- Mike Tarascio, 66, is a pilot and part owner of Ventura Air Services based one hour east of New York City.
- He says private charter flights have recently exploded and he aims to create a luxurious experience.
- This is what his job and career path looks like, as Robin Madell recounted.
This essay as told is based on a transcribed conversation with Mike Tarascio, a 66-year-old charter pilot and part-owner of Ventura Air Services based at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, about an hour east of New York City. It has been edited for length and clarity.
For those considering the profession, there has never been a better time to be a charter pilot.
Over the past 10 years, compensation for charter pilots has increased significantly. What we are seeing in the market today is that private jet pilots can earn anywhere from $ 86,000 to $ 217,000 per year.
Historically, many charter pilots wanted to go to the big airlines, which were generally much better paying jobs. Today we have seen that this gap has closed – and in some cases the charter industry pays better than the majors.
My pilot career is approaching 40 years
A friend of mine introduced me to piloting and I got hooked straight away. Flying quickly became a passion and a lifestyle for me and my family.
In the 90s, a friend and colleague asked me if I would be interested in charter flight. I got my certification and have been doing charter flights ever since.
For several years, I have been qualified to fly several types of aircraft, including the Learjet and Falcon models. At that time, with my wife and my co-owner Maureen, we started to develop our business.
At first, with only a few planes, I found myself living virtually on the plane
Maureen was in charge of the company’s operations: charter reservations, flight school and aircraft maintenance. A little over a decade ago, we handed over the management of the company to our son Nick, who is also a jet pilot and shares the same passion for flying as I do. Another of our sons, Greg, is now a maintenance manager.
Today, Ventura is growing rapidly and has a fleet of 10 jets and a team of 65 employees.
Charter aviation is booming since the start of the pandemic
During the pandemic, many people moved on charter for health and safety reasons. They didn’t want to travel on crowded commercial planes or face crowded airport terminals.
Ventura doubled its jet fleet in 2020. We believe private aviation will continue to grow and attract more travelers.
An advantage of charter aviation is that there are many more airports that can be used so that travelers can get closer to their final destination and save time. There are also no long queues at airports. This is part of the reason why, once they have gained the experience, they never want to go back to commercial flights again.
I have visited almost all of the major airports in the country, as well as many smaller ones. Often times, this is an airport in Florida, with Palm Beach being one of the more common destinations. I have also flown to most of the Caribbean Islands.
When it comes to my working hours, it’s always a full day ranging from 8 to 12 hours. The weather and other factors can also play a role, as with any type of air travel.
When I am notified in the morning that I have a flight, I arrive at the airport with my co-pilot and we start preparing for the flight.
Unlike a commercial flight, with charter aviation, the pilot and co-pilot often take on all the responsibilities of flight planning, preparation, weather checks, refueling, and other ground operations. It is very different from commercial aviation, where commercial pilots and crews arrive at the airport with most of these tasks taken care of for them.
Ventura doesn’t just fly from our base in Farmingdale. Passengers often start their flights from other airports in the New York area. Often I go to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey (the busiest private airport in the United States).
With my co-pilot, we get clearance from the tower and fly to the airport where the passengers are to be picked up. Backstage catering, ground transportation, and other travel aids are provided by Maureen and the Ventura head office team.
Every private jet trip is an experience beyond first class on a commercial airline. Passengers ask for specific types of drinks such as champagne and their favorite wines, and premium foods such as steak, lobster, and sushi. Ground transportation includes limousines and drivers.
On arrival, my co-pilot and I meet the passengers and personally take their luggage and put it on board. We make sure all food and catering is on board and ready for our passengers.
Some of Ventura’s planes have a flight attendant on board to serve passengers. They are briefed by Maureen and the team. This helps them prepare for the flight, and they will know in advance what special passenger requests are.
Meeting different people including celebrities and the rich and famous makes charter piloting a lot of fun
I have piloted music groups, artists, actors and sports figures including professional racing drivers.
Bringing a client to a city where they will perform, compete or take part in a race is important to him and to me. While it is exciting to meet a famous person, my priority is always to make sure they get to their destination smoothly and stress-free.
On several occasions, I have had the pleasure of being invited to attend concerts given by famous passengers – and I have obtained good seats. It’s a very interesting prospect to be their pilot and then be a member of their audience a few hours later. The next day, they get back on the plane and leave for the next show.
I have also seen athletes that I have piloted compete. Once a well-known driver and his team invited me to the track to watch the race, and the seats were close to the edge of the track. It was an exciting experience.
From time to time we may receive an unusual request, but we have decades of experience and contacts that allow us to get anything we want.
For example, we’ve been asked to buy local dishes the regions are known for, like Rendezvous Ribs in Memphis, Philly cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, and Spiedie Sandwiches in Binghamton, New York. Of course, we take the opportunity to take advantage of them and try them out as well.
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a pilot is about a special service we provide to organ transplant teams.
We are a significant partner with many of the best New York area transplant hospitals and surgeons. As a member of this team, we are available at any time to send teams of transplant surgeons to different parts of the country to harvest organs for transplantation.
I have personally performed numerous organ transplant support flights last year and this year. Over the years, I have made hundreds of these flights.
For these missions, we can receive a call at any time of the day or night, often just hours before the time the flight is needed. We are quickly planning the flight to an airport in another part of the country near the hospital where the organ harvesting surgery will take place. Our planes often receive priority take-off and landing clearances.
We never know the results of these surgeries and never meet the patients or their families, but we are all very proud to contribute and be a part of something special.