Business Aviation Market Intelligence

Why the journey matters the most – An interview with TAG Aviation

Why the journey matters the most – An interview with TAG Aviation

There is an overwhelming sense of freedom that comes with flying a private jet, says Juan Mas Casals, Chief Pilot at TAG Aviation. As a private jet pilot, he tells Asian Sky Group about his affinity for the skies, and the challenges and opportunities he sees for business aviation.

What sparked your interest in learning to fly?

Since I was a child I dreamed of flying, so it was easier to become a pilot than to work in a circus as a Bullet Man. At 14, I had the chance to fly as a passenger in a Cessna 150 Aerobat, and by 17, I was the pilot in command of the same aircraft.

What was the most challenging part of your training?

There are no challenges when you are young and following a dream – I see it as part of the learning process. But now, aviation in general has become more challenging and regulated, and pilots are not just aviators anymore. Pilots need to know about meteorology, laws, engineering, firefighting, physiology, economy, medicine, and on top of that they have to stay fit and perform safe landings.

How did you get your first job in a commercial airline?

I started in general aviation as a firebomber pilot, later flying cargo on small aircraft and private jets. Then I saw an advertisement posted by a regional airline that was hiring, and it was an excellent opportunity to have a more stable life. I passed the hiring process, and I stayed for two years. I was delighted doing what I was doing in that job.

What attracted you to business aviation?

While flying for the airline, my mind was always on private aviation, and somehow I realized that I didn’t belong to the airline world, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be as exciting. Then an old friend asked me if I wanted to join his team flying a Bombardier Global, and before knowing the conditions, I had accepted the offer.

How does flying commercial airliners differ from flying business jets?

It is like comparing driving a car to riding a motorbike.

“Flying a private jet is like riding a motorbike. It gives you a sense of freedom. ”

Pilots in the airline world provide excellent service safely taking passengers from A to B. However, in private aviation, more is needed; we have to go the extra mile, and not just in front of the passengers. A lot is going on behind the scenes. In many cases, we are also in charge of coordinating ground transport for the passengers, baggage, aircraft ground services, catering etc. In the end, getting the aircraft from A to B is the easiest part.

Is there any conversion training required?

A pilot flying for an airline has the same qualifications as a pilot who flies private jets and vice versa; they both hold an ATPL (Airline Transport Pilots Licence) license. No conversion training is required. A Type Rating is needed later to fly a specific aircraft. Usually, the initial type rating takes between three to four weeks of ground school and simulators. Whether the aircraft is in a private or commercial category will also determine the added ground school or annual simulator components. At TAG, we train our crews to a commercial standard which is well above the industry norm, even if the aircraft is not on an AOC (Air Operator’s Certificate). It is an investment in safety and what every discerning customer would expect.

Would companies usually cover the training and type rating fee?

Most companies are looking for type-rated pilots, but there are some exceptions. Visa constraints, client preference and experience requirements may open the door for a client to invest in a pilot. If a client upgrades their aircraft, it usually comes with a training entitlement, and the client will keep their existing crew. Newer type ratings are expensive, and there is a trend whereby a pilot will sign a training loan agreement when the company or client pays the type rating. This ensures mutual protection in case circumstances change.

What is your most memorable or rewarding moment as a private jet pilot so far?

I’ve had many memorable moments, but the most rewarding was flying air ambulance missions on a Falcon 20. Long nights in the aircraft with no heat or air conditioning, waiting for the doctors to finish surgery and knowing that the patient survived is gratifying. It felt that you were providing your expertise to a good cause.

What are your views in the current business aviation market in Asia?

It’s been a turbulent ride for pilots in Asia. Due to COVID-19 , many private jets are grounded or shorthanded, so a lot of talent has left the region. We must look forward to mainland China opening up again to get back to normality in our region.

What challenges are business aviation pilots facing? Where do the opportunities lay?

Historically, business aviation pilots have uncertain futures; we serve aircraft owners and depend on their financial circumstances. As fortunes change, it is common to see a CV with three, four or five different employers. However, I note a growing trend in business aviation in India, which means it can be the next place for business aviation pilots to migrate.

What does the future hold for business aviation?

Faster and “greener” aircraft are the future of business aviation. Our industry demands immediacy, and flexibility is essential in private/business aviation. To achieve this, regulations, airspace design and management, as well as infrastructure, must evolve to achieve this goal.

Can you talk about your job-related training as Chief Pilot in TAG?

My position as Chief Pilot at TAG Aviation was a progression from my previous role as Lead Client Aviation Manager (CAM). In that role, I was tasked to train newly-appointed CAM’s at TAG for their positions or to help other members navigate. This system is unique as we have a team leader managing the account for a client. My position gave me insight into the responsibilities of the Chief Pilot. With my appointment as Chief Pilot, I became the lead of an experienced group of professionals that I learn from every day.

For my training in the role, I was fortunate enough to be instrumental in gaining TAG’s Cayman AOC. This involved leading the team to ensure regulatory compliance, investigating new regulations and tailoring our procedures so they meet the expectations of the regulator. I also vet new training material, online or in person, which gives me great insight and helps me stay ahead of new trends. Lastly, I am in line to undergo a training refresher course with a major airline in Hong Kong to gain insight into the latest training techniques. This is sponsored by TAG as an investment in its staff.