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Josh Ritter: Flying the Line as a Corporate Pilot

Citation 1

Josh Ritter is a pilot for Basin Electric Power Cooperative, located in Bismarck, North Dakota. He holds CL-65 and CE-500 type ratings, and currently flies the Citation Encore (CE-560) and Cessna 208 Caravan.

While the airline world has lots of visibility, corporate flying is a bit of an unknown affair. Departments are small, with a handful of aircraft and a tight-knit pilot group. Josh Ritter, a Citation pilot for Basin Electric Power Cooperative, gives us a look at life as a corporate pilot.

Starting Out

A position in Basin's flight department isn't your first flying job. Ritter earned his certificates at the University of North Dakota, graduating in 2002. After two years flight instructing with the university, he landed an internship at Basin.

Unlike many aviation internships, Basin Electric offers a paid flying position. At the time, they operated two Citation Encores and a Cessna 210. Ritter began the internship at FlightSafety for Encore training. I ask him what he flew first after training. "We started off in the Citation. The 210 was single-pilot, so after they felt comfortable with our decision-making, they'd put us in the 210 and have us go by ourselves." Did he enjoy the internship? "I wanted to stay."

SkyWest

After the internship ended in April of 2006, Ritter joined SkyWest. SkyWest crews qualify in the CRJ 200, 700 and 900, occasionally flying multiple types in a single day. In a rare bit of luck, Ritter was "junior-manned" into a special route package flying into Aspen-Pitkin County (ASE) in the Colorado Rockies.

He flew three-day trips into and out of Aspen for nearly four years before returning to regular line operations. Five years after Ritter joined SkyWest, he upgraded to captain and moved to the Minneapolis base.

While Ritter enjoyed SkyWest, the schedules were long and he wanted to spend more time at home with his family. In September of this year, as luck would have it, a position opened up at Basin.

Coming Back

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Corporate departments are typically small. They rarely hire; when they do, it's usually for one position. "[One of their pilots] was retiring, which is usually the case in these jobs. Someone has to retire to get a spot," Ritter remarks. He jumped at the opportunity to return and found himself back in Bismarck with the Citations.

During his time at SkyWest, Basin had replaced the 210 with a Cessna 208 Caravan. In September, Ritter attended Encore recurrent at FlightSafety. Two weeks later, he returned to FlightSafety and completed Caravan initial training. While the Caravan doesn't require a type rating to fly, most insurance companies and operators require type-specific training.

Basin has a company-wide safety culture. Pilots attend recurrent training at FlightSafety every six months, and often attend safety conferences. They also perform in-house training between recurrent sessions, practicing basic air-work and maneuvers. The department continuously evaluates their operations.

The Schedule

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Basin Electric operates power plants and generation facilities in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Iowa, and Wyoming. Their aircraft travel to the plants, as well as to sites throughout the Midwest region.

I ask Ritter what his new flight schedule is like. "Overnights are rare," he says, "you're home [by the end of the day] 99% of the time." A standard schedule has him flying three days a week, departing early and returning in the mid-afternoon to evening. While Citations ferry passengers, the Caravan also flies pipeline and power-line patrol, giving Basin's crews an opportunity to fly single-pilot.

The Passengers

I ask Ritter about his passengers. "Basin uses their aircraft as tools. On the same plane, you might have board members, the CEO and maybe a lineman," he says. "If you need to go somewhere and the plane's going there that day, you get on."

I ask him how well he knows his passengers. "At the airlines, you had 25 minutes turns. You had to get the airplane ready, look at the release and NOTAMs, and you didn't have time to greet people and welcome them aboard. At Basin, you get to know the people you fly personally."

Ritter enjoys the personal side of Basin's operation. "Besides their continued charitable involvement in the community, Basin has family night. You not only get to see the people you fly, but also their families."

Extra Duty

Citation Encore Takeoff

Flying's only part of the job in a corporate department and Basin's pilots share in aircraft management tasks. Currently, Ritter works with Aircraft Performance Group, implementing their iPreFlight iPad app to aid in flight planning at high elevation airports.

I ask Ritter how the app will affect their planning. The app allows them to fly specific departure procedures out of airports with hazardous terrain, like Montrose, Colorado. (KMTJ) The procedures give pilots a specific flight path to avoid terrain. "It's like performance the airlines use," he says. "If we lose an engine flying a custom departure procedure, you can take off at a heavier weight and still meet your [required] climb gradient."

The Perks

What are corporate flight's perks? "I like the people I work with," he says, "you get to fly with them all of the time and really get to know them." What's the best part? "I like being home every night, that's number one." I ask if he's taken his kids to see the airplanes. "Oh yes, they think it's pretty cool - Dad's Citation. If we're bored, we come out here and walk around the planes."

Aleks Udris

Aleks is a Boldmethod co-founder and technical director. He's worked in safety and operations in the airline industry, and was a flight instructor and course manager for the University of North Dakota. You can reach him at aleks@boldmethod.com.

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