Gear Up: A Gathering of Citations

A few of the 124 Citations parked at Cutter Aviation in Colorado Springs. Dick Karl

The Citation Jet Pilots Association met in Colorado Springs, Colorado, this past September, and I went to see what it was all about. With a recently purchased 19-year-old CJ1 in our hangar, we finally qualified for membership. Going required a certain suspension of skepticism on my part. I am not a natural joiner of groups. You will not find a membership in a golf club, yacht club nor country club anywhere in my life’s logbook. I am naturally allergic to homogeneity and preternaturally drawn to diversity when it comes to friends. I also worried that our airplane would leave us at the back of the pack. When one note described the dress code as “country club casual,” I took a deep breath.

It turns out my inferiority-complex worries were for naught. Sure, most of the attendees had more wealth than us, but they were certainly gracious about it. I concluded that if there were an organization in which I might find a high percentage of like-minded pilots, CJP would be one.

I called Cutter Aviation at KCOS the day before our trip and inquired about needing a reservation for parking. “Oh, no, you are all set. We have you on the list,” I was told. These CJP people seemed well-organized.

We departed Santa Rosa, California, on a mild midday and headed to KCOS. Convective activity drove us a bit south of our intended route, but 2 hours and 40 minutes later found us close behind the “Follow Me” truck. We were marshaled behind a hangar, passing throngs of Citations of various stripes and sizes.

A golf cart whipped us to the FBO where we were showered with gifts: a backpack full of wine and a growler full of beer. A Cutter representative took our fuel order and departure time. It was clear departure day was going to be a choreographic puzzle. A shuttle bus took us to the Broadmoor, an iconic Western hotel.

The meeting app told us to join the “New Members” cocktail reception prior to attending the main cocktail party. We were presented with a glass of champagne and a blinking red button that said “First Timer.” Looking at the crowd, it was hard to imagine that anybody was a first-timer at anything, but I guess we were. Several Flying readers stopped to say hello.

The next morning, there was a series of “partner updates.” This included a presentation by the president and CEO of Textron Aviation, Ron Draper, who told us about the history of the Citations. He reported that 7,500 Citations had been built, 5,000 were light jets and, together, these airplanes had flown 35 million fleet hours. As a previous owner of an out-of-production airplane—a Beechcraft Premier, of which less than 300 were built—these numbers gave me great reassurance about parts availability and service-center know-how.

CJP CEO Andrew Broom reported that 124 Citations had arrived. This convention, the 11th, attracted 550 registrants and was the largest by far. In fact, there were more companions registered this year than the total attendance two years prior. Obviously this group is on to something.

Members’ major concerns were safety, efficiency and insurance costs. FAA deputy administrator Dan Elwell gave a thoughtful and sometimes humorous overview of current events. As to the ADS-B requirement due by the end of the year, he said, “I am sure somebody will say, ‘Why didn’t you tell us about it?’” When asked about airport closures—Meigs in Chicago was mentioned—he said citizen noise sensitivity made new airports difficult. He mused that complaints were up while airplanes were quieter. To a complaint about extensive rerouting common on the Eastern Seaboard, he said, you’ve got to be smart. Don’t go at a peak period. “I am speaking as a pilot here. Go at a better time. You will not get optimal routes most times.”

Read More from Dick Karl: Gear Up

Former astronaut Charlie Precourt led a safety stand-down that included a description of pitch-trim runaway accidents. The example of one pilot, who experienced full nose-down deflection and managed (with the help of a right seater) to exert just enough back pressure to safely ditch a CitationJet in 2003, brought an audible exhale of breath among the attendees. When it was revealed the pilot was 80 years old and the right seater was his 72-year-old girlfriend, a murmur of appreciative laughter washed over the room. A video of a distracted pilot stalling his airplane at high altitude brought nothing but awed, almost reverential silence. The incident was survivable—but still.

Robert Switz, NetJets fleet program director for the Citation X and Latitude, presented some interesting observations. NetJets flew 251,000 flights this past year—138,000 were occupied, while the rest were repositioning flights alone. Their Flight Operations Quality Assurance program had detected a lack of control checks prior to takeoff and unstable approaches in a significant percentage of flights. This data is fed back into the training loop and monitored for improvement. My ears perked up when he mentioned a hospital where I previously worked as a surgeon. It seems that helicopter crews at Tampa General Hospital were skipping important safety steps when they were transporting babies. The natural urge to hurry when a vulnerable child was involved was leading to missed preflight checks. The solution? Crews were no longer told the age of their patients.

Breakout sessions were especially interesting to this new Citation owner. I learned about the requirement for wheel nondestructive testing after a certain number of tire changes, that maintenance computers need battery replacement and the air-cycle machine should be overhauled at 5,000 hours.

Dinners were fun. A loud auction made substantive conversation impossible but raised $700,000. These monies are used for staff and meeting support and to fund the organization’s foundation, which in turn funds the substantial safety initiatives and scholarships for students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Two scholarship recipients were present, and they made a concerted effort to visit each table and express their thanks.

More than the technical, though, was the personal. We met new friends and found kindred spirits. If you consider that the majority of would-be pilots never get a license and the majority of those who do don’t fly much at all, this was a highly selective group. Far from the homogeneity I had feared, the crowd came from diverse backgrounds but were bound together only by an abiding love of airplanes, their jets and the joy of flight. Most there were self-made. I met only a few trust-fund beneficiaries, and I met a lot of hardworking, grateful, successful people. As one attendee said, “This thing has changed from a rich guy’s club to a safety organization.” A good change, indeed.

In a way, the CJP convention was like attending the wedding of a close friend’s daughter. You’ve always liked the bride, and she has picked out a great groom and has a room full of nice friends. When you stop to think about it, the event is so pleasurable because the guest list has been hand-picked by a family you adore: the family of flight.

This story originally published in the December 2019 issue of Flying Magazine

Dick Karl
Dick KarlAuthor
Dick Karl is a cancer surgeon who appreciates the beauty and science involved in both surgery and flying. Dick’s monthly Gear Up celebrates the human side of flying. He writes about his enthusiasm for both the machines and the people who fly and maintain them.

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