Planet 9

Aviation for Women Planet 9 Feature

November 9, 2021
Planet 9 Women in Aviation

Women continue to find their way into a wide variety of career opportunities in the aviation industry because of their skills, work experience, and willingness to explore new avenues in their chosen profession. Planet 9, WAI Corporate Member, is a private charter company that operates a fleet of owned and managed jet air-craft, and has become a choice landing spot for three women who agreed to share their stories.

The Planet 9 fleet includes long-range Falcon, Bombardier, and Gulfstream aircraft. The company owns two of the Falcon 7X air-craft and manages an additional 15 ultra-long-range aircraft to serve on-demand charter clients. Currently, some 75-80% of the flights are international. “We are perfectly positioned to support our clients and partners with international long range requirements,” Matt Walter, a co-founder of Planet 9, says. “We are looking forward to rapid fleet growth in the coming years and to continue to provide exception-al service to our aircraft owners and charter clientele.”

All of the maintenance is done in-house, with teams of techni-cians based in VNY (Van Nuys, California), TEB (Teterboro, New Jersey), and Southampton, United Kingdom. This reduces costs and increases aircraft availability, according to the company.

Along with the requisite training in safety and security procedures, the cabin service representatives are trained by the Culinary Institute of America, ensuring that passengers are treated to customized meal service. Upscale amenity products are also offered on each flight.

Eyes On The Sky

“Because Planet 9 is a small company, I quickly developed a great relationship with all my co-workers and managers across all de-partments,” Claire Schindler, Planet 9 first officer, says. “Those re-lationships I’ve developed urge a good work ethic and a great trust because they know me.”

Ever since she was a little girl, Claire Schindler had her eyes on the sky and a dream of becoming a pilot. Today she is living that dream as a Falcon 7X pilot for Planet 9, providing charter jet service around the world.

“I fell in love with flying on one of many trips to the Nation-al Air and Space Museum,” she explains, when she first learned about Amelia Earhart. “I decided that was what I wanted to do too, to travel the world under my own power of flight.”

Claire’s parents were supportive of her dream early on—getting her involved with the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), where she first took flight in a Cessna 182, and steering her toward STEM programs to boost her math skills. And of course, there were the frequent visits to the Air and Space Museum.

She credits the CAP for laying the foundation for a career in aviation, having learned about aerodynamics, aircraft posting, safety, and leadership. There was also the bonus of five free orientation flights a year.  She also found other girls who shared her interest in flight. “We’re still friends to this day,” Claire says. “One makes aeronautical charts for the FAA, one flies C-17s, and one flies medevac operations.”

Claire earned her first 10 hours of flight from CAP’s flight academy in Oklahoma. She continued her flight lessons at Manassas  Regional Airport in Virginia, soloed at 17, and earned her private pilot certificate two weeks before leaving for college. She earned her instrument and commercial ratings, plus dispatch certificate while at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, in Prescott, Arizona, and earned a degree in aeronautical science. She also became involved in the WAI ERAU Prescott Chapter on campus.

After graduation, she worked for a government contractor monitoring drones in Cessna 210s, a Mooney, and a Piper Comanche, building up to 1,000 hours, making her eligible for a restricted ATI.

She’s been working as a first officer since 2018 for Planet 9, where she has built her flight time to 2,500 hours. Flight crews at Planet 9 operate on a schedule of 16 days on, 14 days off. The amount of flying depends on demand for travel.

Claire admits that beginning a career with a small operation like Planet 9 seemed risky initially. But because of its size, she has been able to develop working relationships with all of her co-workers. She’s also helped lay the groundwork for pilot hiring and training.

“My chief pilot and director of operations know me on a first-name basis because I’m able to have regular conversations with them and reach out to them with concerns,” Claire says. “That’s something that would never happen at a major airline.”

Claire’s love of flying spills over into her spare time. She is a board member of Sky Kids Inc., an organization that provides free flights to children with disabilities during an annual event. The festive day includes lunch, music, characters, and arts and crafts. She became involved when she was attending Embry-Riddle and understands the importance of connecting young people to the various opportunities available in aviation.

“I am a strong believer in ‘if you can see her, you can be her,’ because I never considered being a pilot until my dad took me to see Amelia Earhart at the Air and Space Museum,” she says. “I’m still giddy going to work, so I do believe I am in fact the dream 10-year-old me wished for.”

Providing Stellar Onboard Service

Planet 9 clients are very selective in the kind of air service they choose, and for that reason the staff is committed to providing the best possible flight experience with a focus on safety and security for everyone who boards the private jets.

“What sets us apart from our competition is the customization we provide to each client,” says Hilary Clark, Planet’s 9 director of inflight. “We don’t necessarily want them to walk on board to a ‘Planet 9’ branded aircraft. We want them to walk on board to ‘their aircraft.’”

“We don’t necessarily want them to walk on board to a ‘Planet 9’ branded aircraft. We want them to walk on board to ‘their aircraft.’”

Unlike commercial airlines that offer preset menu items onboard, Planet 9 clients are able to pre-select items for on board service.

“The items are specific to their needs and could be anything from a particular Colgate toothpaste brand, to Hermés hand soap, to the rarest beluga caviar in the world,” she explains. “Our job is to source these items and ensure they are on board every flight for our clients.”

With a degree in global tourism and marketing, Hilary began a career in the aviation industry, including stints with Emirates out of the UAE and Zetta Jet out of Singapore. For more than a de-cade, she managed, developed, and facilitated training programs for various companies and private jet owners. “Each client comes to us with different requests, which we fulfill. We do carry standard amenity items onboard, such as Dermalogica skincare products, slippers, eye mask, iPads with movies [and such],” Hilary says. She works with the Planet 9 customer service team to arrange all onboard catering, which can range from picking up a pre-flight pizza to preparing a six-course fine dining experience in flight. “We have to be prepared to fulfill every request.”

Candidates seeking to joining Planet 9 require three to five years of previous flying/onboard service experience in order to qualify for the first of a rigorous two-part interview. If selected and hired, the candidate will complete an in-house “indoctrination” program, a live flight with the training manager, and a ser-vice training program through the Culinary Institute of America, Hilary says.

She offers this advice for those seeking a job in the aviation industry: Do the research to understand the job requirements and be willing to work hard.

“Nothing in this industry will be given to you. Positions are earned,” she explains. “For every single open position, there are about a thousand applications competing for it. Once you secure that position, you have to work twice as hard to preserve it.”

Charting The Course

With a keen eye to detail and a penchant for record-keeping, Cassey Terlecki is ideally suited for her job as Planet 9’s maintenance manager.

Cassey says she does a “little bit of everything” at the private charter operator, including planning, scheduling, bringing new aircraft to the fleet, ensuring Part 135 conformities, budgeting, account-ing and handling FAA and third-party audits. The work is comprehensive and critical to the overall operation of the company.

“Yes, this is very detail-oriented work,” she says. “Maintaining the airworthiness of an aircraft requires attention to detail as you are constantly monitoring upcoming scheduled maintenance.”

After earning undergraduate and master’s degrees in public administration from Louisiana State University, she was encouraged to learn records compliance by her grandfather, who was a former director of maintenance. Her first job in aviation was as a maintenance coordinator, in which she learned record compliance and worked as a scheduler and coordinator for the fleet.

Cassey has found her niche in the Planet 9 maintenance department and hopes to expand her role and eventually obtain an A&P license rating, which is required for positions with in-creased responsibility.

“There are people who thrive in sales, customer service, flight operations,” she says. “But I feel I excel and enjoy auditing, which makes my skill set a great fit for maintenance and compliance work.”

“Yes, this is very detail-oriented work,” she says. “Maintaining the airworthiness of an aircraft requires attention to detail as you are constantly monitoring upcoming scheduled maintenance.”

Cassey’s interests and skill set have positioned her well for chart-ing her own career in aviation.

For other young women exploring options in the aviation industry, she offers this advice: “Overall, the best advice I can give is being open and willing to learn. Be a sponge and soak up the knowledge that both your peers and superiors have to offer you.”

Thanks to the combined talents of Hilary, Claire, and Cassey, Planet 9 makes flights of fancy a reality for private clients.

Sandra Arnoult is a seasoned aviation journalist covering regional and low-fare carriers, airports, and aircraft manufacturers.

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