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From The Cockpit Pentastar

View From the Cockpit: Insights from Pentastar’s Chief Pilot

An aviation services provider like Pentastar quite literally can’t get off the ground without pilots. And because these trained and experienced professionals are such a critically important part of what we do, the individual responsible for hiring, training, and managing those pilots is equally indispensable. At Pentastar, that person is Chief Pilot, Kip Catlin.

We spoke with Kip recently to learn more about his professional journey, his day-to-day responsibilities at Pentastar, and his perspective on a career where the sky is quite literally the limit.

I read a study recently that asked people about their dream job, and the most popular answer was pilot—I take it you agree with that?

I was dreaming of being a pilot all the way back in the first grade. In fourth grade, my teacher, who happened to be a Navy veteran, had us do a unit on aviation. I wasn’t always the best student, but you bet I got the highest score in my class on the aviation unit. That passion for flying has always been there. Today I get to do what I dreamed of back in first grade, so I feel very fortunate.

How did you make that dream come true and get into aviation?

After graduating high school, I got started doing some work at a small local airport and taking flying lessons in my free time. I was pumping gas and moving airplanes around just to earn time in the air. I spent almost every waking minute at that airport, either working or flying. I progressed through my ratings and actually became a flight instructor at that same flight school a little over a year after I took my first lesson. I began accepting charter jobs as a co-pilot and the rest is history. That was 40 years ago, and I’ve been fortunate to have had a job in the aviation industry ever since.

Tell us about your role as Chief Pilot at Pentastar.

I’ve been with Pentastar now for 12 years and counting. As someone who grew up in Michigan and has worked his entire adult life in Michigan aviation, I was very familiar with Pentastar—they have always had a great reputation and I was excited to be a part of it. My job primarily involves managing our pilots, which isn’t always easy. I imagine it’s a bit like managing surgeons. These are smart, capable people who know what they are doing and don’t always like to be managed. I’m also responsible for overseeing training, interviewing, procurement of regulatory and compliance documentation, and coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). I also do some flying: I’m a pilot with one of our operators. One of the best parts about working at Pentastar is that, in the Chief Pilot role, I’m given lots of freedom and flexibility to do the job from upper management.

Does your background as an experienced pilot give you an advantage when it comes to managing other pilots?

Absolutely. To be honest, I’m not sure it would be possible to do this job well without that kind of experience. As a pilot myself, I have an in-depth understanding of the needs of our pilots. I’ve sat where they sit (in fact, sometimes I still do), so I know how they like to operate and what they need from me to do the job right and be successful. Training and preparation is obviously critical. Sometimes that means sending pilots to school to learn a new airplane, and sometimes it’s just about helping those professionals adapt to Pentastar and how we do things. The bottom line is that I need to make sure that every one of our pilots has all the skills and tools they need to do the job safely and successfully.

Do you have any advice for new recruits or graduates looking to start building a career in the air?

It can be tricky out there for aspiring pilots and those who are just getting started. The reality is that graduates coming out of some of the big aviation schools just aren’t going to be able to meet Pentastar’s high standards for flight time and experience. There is a bare minimum of 1500 hours required to fly one of our light jets, for example. So, the key is to find a way to get that experience. A young pilot’s best bet is to get started building up their flight time with the airlines, especially freight operators or smaller airlines. I also recommend becoming a flight instructor—it’s an invaluable experience for any pilot.

Are there any noteworthy or impactful trends regarding careers in aviation that you’ve seen?

The pilot shortage is real and it’s an ongoing issue for all airlines and aviation companies. I work with our Director of Flight Operations to make sure any outside pilots meet the Pentastar standards for experience and expertise, and it can be difficult to get training scheduled for new (or prospective) hires. We are seeing delays of up to a year in some cases before they can get someone trained on a new aircraft. The good news is that we don’t have a lot of turnover here at Pentastar. We treat our pilots well and compensate them fairly, and I think we do a great job of finding a strong match between clients and pilots. As far as other industry trends go, you can’t ignore the impact of technology. Aircraft are getting more sophisticated all the time. The trick is not to forget that despite all the bells and whistles, they are still airplanes. The Gulfstream 600 that I fly is the most sophisticated and advanced aircraft in the business—but it doesn’t fly itself. We are definitely seeing more pilots these days who are more adept at navigating the technology side of flight decks than some older pilots, but they don’t always have the flight time and the requisite experience. There’s no substitute for time in the air—and I don’t think that’s something that will ever change.