That was incredibly frustrating because at the airlines, no matter the conditions, when it was my leg, I flew.

Also, I was passed up for my first captain position opportunity for someone outside our company who was older and more experienced. That was even though I had already been flying the owner as the fill-in pilot in command (PIC).

At the end of the day, although young and less experienced, I was able to overcome those barriers because I did, and continue to, prepare extensively, study frequently and listen to the experience around me. But most importantly, I admit my own mistakes and make it a point to learn as much as I can from them.

As a young professional in our industry, everything you say and do must be highly calculated and on point because compared to more experienced professionals, every move you make is more susceptible to being scrutinized.

What do you believe makes a great FBO/business aviation facility?
Companies that have the foresight or intuition to anticipate needs and provide prompt service. Jet Aviation at Teterboro Airport is a great example. Before we arrive, the customer service representative answers the radio promptly with any request.

Once we arrive, we are greeted with a baggage cart and at least two other line personnel to assist our passengers and us with any needs. Everyone is professional and does the job right the first time. They have plenty of resources so even when things get busy, they provide the same level of customer service.

How do you believe advances in technology will change the business aviation facility in the future?
We are on the cusp of supersonic business aircraft that will help make the world a smaller place. I am also excited about the NextGen airspace implementation in the USA.

What one piece of technology will have the most significant impact?
Although I am not in favor, single pilot airliner and cargo operations are already on the docket. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry that is only beginning to take off. It affects the pilot shortage positively but ultimately changes staffing requirements for everyone.

What do you believe are the key challenges that need to be addressed?
We have to get young professionals interested in business aviation. We have to do a better job of being transparent on the different avenues and possibilities available in BA.

Most importantly, business aviation has to become more competitive with quality of life, compensation and benefits to stop the mass exodus of our workforce. Right now, successful young professionals are leaving business aviation positions that they ultimately love, but are willing to sacrifice that love for the promise of better schedules, compensation and benefits.

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About Author

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Helen has worked for UKi Media & Events for nearly a decade. She joined the company as assistant editor on Passenger Terminal World and since progressed to become editor of five publications, covering everything from aviation, logistics and e-commerce to meteorology. She has a love for travel and property and has redeveloped three houses in three years. When she’s not editing magazines, she’s running around after her two boys and their partner in crime, Pete the pug.

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