Meet Adam Fallwell
Director of Flight Operations at AirSprint Private Aviation
First, a bit of background. How long have you been with AirSprint, Adam?
Adam Fallwell: I’ve been here for almost 16 years now. I graduated from the Mount Royal College aviation program and spent several years as a flight instructor before joining AirSprint as a First Officer on the Pilatus PC-12. I’ve worked my way up through the company and today, as Director of Flight Operations, I lead the flight department. I am also a Captain on the Embraer Praetor 500/Legacy 450 jet.
Let’s take it back to basics. What are the minimum requirements to qualify for pilot training – age, medical, education, language?
AF: You must be a minimum of 16 years old to obtain your Recreational Pilot Permit (RPP), 17 years old to get your Private Pilot Licence (PPL), and 18 to get your Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL). Each step requires an aviation medical, with the CPL medical being more stringent. You must renew your medical once or twice a year, depending on your age and flying conditions. A high school education will be sufficient to begin your training. A basic understanding of math, geometry and algebra is important. You must also be fluent in English.
When someone is thinking of becoming a pilot, what training avenues are available?
AF: It starts with the PPL – you need to get that first. Many people go to the local flying school at a nearby airport. This is a good place to start to make sure you really want to do this – it’s not like driving a car, there’s a lot more to it. Then the next step is to pursue your CPL. Here, you can follow several paths: you can do self-paced training at the local flying school, attend a college or university aviation program where you earn pilot licences and ratings plus a diploma or degree, or enrol in an airline-sponsored cadet program. Of course, there is also the military for those who wish to serve. Keep in mind that your CPL allows you to work for money as a pilot, but that’s just the start. From there, you’ll get a Multi-Engine Rating and an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) rating, which allows you to fly in bad weather. Those three together give you the tools for your first job.
Do you have any advice on choosing a flight school?
AF: Myself, I always recommend a college program. It’s very structured where you have to perform at certain levels or you are out. When I hire people, I do see a difference between college graduates and those who followed the regular (self-paced) path. I will hire both, but you do need more self discipline to do it yourself, outside of a structured program.
Aside from licences, what skills are critical for professional pilots, especially in a private aviation role?
AF: You must be able to provide excellent customer service – it’s huge in aviation! Personality-wise, we’re all kind of Type A “get it done” outgoing extroverts. You have to be a good communicator and a good listener. You must work well in a team, be able to assess your surroundings and make decisions on a changing basis, be confident in your decisions, and be humble enough to re-evaluate them. There is no room for egos in the cockpit.
What kind of jobs can a new pilot expect once they graduate?
AF: Historically, there’s been a couple of roads. One, get a flight instructor rating and teach people how to fly. That’s a great way to stay up on your knowledge and help train upcoming pilots. Two, you can apply for pipeline patrols, aerial surveying, medevacs or smaller turboprop operations, for example. The goal is to build your hours and experience. Right now, it’s a really good time to get into the industry – there are so many opportunities out there! Here at AirSprint, we are picky. We want the best of the best. We do prefer some prior experience. If we hire an inexperienced pilot, we know there is a big investment to be made. However, for the right person, we’re willing to make it.
Speaking of flying for AirSprint, where exactly do you operate?
AF: We are headquartered in Calgary and fly in North America, South America, Western Europe, Hawaii and the Caribbean.
How do your pilot schedules work?
AF: We have a rotational schedule based on a 13-month year with 28-day monthly blocks. Pilots must be available to work 16 days per month and then they have 12 days off. Our goal is that no one works more than half a year in total.
What does a day in the life of an AirSprint pilot look like?
AF: Every day will be a bit different. On your work days, you’ll generally find out what you’re doing the day before. You report for duty one hour before the flight departs, do your walkaround, flight planning and prep the aircraft. We will fly however many missions we have that day, and things can change rapidly. You may spend time waiting on the ground. Maybe you’ll do one leg, stay there for a few days, and go on after that. Or, something may come up so you have to leave immediately. It’s not like the airlines; here, every day is a new and exciting challenge. We go to thousands of airports; I still see new places after 16 years!
What are the policies surrounding pilots commuting in from out-of-town locations?
AF: We have several sub-bases outside of our main bases in Calgary, Montreal and Toronto. Pilots can live in places like Vancouver, Kelowna, Saskatoon, Winnipeg or Quebec City, and report for duty at their home airport. We try to give flexibility as much as possible. We have people across the country; often, this makes it easier to get someone to do a given flight.
How much can I expect to fly at AirSprint?
AF: On average, you can expect to log about 500 hours per year. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, depending on the nature of the schedule.
What does AirSprint's pay scale look like?
AF: Check out our pay scale webpage where we’ve outlined typical Captain and First Officer (FO) salaries at AirSprint.
How does this pay compare to industry standard?
AF: I would say that AirSprint has a very competitive pay scale. Our FOs are some of the highest paid in Canada and our Captain salaries are very competitive. We offer excellent support structures, company culture and working conditions.
What does career progression look like at AirSprint?
AF: We are hiring new First Officers for the Cessna Citation CJ fleet with 1,000 to 1,500 hours experience, plus some turbine time. We do hire some instructors from flight schools. You can expect to learn the ropes as you go, with a lot of mentorship up to 2,500 to 3,000 hours flight time, when you are close to your CJ Captain upgrade. You’ll take your course, do a Captain check ride followed by a Captain line indoctrination, and then you will be released as a CJ Captain. We require everyone to become a Captain on the CJ first and then go on to the Embraer. It’s the natural flow to develop your Captain skills in the CJ. The Praetor and Legacy aircraft are doing overseas operations; they are bigger and more sophisticated. To become an Embraer Captain, it depends on where you start. If you come in with 3,000 hours you could be upgraded in six months. Otherwise, from day one as a new CJ First Officer, you’re looking at about three years to reach an upgrade point, two years as a CJ Captain, then on to the Praetor/Legacy Captain.
What does AirSprint's safety culture look like?
AF: Safety is our top priority. We have a very well structured Safety Management System that is part of our culture. Our pilots are fantastic about reporting issues – and every report we get is a chance to do better. We have our Standard Operating Procedures and a regulatory-compliant organization, with two maintenance departments in Calgary and Toronto. Maintenance is done properly, in-house, to our standards.
What makes AirSprint pilots different?
AF: All in all, an AirSprint pilot is likely one of the best pilots in Canada. They must be on top of their game considering all the new places they’re going. There is an important customer service aspect here, too. Our pilots are 20 per cent pilots and 80 per cent customer service experts to keep the clients happy. It’s a door-to-door service – we meet clients in the parking lot and their bags never touch the ground. Ultimately, you have to love to fly airplanes – that’s the most important thing. Some people think they will travel or make lots of money – but if you don’t love flying, then it won’t be the career for you.
Are there any other reasons to choose AirSprint?
AF: We operate the newest fractional fleet in North America, so you’ll experience the latest technology in aircraft systems – meaning situational awareness and the capabilities of our aircraft are second to none. Safety is inherent to our newer airplanes, featuring advanced fly-by-wire technology. They are pilots’ machines.
How do I apply?
AF: Interested applicants should apply through the Careers section of the AirSprint website. I encourage anyone who is interested to reach out to me or our chief pilots. If you’re keen on it, we can arrange to show you around the hangars in Calgary or Toronto, so you can see the airplanes.
Any tips on how to succeed in the pilot interview with AirSprint?
AF: Know the company – know our values and make sure it’s a fit for you. That’s really important. Also, make sure you are customer service-focused and enthusiastic about aviation. Be detail-oriented and prepared to work hard with your teammates.
Finally, why should pilots choose a career with AirSprint?
AF: AirSprint has always strived to be an alternative to the airlines. We emphasize work-life balance, with well-maintained and functional aircraft to get the job done safely and efficiently. AirSprint provides a fantastic opportunity to see places you’d never see working for an airline – including some of the busiest airports and some of the smallest. We’re growing quickly so there is lots of opportunity; in fact, AirSprint has outpaced international trends with a three-year growth rate of 96 per cent! We’re also a transparent operation – any one of the pilots can call any of us at any time if they have a concern. We’ve been around 23 years, and we always strive to improve every day.
AirSprint is now hiring! Apply today.