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Stepping Up to Your First Jet

Can you think of a good reason for moving up to a jet? Changing mission profiles is one. Software entrepreneur Marty Sprinzen, who learned to fly in 2006 in California, discovered this on his very first self-flown trip east. "Los Angeles to New York in my Cirrus was quite a challenge."

Sprinzen is quick to say that he genuinely liked the Cirrus. But for his wide-ranging travel needs – which at the time included regular trips to his real estate properties in Arizona, Colorado, California and New York – the Cirrus wasn't quite enough to optimize his schedule. So Sprinzen moved up to his first jet, a Cessna Citation Mustang. (He has since traded for a Cessna Citation CJ3.)

He's not the first to make the change. Twenty three years ago, aviation education specialists John and Martha King of King Schools decided that a jet would be a good business move. "We can breakfast at home in San Diego, fly halfway across the country to Wichita, lunch, do a full afternoon of business, and be home for dinner," John said.

Direct mail entrepreneur and NBAA Board member Mike Herman, a Cessna Citation owner, has bought a variety of business airplanes in his 47 years as a pilot. "Matching the mission to the airplane is the key," he said. "How far are your trips? How many people do you need to carry? Will there be enough useful load? Will it have enough performance?"

Are You Ready?

But what's really involved in moving up to your first jet? "It was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life," said Sprinzen, who spent four months earning his type rating in the Mustang. "The learning curve is steep."

"Know what you're getting into," warned John King. "When we bought our first jet, they told us it was due for a five-year inspection, so we thought, ‘OK, no problem.' What they didn't tell us was that the inspection would be $50,000."

To avoid similar unexpected surprises, Ben Marcus, co-founder of the jet sales and training firm jetAVIVA in Van Nuys, CA, provides familiarization training to help undecided buyers. "When buyers ask me about moving up, I tell them there are three main challenges: automation, procedures and proficiency."

  • Automation. Inexperience with glass panels, such as the Garmin 1000 in the Mustang, is the first frustration. "Many GA pilots fly with a Garmin GNS 430 or 530 but rarely learn more than the ‘direct-to' button," said Marcus. "And on top of learning a complex avionics system, they have to learn to fly the airplane itself, all in a 10-day type-rating course. Even highly experienced airline pilots have trouble."

First-jet pilots are often coming out of steamgauge aircraft," agrees Herman. "They need to learn glass-panel flying before they go to jet school. Also, they need to be current and selfassured on their IFR procedures."

  • Procedures, flow patterns and checklists. Long-time pilots of piston aircraft may not have heard of "flow patterns" and may have become careless with checklists. "Stepping up to a jet means becoming a more disciplined pilot," said Marcus. "It means following strict procedures, adhering to checklists and using deliberate, memorized patterns to move eyes and hands around the cockpit."

Jack Olcott, former NBAA president and now president of General Aero Company, Inc., advocates developing a personal version of the comprehensive operation manuals used by airline, charter and many business aviation pilots. "The personal ops manual is concise and pragmatic," Olcott said. "Yet it is effective in…maximizing utility and minimizing risk."


“When buyers ask me about moving up, I tell them there are three main challenges: automation, procedures and proficiency. ”

– Ben Marcus
Co-founder, jetAVIVA

  • Instrument proficiency. Piston pilots with rusty instrument skills face a double-whammy. For the required jet type rating, they must demonstrate skill in handling failed equipment and other simulated emergencies without use of the autopilot. "Autopilot use is good practice," said Marcus. "But for a jet type rating, they must hand-fly maneuvers and approaches under difficult conditions." The other challenge is that all jet type-rating checkrides are done to Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) standards, regardless of the pilot's certificate level.

"But all that work is worth it," said John and Martha King. The Kings have condensed their jet learning experiences into an online course called "Transitioning to Jets."

Insurance Considerations

For some first-jet pilots, reality sets in when they ask about insurance. Despite the proliferation of single-pilot light jets, insurance companies still are using protocols that have been in place since single-pilot airplanes became available decades ago. "Except for screening of applicants… training procedures remain essentially unchanged," Olcott said.

Marcus says insurance problems don't have to be a dealbreaker if buyers are willing to set up a proper training and recurrency plan. "It's critical to work with the underwriter, he said. "Lots of underwriters do want to participate in designing training plans before they insure you."

For More Information

NBAA offers free training guidelines for new jet pilots at www.nbaa.org/vlj. In addition, find presentations related to light jets, including several from NBAA's inaugural Light Business Airplane Conference, in the On-Demand Education section of the Association's web site, at www.nbaa.org/ondemand.