A career in aviation isn’t just for pilots: 6 things to know from Encompass Health’s aviation team

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Encompass Health aviation interns Emily Moore and Peter Knapp

When you head to the airport to catch a flight in Birmingham, it seems pretty straightforward. Show up, go through security, board the plane and arrive at your destination. Not so fast.

As it turns out, there’s a ton that goes on behind the scenes to get someone from point A to point B. We spoke with Encompass Health’s aviation department to learn more about a typical day supporting the business aviation industry.

1) It’s not an 8 to 5 job

Members of the aviation department at Encompass Health: Peter Knapp, Emily Moore, William Poynter, Marion Hall and Chris Algee

Members of the aviation team work rotating shifts based on the flight schedule. According to William Poynter, vice president of aviation at Encompass Health, “If we have a 7:00 a.m. departure, our maintenance technicians are here two hours before. Our pilots are here an hour before. After the return flight, the pilots stay about thirty minutes to debrief. The maintenance technicians will stay for two hours or more.” 

Because Encompass Health operates more than 130 hospitals in 37 states, flying via the company aircraft makes it easier to visit their footprint more quickly and efficiently. The schedule is dictated by the business requirements of the organization, which consist of several hospital visits every week.

“The value we provide the corporate office is productivity. We use the plane to take employees to multiple hospitals in the same day. The plane has become a business tool, because you can get work done while traveling. The aircraft is seen as an extension of the corporate office.”

Chris Algee, manager of scheduling and dispatch

2) Safety is more than the preflight presentation

Safety is huge in the aviation industry–with good reason, of course! At Encompass Health, there’s a pre-flight briefing and post-flight debrief after every trip. These meetings are held in conjunction with the maintenance department to address any safety concerns or questions. 

Encompass Health’s aviation department has a robust risk assessment tool that analyzes various characteristics of a flight day, down to how much sleep a pilot got the previous night. There’s an acceptable level of risk the flight has to meet before it can be dispatched.

3) There are jobs beyond pilot or flight attendant 

Encompass Health’s aviation department has a staff of 17 employees. These include eight pilots, six maintenance professionals, a scheduler, a receptionist and an aviation vice president.

4) There’s a lot of training involved

We all want–and hope we have–highly trained pilots on our flights. In addition to getting their license, pilots at Encompass Health must complete two biannual trainings (the FAA standard is one). There are also emergency drill trainings that teach pilots how to land on water–remember Sully? 

Flight hours aren’t enough, either. Encompass Health’s pilots are also trained on the specific type of aircraft they fly. 

5) Maintenance is a big deal

The amount of maintenance that goes into a plane is substantial. Professionals in aviation maintenance complete a degree program and are licensed just like pilots. Before anything in maintenance is signed off, two people have to inspect the plane. 

“A business aviation maintenance technician understands the aircraft from nose to tail. Today’s technician does more than turn a wrench—we maintain the reliability and availability of our aircraft. It’s a great time to be in the profession. We never have a typical day.”

Elaine Karabatsos, director of maintenance 

6) You can intern for real-world experience 

Did you know that Auburn University has a department of aviation? It’s not just for future pilots. The department’s aviation management degree focuses on the business side of working in the industry. 

Two Auburn students, Emily Moore (a recent grad) and Peter Knapp, are currently interning with Encompass Health. Their work includes scheduling, learning line service and flight operations and assigning crews for flights. Next on the agenda is fueling the planes–that sounds fun!

Knapp said he initially was surprised at how much goes into a single flight. After writing this article, I couldn’t agree more.

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