Thursday, July 25, 2013

Share Your Story: Tommy Jernejcic (Part 2), Surf Air Pilatus PC12 Pilot

Welcome to the 20th "Share Your Story" post. Pilots from around the world write in featuring their flight experiences, promoting their blogs, websites, social media, novels, etc. These posts show future aviators the diverse range of careers available to them. More details + how to participate can be found via the following: Click Here and Get Involved
Today, the blog brings you the second part of a really great post from Tommy Jernejcic. Tommy is a flight instructor, ex-Fedex Feeder C208 Pilot, and current Surf Air Pilatus PC12 Pilot. This second part details Tommy's experiences flying as with Surf Air, an amazing California start-up. Thanks again Tommy for writing in!

Other than waking up before the sun, I enjoyed flying FedEx freight.  Good airplanes, great maintenance, and a stable income and benefits are what we all strive for as pilots, and I was lucky to have that at West Air.  There was one airplane though that I had my eyes on ever since I saw it on my first day instructing at French Valley: the Pilatus PC-12. Form meets function; business meets backcountry!  I had a friend who flew one and I was lucky enough to sit right seat on a couple of quick trips over the past few years and I loved it, hoping someday to land a job flying one.  Well not long after I committed to writing this article back, I was interviewed and hired within a week by a new and innovative company whose progress I had been following for over a year.  Surf Air was hiring a few more pilots to round out their initial pilot group before beginning service and I was going to be on the ground floor!  Excited would be an understatement for how I felt…and how I STILL feel!  

For anyone unfamiliar, Surf Air is a new Pilatus operator in California, flying scheduled commuter service under Part 135.  We are revolutionizing air travel by offering frequent flyers a First Class experience and all-you-can-fly membership for $1,650 per month, and we are definitely making waves.  This article is about my personal experience though and nothing more, so I’ll leave the company and membership details as well as the polarized opinions of outside observers to your own Google search, but I will say that I have never worked in such a positive and energized environment as Surf Air.  The entire team of management, pilots, maintenance, and concierges really are ONE team, and everyone is committed to success.  

An overview interview with Bloomberg TV

From my first day of indoc training last month up to securing the airplane after my last flight yesterday, I have felt like an integral part of that team, and I am planning on staying here for the long haul, if not for the rest of my career.

So what is life like as a Surf Air pilot?...

Click Below ∨

Well, we like to say that it is more like being a customer service agent who happens to be a pilot.  We place an enormous amount of emphasis on member service.  We don’t have flight attendants, so while the concierges are the first and last faces that a member sees, we as pilots are who they spend the greatest amount of time with.  We walk them out to the plane.  We board and brief them.  We are responsible for the flight experience.  We deplane them.  We unload and return their bags to them.  We get to know them.  

Our members expect a higher level of service and choose us because current airline service doesn’t meet their needs and because frankly many of them are tired of the inefficiency of mainstream airline travel and being treated like cattle at airports.  Surf Air provides them not only a more efficient traveling experience, but one that is similar, and even superior, to that which was experienced during the “golden age” of airline travel in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s.  That personal experience is what our entire company culture is built upon because we know that it is the key to our success.

We are still pilots though, and life as a Surf Air pilot, for me personally at least, is EPIC!  Based just north of Los Angeles, our flagship route since we launched in June has been between Burbank (BUR) and San Carlos (SQL) in the San Francisco Bay.  However, by the time you read this, we will also be running between both locations and Santa Barbara (SBA), and I will be on the first flight into SBA tomorrow, July 10th!  The company has aggressive, yet controlled, plans for even more growth though, and around the turn of 2013/14, we will hopefully have around a dozen planes and have expanded into other popular destinations in Northern and Southern California.

Our current fleet of three Pilatus PC-12/45’s is an absolute dream to fly!  Pilot training is done over a two week period through Flight Safety International’s new PC-12NG program in Dallas, Texas at DFW airport.  Even though the program is only about 7 months old, the instructors, syllabus, and simulator are top-notch and second to none!  Having attended excellent Caravan training at Flight Safety in Wichita, I had an idea of what to expect, and I was still totally impressed by the training at DFW!  

Upon returning to Burbank, pilots go through a fairly simple and painless transition training for the legacy PC-12/45.  On the line, all flights are flown by a crew of two pilots, who alternate pilot-flying and pilot-not-flying duties each leg.  Most of the avionics are the standard PC-12/45 model equipment with the exception of brand new touch-screen Garmin 625 GPS’s which are incredibly intuitive for anyone with prior Garmin experience (even though I still miss the Honeywell Apex glass panel system that we learned on at Flight Safety!).  The aircraft itself handles great, even though it is definitely “heavier” on the controls than what I was used to in the Caravan.  The extra horsepower produced by the reliable Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67B up front is well worth the tradeoff though, and with the Pilatus’ trailing-link landing gear and high-lift wing, every landing is a “greaser.”  In short, you will never catch me complaining about being a Pilatus driver!

A typical day flying at Surf Air consists of arriving one hour prior to your scheduled departure time in order to check in with the ops team and brief with the other pilot that you will be flying with.  

After all preflight duties are complete and the passenger manifest is reviewed, we’ll go into the FBO, check in with the concierge, and introduce ourselves to the members who will be on the flight and then take their bags out to the plane for loading about 15 minutes before departure. 

Once the bags are loaded, the captain will return to the FBO and walk the members out to the plane with the concierge, board them, and give the passenger briefing.  After shutting the door it’s time to light the fire and we’re on our way!  

Burbank to San Carlos is only about a one hour and fifteen minute flight, and before you know it, we’re wheels down, parked, and opening the door with a smiling concierge waiting to greet our members!  With two round trips per AM and PM shift, and about 30-40 minutes between each flight, the work day flies; and the work week passes just as fast!  

The last few weeks have had fairly jumbled personal schedules with lots of time off (I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s almost been too much time off! Haha!). As we add flights though, we will soon be on a set pilot schedule of 5 days on/5 days off, probably even by the time you’re reading this.  That is a schedule that I still can’t even imagine as I’ve been working 6-7 days a week during my entire aviation career thus far.  I foresee lots of surfing this summer!

I could write a whole lot more, both about my past experiences as an instructor and freight dog as well as just about the past month and a half as a new PC-12 Captain at Surf Air, but this is a blog entry not a book, and I’ve already probably written way too much.  Summarizing anything in aviation isn’t easy for me though!  It is definitely my passion and I feel totally blessed to get to do what I love not just as a hobby, but as my profession!  It hasn’t always been easy, but it has definitely been worth it, and I know that it will continue to be!  

The two biggest pieces of career advice I give to my flight students are:

1)  Slow down and enjoy the journey.  As I mentioned earlier, as pilots we tend to be driven and goal-oriented; and that’s not a bad thing!  But don’t be so focused on the end that you don’t take in and enjoy the NOW.  Don’t take for granted that as a student pilot or as an instructor you still get to CHOOSE where and when you fly most of the time.  Instead of just burning hours and avgas, burn some memories into your mind!  Fly new places, learn new skills, overcome new challenges, and take the time to look out the window, smell the fuel, and remember just how amazing flying is!  And then carry that attitude throughout your future in flying!

2)  Make it YOUR career!  Don’t let other people’s opinions or the status quo or “shiny jet syndrome” determine it for you.  If you like instructing, do it for as long as you want!  Do you enjoy flying freight? Great!  Are you content flying a regional jet in your corner of the world? There’s nothing wrong with that.  Do you still want that 747 left seat? Go for it!  Find your niche in aviation, or anything in life for that matter, and enjoy it and make it yours!  I just got hired at Surf Air two months ago, and upgraded to Captain yesterday, and I already have people asking me, “What’s next- regional airline? Citation gig?” (My closest friends know better; they’re the ones that told me that “Surf Air is so YOU!” Haha) I just smile and say that I couldn’t be happier than where I’m at, surfing the skies in my Pilatus one day and then surfing the Pacific Ocean the next!

I’d totally like to thank Swayne for asking me to contribute to his blog (Sorry I took so long!).  I have enjoyed reading other people’s stories and feel honored to have mine right up next to theirs, and I am definitely enjoying following his own journey towards becoming a professional aviator!  Best of luck, Swayne!  Also I’m always willing to take the time to help anyone who has any questions regarding my own career path or aviation in general.  As with this article, the usual disclaimer applies- all contents (excluding photos and videos), information, and opinions are my own and may not be that of Surf Air, West Air, or any other air group.  

Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Instagram and Twitter for more adventures @SoCalAirPirate .

Surfing the Skies & Seas of SoCal,
Tommy Jernejcic
Surf Air PC-12 Captain


Surf Air is an amazing new startup airline. I love the concept. Tommy, it's an amazing thing that you get to be a part of this new, exciting group! I can't wait to see what routes they'll open up next. I'm sure that you and the company are destined for some awesome times ahead.

Thanks again for writing in and participating in the Share Your Story section of the blog, 

For more information on Surf Air, click here:

Swayne Martin 
Martins Aviation / From Private to Professional Pilot
Twitter: @MartinsAviation
Youtube: MartinsAviation1 


  1. Awesome post, Tommy. I love it!

    1. Thanks for the comment, glad you liked it!

  2. Tommy, what a fantastic opportunity you have for a great career with an incredible company. SurfAir... I had never heard of them. The planes are cool. The routes great. And a great schedule. Enjoy it all! And fly safe.

    1. Glad you liked it Karlene, and awesome that you learned about Surf Air through the blog.. it's an amazing operation.

      Thanks again,

  3. Great interview, Swayne! Thanks for sharing Tommy's story. SurfAir sounds like a great place to work and fly--the planes look top notch!

    And Tommy's advice sounds so much like my own: Life and this career is a journey--enjoy the ride!!

    1. Thanks Eric! I would love to work with a group like Surf Air one day. Sounds like a very supportive, energetic group of people.

      Glad you saw some commonality between you and Tommy, Thanks again,

  4. Tommy;

    As your new Director of Operations, I congratulate you on a job well done with this blog. I am sending the URL ti many prospective pilots I know and look forward to working with you.

    Dave Cole

  5. Sage words of advice there Tommy and a great article! I meet so many pilots out here in Indonesia flying nearly brand new C208s over some of the most spectacular scenery this world has to offer, and all they seem to do is long to be in a big shiny jet! I suspect when they get there they'll look back on that jungle job with envy; hence why I ain't going anywhere any time soon. As you say, enjoy the journey!

  6. What a great airline and what great views out the front. You just can't beat sunrise over the mountains. I congratulate Tommy for finding the career he loves. Good job on the blog, Swaine, and best of luck as you find your career path. God Bless!


  7. Thanks for the article. It was a great read and all the more encouraging to my research of Surf Air. I am a pilot looking to relocate to California from Missouri and Surf Air sounds just like the type of flying I would like to do for many years to come. Any advice, tips, or leads for a great opportunity to fly would be appreciated.

    Thanks again,

    Cody Hoecker


Thanks for your comment; I really appreciate it! Glad you are here with me on the blog. If your comment does not appear right away, it will after verification.

Many Thanks, Happy Flying,
Swayne Martin