Building Team Blink
In January 2008, the first employee of Blink started work. The first task was to build the team of staff that would manage the fleet of 30 aircraft Blink had ordered. Two and a half years later Blink has 7 aircraft in the fleet, and 40 employees. Captain Dougie Gass, Blink’s Chief Pilot and Director of Flight Operations, reflects on his wealth of experience from his career at British Airways, and how he set about building the team at Blink.
You were the first Blink employee. What was it like joining Blink on day 1?
On the day I joined Blink in January 2008, the Blink office was in Bishopsgate, and it was, I recall, on the small side of small! My feelings and thoughts however, were anything but small. It was the most exciting day, and the thoughts of the coming months, and the building of the team that would become the backbone of Blink Flight Operations, made me think on a grand scale. There was so much to do, and the days were full of vision. It made me think how simple and straightforward my recent times at BA had been, and how exciting the following months would be by comparison. I was right, it was exciting, it was a challenge, and it still is.
What does the Director of Flight Operations do?
Very broadly, he ensures safe, stable and efficient aircraft operations within the Flight Ops department. Also, that all operations comply with the requirements of the regulatory body. This includes the coordinating of all Blink flight operations; ensuring that all Blink aircraft are operated according to their manuals, and using the correct SOP’s; pilot recruitment, categorising new airports and determining their suitability for Blink operations. He has ultimate responsibility for all manuals. In all, he is responsible for, and oversees the Blink flight operations.
You’ve described the Blink Jet – the Cessna Citation Mustang – as making the 747-400 look steam driven. What do you mean?
The 747-400 is a fantastic aircraft, and BA took delivery of the first few in 1989; in fact it was one of Blink’s Captains that flew one of the first ones back from Seattle. That was over 20 years ago. The Mustang, being a new model aircraft, has taken full advantage of the many advances in technology. It is fitted with the latest Garmin G1000 glass cockpit, which manages the instrument and engine displays, the autopilot and the flight guidance systems. It also has fabulous navigation displays, with great visual displays which enhance situational awareness, and is the core of the cockpit that does make the 400 look ‘steam driven’.
What has been the most challenging part of transitioning from British Airways’ most senior 747 training captain to the Director of Flight Operations at Blink?
Flying such a long career within BA is something of which I remain very proud and have great memories of. I believe that over that long career, I learned much about people, their standards and behaviour, and their direct effect and contribution to flight safety. It was a great challenge to bring those same ‘best practices’ and introduce them into Blink’s operation, but it has been a pleasure doing it. Thinking back, within BA, I now realise how much support I had, both in the training environment, and with line flying, it was nice being spoiled! During the start up of Blink, I had to learn many new skills, including IT, admin and adjusting to the office environment, all of which presented their own challenges. The most important and significant challenge has been to build the team that works well together, and that will ensure the success of Blink.
When you recruit pilots, what talents and skills do you seek? What makes a Blink pilot?
I enjoy the recruitment process. I have learned over my career that the pilots who enjoy the greatest success, among other things, are the best team players. People who are aware of, and consider; other people’s needs, as well as their own. Someone who can stay ‘ahead of the game.’ So, what do I look for when recruiting new pilots? Excellent qualifications are an obvious pre requisite, together with the necessary flying skills; but I also try to select the very best people, who are team players, and ones with the best people skills. After all, Blink pilots are, not only pilots, but also front line, on the day managers, promoters of sales, who are hugely involved in customer care, and ambassadors for Blink. We need all rounders, we need the very best.
What has been more your significant accomplishment at Blink?
Being part of the team that worked towards, and were granted Blink’s AOC in 2009 was certainly a great achievement; and one of which all who were involved are very proud. I personally consider one of the very significant accomplishments to be every time I sit on the flight deck of a Mustang and I take part in an operation that I consider to be of ‘world standard’. I am very proud of our aircraft operation and the first class use of Blink Standard Operating Procedures, by all of our aircrew.
How do you relax?
I am keen on many forms of sport. Golf is one of my favourites, and having taken a short sabbatical from it, as Blink was formed and grew, I again enjoy time at my club Wentworth, as I try to get my game back in some kind of order. I support my local Rugby club, Bracknell, as well as my beloved Manchester United, who I love to watch whenever able. Other forms of relaxation for me include gardening and cooking at my home in Ascot.
What excites you most about flying?
Having started my flying career in 1970, it is difficult for me to think of flying, after 39 years at the controls, as exciting; but the fact is, I do. I am fortunate, in that I now take the opportunity to fly our Mustangs more often than when we were establishing Blink. The flying part is still the best part of the job for any pilot, and it is no different for me. Unlike in the airlines, we fly to and visit many new airfields, all with their own challenges, and in our case, with some fabulous new views, such as Samedan and Lugano. Yes, and I am very grateful for the fact, it is still exciting.