By: Nissrine Hajbane, Director of Marketing & Customer Engagement
Chief Pilots, such as Rigo Gonzalez, are the foundation of a successful flight department. Through expertise gathered in the field coupled with a background in business, they are able to efficiently manage and lead a team of pilots. In this interview, you will come to grasp what a typical work-week looks like for a Chief Pilot and how effective communication plays a fundamental role in pilots achieving departmental objectives. Due to his experience in various facets in the aviation industry, Rigo has garnered attributes required of any valuable leader. These attributes are in turn what he looks for when hiring pilots, leading to a strong team and a cohesive effort to foster safety. Rigo also discusses his goals to reduce turnover and promote an environment of togetherness and company pride for the flight department.
Describe a typical work-week for a Chief Pilot?
One of the things I like most about my job is the variety of tasks encountered throughout any given work week. As Chief Pilot for our flight department, I handle staffing and administrative duties, crew scheduling and training, regulations compliance, departmental forecast budgeting, travel accounting, fleet management, and basic human resources issues. Currently, ControlCam operates a fleet of 10 aircraft and staffs 16 full time pilots who operate in 49 states with occasional missions in Puerto Rico and Canada. Our deliverable product relies on our flight department being properly staffed and our aircraft being in a continuous state of readiness requiring constant communication, organization, planning, and ultimately measured improvisation when weather or maintenance issues arise.
In your opinion, what are the most valuable attributes a Chief Pilot must possess to succeed in the Aviation industry?
The most effective tool at my disposal as Chief Pilot is clear and concise communication. I oversee pilots who, due to the nature of our work, are rarely in the office. As a result I do not find micromanaging to be an effective or efficient managerial style. To me, time spent micromanaging is much better spent communicating to our crews the relationship between their responsibilities and the operations in the office. Moreover, it is my responsibility to foster a work culture where pilots voluntarily hone their craft and autonomously strive to improve mission safety and efficiency. This is accomplished by taking the time to invest in our people providing them with an understanding of the big picture and allowing our crews to be proactive to situations instead of reactive giving me more time to invest in evolving our flight department safety programs and meeting future office and customer demands. Aside from this, as the name implies, Chief Pilots must be strong leaders in both the office and the cockpit. I actively identify and mentor out unhealthy attitudes and habits before they become contagious and continuously strive to embody safety and precision in my flying as an example to our pilots. It does me no good to sit behind my desk saying, “This is how I want you to fly the airplane” without having a mastery of the procedures myself. It is my belief that this helps ensure respect and compliance from the flight crew.
What do you look for when hiring a pilot?
There are a few major things I like to see before feeling like I have a suitable candidate. Like most aviation jobs flight experience is pretty high on the list followed by education and what I refer to as intangibles. Each of these categories is more or less evenly tallied together in a metric for my new-hire decision. Simply put, what we do is challenging; we survey at 1500ft everywhere there is cable television in all four seasons. When we have a trip going to Colorado or Montana in the dead of winter, handing the keys to a 300 hour pilot fresh out of a Florida flight school is not what I would consider fair or safe. The intangibles like attitude, aviation related extra curriculars, references, self-confidence, communication skills and so on round out my decisions. One of my favorite interview questions is, “What are 3 attributes you feel like all pilots should possess to be successful in aviation?” Obviously this is an open ended question with no solid answer but it gives me meaningful insight into where a candidates head is regarding their career.
How challenging is it to manage 16 pilots while tending to your duties as Chief Pilot?
Most of it is staying focused and utilizing my time wisely but I don’t really see it as a challenge. I have worked my way from Junior Pilot to Chief Pilot with ControlCam so it wasn’t too long ago that I was in their shoes fielding all the same questions and concerns to my Chief Pilot at the time. I really strive to maintain great working relationships with my crew so overall it’s a welcome part of the job for me.
Chief Pilots, among other things, are supposed to mitigate risk and raise safety awareness, but what is one of your other priorities this year as chief pilot?
Unfortunately, most aerial survey companies are viewed by pilots only as stepping stones to bigger and better careers. At ControlCam we strive to have a sense of family, competitive pay, high quality of life on the road, and reliable equipment for our flight crews. Because of this, one of the things I would like to see most from our flight department this year is the steady transition from a place where pilots need to work to a place where pilots want to work. This does a few things for us, the biggest of which is reducing the valuable time and money I spend on recruiting, interviewing, and training new employees. As it is with many companies, having a core group of veteran employees that are completely familiar with your scope of work, who communicate well together, and who enjoy coming in every day only makes a manager’s work week that much smoother.