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Operation Aviation Pentastar

Operation: Aviation with the Manager of Flight Operations

At Pentastar, the Manager of Flight Operations is a busy individual. They are responsible for managing a team that has to be engaged and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year, handling everything from critical safety checks to last-minute client requests.

For well over a decade, that individual has been Patrick Tschudi. We sat down to talk to Patrick about the work he and the Flight Operations team does, the importance of communication and creativity, and what sets Pentastar apart in a competitive business.

How did you get started in the aviation business?

I’ve actually been in the industry for 31 years and counting. I got started right here in Southeast Michigan working at Willow Run Airport. I’ve been with Pentastar since 2009 and the Manager of Flight Operations here since 2012. In my “spare time” I’m also a professor at Eastern Michigan University—I teach a senior course about aircraft dispatcher certification.

Some of my credentials include being a Certified National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Aviation Manager and Safety Manager and a Certified Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Pilot and Aircraft Dispatcher. I also have a bachelor’s degree in Aviation Flight Technology and a master’s degree in Technology and Artificial Intelligence.

I know there’s a lot that goes into Flight Operations, but, at a high level, what are your professional responsibilities?

As Manager of Flight Operations, I report to Vice President of Flight Operations, Carl Barnes. My job is to oversee the flight services component of what we do here at Pentastar. That means taking care of all of our managed aircraft and their owners, which includes individuals, corporations, and sports teams. Our team is also responsible for managing flight operations for private charter flights. The numbers vary, but it’s generally between five and twenty charter flights per week. Flight operations covers all of the planning required to safely and successfully manage everything that goes into a flight: the planning, scheduling, safety checks, regulatory oversight, fulfilling owner requests, and more.

That seems like a full slate!

It absolutely is. And there’s no downtime. We are available 24/7/365, which means there is always a flight ops professional on-site and on-duty at all times. Our team is made up of professionals with extensive experience in aviation operations. Some are senior planners with major airline experience, and many are licensed dispatchers—with specialized expertise in handling all the flight planning, scheduling, and risk assessment work that takes place behind the scenes of every flight.

Can you talk a little bit more about that behind-the-scenes work?

We go through an extensive planning process for every flight that isn’t just about flight planning and aircraft safety, but also a holistic risk assessment analysis that extends to things like airport safety and ground transportation timing and logistics. If a client is landing somewhere at 2:00 a.m., we need to make sure that they have a safe and reliable transportation option waiting for them. Our main objective is to deliver great customer service and support for our owners. Owners and their admins or representatives can contact us at any time to put their flight schedules into the queue, and we take it from there.

I imagine that can get chaotic at times. What does it take to manage all of those details?

Our team is in near-constant communication. I have a team of 16 dedicated professionals working with me to manage the flow of business and accommodate client requests. I firmly believe that great customer service is just as much a part of this work as any aviation skillset. Understanding and meeting the needs of owners and passengers can get complicated at times! Remember, we are handling essentially all of their logistical requirements, from travel details to the menu onboard. And those food requests can get complicated. Food is an important part of the passenger experience and everyone’s tastes and priorities vary. We handle everything from rare wines, champagne, and caviar to sodas and sandwiches—it all depends.

You alluded to safety checks and risk assessment earlier. Can you elaborate on that?

Risk assessment for a flight involves specialized software and specialized training. There is an extensive flight risk mitigation process. From aircraft to airport to crew, to maintenance, to any operational restrictions, to weather conditions on the planned route, to specific international risks—we go through a long and detailed checklist for every flight.

From a logistics standpoint, we are also looking at the national airspace system to manage the flow of air traffic and account for delays, temporary flight restrictions, and other potential disruptions. We also deal with a lot of contingency planning, which sometimes means we have to get pretty creative—especially when an airport is crowded or closed for some reason. Even if you can’t fly into South Korea tomorrow, maybe we can get you to Shanghai—with a short flight to Seoul the next day. We just had the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia, and with so many private aircraft flying into that small airport, you might need to fly into Atlanta and rent a car. Our job is to get our clients where they want or need to go as safely, swiftly, and comfortably as possible — even if we have to think outside the box to make it happen.

You mentioned that you are a professor at EMU. How did that come about?

To be honest I just really love teaching. I’m passionate about this work, and it’s exciting to me to get young people enthusiastic about a career in the aviation industry. We are very fortunate here in Michigan that both EMU and WMU have great Bachelor degree programs for aviation, so there is a deep pool of promising young talent. Recruiting and managing that pipeline of talent is also part of my job. We have a very popular internship program here at Pentastar and we are a visible presence at several recruiting events across the state every year.

What’s your sales pitch to those young professionals when it comes to helping them see what makes Pentastar special?

It’s the same thing we tell our prospective clients: high-quality and personal treatment. What sets us apart from the competition isn’t what we do, it’s how we do it. We dedicate a senior planner to handling only a small handful of customers; each of our six planners has no more than five customers each. We do that so they can get to know those customers and better understand their needs. Our planners are approachable, experienced, and capable, and with a select group of clients to work with, they are able to build real relationships. That matters. Our clients know they can text their reps any time, day or night, and they will get a response. So, when I’m talking to young people about working on Pentastar, I can explain that to them as a way of illustrating how relationships matter here—not just to customers, but to each other. This really is a family environment, and our team members feel that.