Training Entrepreneurs

March 11, 2008
Higher Power Aviation takes an individual approach, making it a good fit for Eclipse.

FT. WORTH — Higher Power Aviation, located off-airport just south of DFW International, has had significant success with individualized pilot training. The initial customers were owners of airline-category aircraft — the John Travoltas of the world — who wanted personal training. Since its founding in 1994 by partners Mark A. Sterns, president, and Joe S. Poore, chairman, HPA has branched out to provide training to airlines, prospective airline pilots, Part 135 charters, and corporates. And, along the way, the company has added corporate crew training in response to growing demand. Next up: providing Part 142 simulator-based training to the owners of Eclipse 500 very light jets now entering the industry.

Relates Sterns, “We started out training individuals and providing airline quality training to them. Then the airlines and the flight departments came to us and said they wanted that same individualized, customized training.

“So we adapt our training programs, which is somewhat unique.”

Adds Poore, “One of the reasons we’ve been chosen [by Eclipse] is we brought individualized training to the airline industry. Now we’re bringing airline training to the individual. Eclipse is a natural extension. We’re used to training individuals in bigger airplanes; now we’ll do individuals in smaller airplanes. They’re still jets.”

Sterns and Poore met while helping to care for their church’s pastor who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. “We started going in and helping with church affairs, and at that time we came up with the idea of starting a company,” explains Sterns.

Poore came with a background in helicopter manufacturing, having worked at Aerospatiale and subsequently as program manager for the Eurocopter AS365 Dauphine in nearby Grand Prairie. Sterns’ career in flight training and crewing led him to become the president and CEO of JetCrew, based in Sterling, VA.

“We ended up purchasing that company, and starting Higher Power Aviation,” explains Sterns. “When [FAR] Part 142 was enacted in 1998, it became too expensive to operate two certificated operations, so we let JetCrew training operations fade away. We kept the website []. We continue to do some crewing for jets, but all the operations and training has been under Higher Power Aviation.”

Sterns says that a big impetus for Higher Power Aviation was the requirement by Dallas-based Southwest Airlines for a Boeing 737 type rating as a condition for employment as a pilot. Since that time, the trend to out-sourcing by air carriers has help spur growth, along with vibrant growth in business aviation and charter/aircraft management.

“More and more airlines are out-sourcing their training,” says Sterns. “It’s expensive for an airline to take qualified captains off the line to put them in a simulator training environment, because they still have to pay those guys the same rate.”

With growth has come the need to expand, and HPA last year relocated to a 50-000-square foot facility that has capacity to handle up to 16 full-flight simulators, according to Sterns.

Values-based training
The two men emphasize that their approach to training centers around values — specifically, excellence; training; innovation; joy; relationships; character; and serving.

Comments Sterns, “We have over 10,000 folks in our database that we can vouch for their training. If they’ve been through our company they will have received a values-based training experience that has an impact. We feel it’s had an impact on our industry.

“Normally, going to training is like going to the dentist. You don’t want to do it; it’s a necessity.

“We found that if we can create an environment where it’s not just a training event but it’s an experience, they’ll learn more and will be the type of crew members who can get along. And they’ll be leaders.”

The advent of simulators
Sterns and Poore say their company mirrors the change in flight training since the implementation of Part 142. Creation of that regulation was mired in controversy in the 1990s as many in the sector argued that less in-aircraft training could lead to a deterioration in skills.

Says Poore, “Now you can’t have a training center without having a 142, which means you have to have simulator training programs. It’s come full circle.

“There’s a parallel. Back in the early 1990s, the FAA would release the authorization to do evaluations at all levels, except the jet transport. If you wanted to get a 737 type rating, you had to get scheduled with an FAA inspector to do the check ride. Well, the FAA couldn’t quite cover all the demand.

“Our director of operations, Joe Morris, was the first guy to go to FAA and say that we think private companies should be able to have this designee authority. FAA said they didn’t want to give it. But then they ended up doing it on a test program. Joe Morris and Turner Gant, two of our senior guys, were the first two guys appointed by the FAA to do it.

“The trust factor has been extended to the training centers. It was inevitable because FAA couldn’t handle it from a budgetary standpoint. The other aspect is, our instructors are in the simulator every day; they’re very proficient. The FAA has to cover a lot of different things. The program works very well because you have highly proficient, qualified instructors.”

Growth with corporates
When asked to compare his company to FlightSafety International or CAE Simuflite, Sterns reponds, “We have a different niche. We tend to deal with smaller airlines that don’t have their training facilities. We deal with a lot of corporate flight departments, but they have jet-transport category aircraft, not Hawkers and Learjets and Gulfstreams.”

He adds that there is an increasing regulatory environment for corporate operators that is driving companies to seek out a company like Higher Power Aviation that can provide training programs as well as regulatory consulting.

“How do you build the manuals?” he asks. “How do you attract the right crewmembers who can go into this environment? The corporate VIP flying environment is totally different than the airline flying. You can’t just take a retired airline guy and the next day put him into a corporate jet flying VIPs around.”

Sterns says that the move into the corporate arena was a result of companies seeking out HPA. “Then those same corporations came to us and asked if we could train their flight attendants. Then they came and said, ‘We’ve got 727s; our maintenance techs know 7-2s, but they don’t know a 737 — can you give us maintenance familiarization training?’ Now companies have come to us to train their dispatchers.”

He adds that crewing for corporate flight departments has grown into an HPA specialty.

The emerging VLJ
Sterns relates that getting the training contract with Eclipse fits well with the value of innovation. “They originally were tied up with United Airlines; I don’t know if that was a good fit for either. United has a great training center and they train their pilots extremely well. But it’s a different thing to bring in non-employees. Many of these, in addition to Part 135 pilots, would be owner/operators — businessmen; doctors; lawyers.
“Not everybody is set up to work with the individual like that — tailor training and spending the extra time. And that’s kinda what we made our living at.

“The issue for us is making sure we provide a simulator training program, whereas heretofore everybody had to get trained in the airplane because they did not have their simulators qualified.” That authorization, granted by FAA in late January, enables the company to type rate customers entirely in its certified Level D Full Motion simulator, according to Eclipse.

“They’ve got 103 airplanes that they’ve already delivered, and now we’re in a catch-up mode because we have a lot of pilots to train to get qualified,” says Sterns.

The Eclipse training initiative is part of joint venture called Team Aviation Training, according to Sterns. Other partners are Tampa-based Opinicus, manufacturer of the Eclipse simulator, and Flight Simulation Company, based in Holland. FSC will play a similar training role in Europe as Higher Power Aviation does in the United States.

“Each one of the three entities is providing a different component to meet the contract with Eclipse,” explains Sterns.