Owner Pilots: A Breed Apart

Owner Pilots: A Breed Apart

In light of NBAA taking place this month, I asked my father Randy Groom to recount some of his personal experiences and observations after selling business aircraft for 30-plus years. Below he addresses types of customers, business aviation trends and the common themes that tie owner pilots together.   

One of the best parts of my job was meeting and getting to know the incredible variety of customers that bought our products. During my career, I sold to corporate customers, military and government buyers, charter operators, fractional share companies, air ambulance companies and owner pilots. Looking back now, I can say without a doubt that selling to owner pilots brought me more pleasure, and more interesting experiences, than any other type
of customer.  

The owner pilots I dealt with were from all different backgrounds – many of them entrepreneurs whom started their businesses in their basement and nurtured them into to fantastic successes. Others were business leaders with a love for flying that managed to work their way into the cockpit. There were assorted doctors, lawyers, farmers, ranchers, race car drivers and team owners, financial wizards – and a lucky few with inherited wealth. 

As many of you know, the purchase of an aircraft is an intimate process, with the buyer and seller often coming to know each other very well. As such, I’d like to share a few observations I’ve made about owner pilots and their segment of the industry. 

  1. Experience levels vary widely – Quite a few of my customers were relatively new pilots who were rapidly moving up in aircraft complexity and capability. Often we had King Air buyers who had moved up from a single-engine Cessna or Piper into a Bonanza, then into a Baron, ultimately graduating into turbines in a matter of a few years or less. On the other hand, we sold to many owner pilots with 5,000, 10,000 or even 20,000 hours experience as was the case with several retired airline pilots. 
  2. The majority use their aircraft for business – Almost all of my customers legitimately used their aircraft for business at least half of the time. Race car drivers used their airplanes to go to the races. Business leaders and entrepreneurs used their airplane to support and grow their business. One of the more unique uses I came across was a customer of mine who was a professional pig auctioneer. He used the airplane to travel to and from pig auctions. (During my demos with him, I attended a few pig auctions myself, and upon my return always felt the immediate need to shower).   
  3. Over time, safety has become an increased focus Many of my customers have always been adequately focused on safety, but unfortunately there were many exceptions as well, especially in the 1980s and 90s. More than once I felt that a customer did not properly separate his mind from his business when he got into the cockpit. I will never forget when one new King Air C90B buyer accepted a cell phone call while in the traffic pattern (that call didn’t last long, I removed his phone from him). But I have to say, the owner flown group’s focus on safety seems to have improved over the last few decades. Much of this has likely been driven by the aircraft manufacturers, owner groups and insurers promoting, and often requiring, professional training, but also partly due to the internet with the incredible availability of safety forums and seminars. 
  4. They’ve experienced phenomenal growth via ‘The Cirrus Effect’ I must give credit where credit is due. No company has done more to contribute to the growth of the owner pilot population than Cirrus. With more than 7,000 aircraft built over the past 18 years, the company has helped to swell the ranks of enthusiastic new pilots. Cessna, Beechcraft, Pilatus, Piper and TBM have all benefited from that upwardly mobile population, as many have moved up from their Cirrus into turbine aircraft. Cirrus may well keep more in their family with the introduction of their Vision Jet, but I’m sure many will keep climbing up the ladder of aircraft capability.
  5. It’s always about passion – One trait that all owner pilots share is a passion for flying. Selling to them was always a joy because it wasn’t entirely focused on technical details and cash flows. There was more about the pure pleasure of flying, the handling characteristics of the airplane, the thrill of learning how to master a more complex machine. And in the process of those sales, I often learned a lot about the buyers and how they became so successful. Sometimes I got to meet their families and stay in their homes. Our demos would take us to some interesting places ranging from Nascar races, to remote business locations to islands in the Bahamas or private ranches in Brazil. More often than not, owner pilots are as passionate about life as they are their aircraft and flying.

As I look back on my career, I am amazed how fortunate I was to have met and got to know such a wide range of fascinating owner pilots. I stay in touch with many of them as we remain close friends. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to play a role in their aviation progression. And it is my hope that the industry continues to inspire and attract more customers into discovering how General Aviation can bring both joy and productivity into their lives and businesses.

I could not agree more. Thank you for providing your unique insights as many of the readers of T & T are at the heart of the owner-pilot category you speak of. It is my hope this publication remains a valuable resource for this group, continuing to foster their undeniable passion.

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