Every crisis contains the seed of opportunity. This could be the knowledge to build something back better, identify solutions or even find new opportunities. While larger commercial air carriers have been grounded during COVID-19, corporate pilot Kristupas Gediminas Sulija believes that new prospects in corporate aviation have come to light.
Kristupas, whose childhood dream was to be an airline pilot, was accepted by Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, Lithuania, in 2009 where he secured his Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) and a master’s degree in Transport Engineering.
“When I was a little kid, I was constantly observing aircraft through the windows of my house and would watch them taking off and landing at a nearby airport. These charming views affected me so much that soon I began dreaming of becoming a pilot one day. As a child, I familiarized myself with the world of aviation through aircraft models and later, through certain magazines. I was captivated by this field,” Kristupas says.
He adds: “As years went by, the idea of taking control of a jet became stronger. But when the time came to choose my professional path I hesitated between two career choices: aviation and architecture. However, I [decided to try and] realize my childhood dream. So, I applied to the Antanas Gustaitis’ Aviation Institute of Vilnius Gediminas Technical University and started laying the groundwork for my future career.”
From the office to the skies
Early in his student career, Kristupas decided to join one of the ground-handling service companies at Vilnius Airport (VNO) and became a check-in agent. Unfortunately, due to intense aircraft training at the university, the aviator left his first job in aviation to better focus on his studies.
After graduating, Kristupas accepted a rostering officer’s position, which was offered to him by a Vilnius-based ACMI and aircraft leasing airline. Soon, his hard work and determination caught the attention of the management team, and he was promoted to flight operations assistant at the Operational Control Center (OCC). While Kristupas relished the role, particularly his operational control responsibilities alongside providing assistance to the crew in-flight, he didn’t enjoy working in an office environment.
He says: “Those two and a half years after graduating were quite tough because, at the time, I did not have enough money to pay for my type rating. So, the only option for me to realize my dream was to work hard and be spotted by the company.”
At the time employer was unable to offer a flight crew seat, but Kristupas refused to give up hope. Instead, he immediately applied for a position at another commercial air carrier and continued following the dream.
“My friends from the university had already started flying at the time,” Kristupas reveals.
“Meanwhile, I was doing the job on the ground. I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, but it wasn’t what I wanted. So, once I noticed an advertisement saying that a private European jet charter company was hiring pilots, I applied. Luckily, I was selected and that’s how I started flying at that airline.”
In 2017, Kristupas finally realized his dream and became a First Officer in the cockpit of a mid-size, twin-engine Hawker 800xp corporate jet. The enthusiastic pilot swapped long, monotonous hours in an office for a new position in corporate business travel operations where he was able to travel the world.
In 2019, the airline sold the jet he had been operating for two years. Although he was offered the yoke of a Boeing 737 narrow-body, Kristupas, preferring smaller jets over the bigger commercial airliners, declined the move. Instead, he joined another charter airline.
But then, in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
The pandemic gives new opportunities
When Kristupas joined a new company in spring 2020, the global aviation market was hit by the first wave of coronavirus infections. The sudden decline in passenger demand forced many commercial airlines, who operate large planes, to ground their fleets with immediate effect.
While the pandemic did affect corporate aviation, there was still some need for air travel for certain groups, and corporate jet services were not as adversely affected by the virus. Luckily, Kristupas remained untouched by the ongoing crisis, but he did notice some changes to his work environment, including frequent revisions to air travel rules, virus management measures, and self-isolation procedures. Each of these made his job more challenging. However, Kristupas also identified some positives among the crises.
He says: “Some passengers who used to fly Business and First Class prior to the pandemic, started choosing to fly privately. For me as a pilot, it meant that during the summer season of 2020, I was flying even more than ever before. The aircraft groundings, implemented by larger commercial air carriers, lead to an increase in the demand for corporate flying. I could say that it opened new opportunities for corporate air carriers to emerge from the crisis a little faster.”
“Business aviation has always been more flexible and able to adjust to customer needs at a higher price. And I think that was the reason why it was less difficult for corporate aviation companies to adapt to the new situation in the market.”
Although winter 2020 was quieter than the previous year, he is still thankful that he was not forced to take a significant break from flying.
“For some, this pandemic caused problems. For others, it’s time to take advantage of new opportunities. This pandemic made me realize that the most meaningful investment one could ever make is to invest in yourself, your physical and psychological health, and your wellbeing.”
He adds: “Although being a pilot in a corporate airline is an extremely engaging job, sometimes it requires you to temporarily forget about your personal life, your family and friends.”
“The ongoing situation with the virus taught me to use my time more productively and dedicate more of it to my family and to myself. No matter how great a pilot’s job, it is also important to keep in mind that even if there is no job right now, there are millions of other activities that can be done instead of flying.” Kristupas smiles.
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