While at Pan American, Ueltschi noted that corporate pilots had no training opportunity equivalent to that enjoyed by airline pilots. Hence the idea for FlightSafety Inc. was birthed. Juan Trippe was encouraging, but not investing. Trippe’s friend, the famous financier Bernard Baruch, told Ueltschi, “You’ve got a good job at Pan Am, and you might lose everything.” He listened to the man but did not heed the advice.
So in 1951, with a $15,000 mortgage on his house and a 200-square-foot room on the third floor at New York’s LaGuardia Airport Marine Air Terminal, FlightSafety took wing — sort of. The wings were Link trainers. By 1955, FlightSafety had made a profit of $277.41. Today, after getting real simulators that reproduce with fidelity the cockpit of real airplanes, opening training centers all over the world and developing several safety training side ventures, FlightSafety International, as it is now called, is big business.
Warren Buffet and Ueltschi shared those hamburgers in 1996, and FlightSafety ended up as part of the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio that year. Today the organization provides 3,000 courses for pilots, technicians, flight attendants and dispatchers at 43 learning centers. Pilots are trained in 140 different airplanes in 300-plus simulators and advanced training devices all over the world.
Ed Klonoski is the center manager at FlightSafety Atlanta. A tall, welcoming, handsome man with an open face and an open door, he sits right off the main lobby in a glass office. His description of the operation of just one center gives a hint as to what happens everywhere in the FlightSafety world. There are 17 simulators and 64 instructors at his facility. Training for Citation 500 series, CRJ 200 and 700, Dash 8 (100, 200 and 300), EMB 120, Jetstar (!), King Air 200-300 and Learjet 31, 35, 45 and 60 series is conducted there, and each airplane type has a program manager. The simulators and their handlers work hard: 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Sixteen full-time technicians keep those boxes working. They work three shifts seven days a week, 365 days a year.
At any given moment those 17 sims have a small number of open discrepancies that demand technical intervention, which happens quickly for client convenience and obvious economic reasons. Each simulator is preflighted every day. Level C simulators faithfully reproduce the feel of the real airplane flown at night. They are giving way to Level D, daylight-visual-cue-capable instruments. Klonoski is especially proud of the new King Air 350 simulator — it’s electrically, not hydraulically, driven and much smoother.
There is an air of friendliness about the Atlanta Center; no doubt Klonoski’s the boss for a reason. He said the key to success is to pick the right people. All instructors are highly experienced aviators who find a steady job and a chance to get home every night to be very attractive after corporate careers. “We hire for attitude,” he said. “If we pick somebody who doesn’t work out, we sit down and examine why. Same for a good hire. What did we do right?”
Business is off, no question about it, but Klonoski has seen signs of a rebound. The military contracts help — especially those King Airs going to Iraq and Afghanistan. Every morning at 9 at every center there is a CARE meeting. This is a ritual familiar to all customers, who head for the coffee and donuts while the instructors huddle. At these meetings every “screw-up and good thing” gets discussed. A major sticking point with customers is an unexpected schedule change (hence those round-the-clock technicians). “We are professional people helping professional people,” Klonoski said.