Infinite Flight Virtual Airline Review Board
Welcome to the IFVARB Community Spotlight
Welcome to the launch edition of the IFVARB Community Spotlight! With the IFVARB, and a part of the admin team, we wanted to help connect the IFVARB to the community and bring together the CEO’s and staff members of VA’s and VO’s to spotlight what they have to offer, and feature ideas and common questions we get from prospective VA/VO leaders. Instead of the admin team answering them as a FAQ, we wanted to let our great CEO’s and Staff team provide the experience first hand!
With our first edition of the Spotlight, we are going to meet with three great CEO’s and Staff members in the community that have been very active and have shown great leadership to the Community in several different aspects. From being members of the IFATC, IFAET, IFAE, and other VA/VO’s, their experience will surely help those looking to grow in the IFVA community!
Meet the IFVARB team
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To educate the IFC about the Virtual Airline/Organization community, spark creativity of future CEO’s, as well as provide guidance to up and coming staff on what it takes for a successful Virtual Airline or Organization on Infinite Flight
Need Help or Have Questions?
Reach out to the IFVARB Team through PM here on the IFC by messaging @IFVARB!
Leading one of the largest and most popular VA’s in the community, what has it been line being a part of AFKLM as its President?
In a word: fun. It’s been an amazing journey. I joined AFKLM in January 2017 (then Air France Virtual) shortly after it was founded. I remember we were about 25 or so members altogether. We were small in terms of numbers, but we were very tight knit, passionate about flying and enthusiastic about being a part of the VA. Since then, we’ve grown to more than 200 pilots, expanded to include KLM, Transavia and Martinair into our portfolio, co-founded the SkyTeam IF Virtual Alliance alongside our friends at DLVA and shared countless memories with our pilots and IFC members. I’m super fortunate that I’ve been able to watch AFKLM go through all stages of “flight” so to speak — taking off, the initial climb, passing through some turbulence, and then finally getting up to a comfortable cruise altitude with clear skies and the excitement of a fun journey ahead. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have played a hand in many of the accomplishments, but more so to have been able to share that experience with many of my friends here in the VA, at SkyTeam and within the IFVARB community.
For me, the most gratifying thing is the fact that we’ve been able to keep that same core spirit of community, the passion and the big heart even as we’ve grown. Anyone that is part or has participated in our Slack community will understand what I mean. I think this is one of the most special aspects of the VA experience that we offer, and probably a big reason that me and many of the co-founding members that were in that original group of 25 are still here flying the AFKLM flag today!
As one of the longest tenured leaders of a VA on the IFC, what would you attribute your success to within the VA?
Strategic focus, communication and an emphasis on fostering a sense of community among our pilots through friendliness and kind-spirit have been key to my success.
I like to think that I’ve always been very honest and transparent with our pilots and with our staff. And those who know me, know that I wear my heart on my sleeve and that’s evident in my communication style as a leader. When I first took on the role of President July 2018, one of the first things that I did was to publish a “State of the VA” announcement in our Slack. It outlined my vision for the future, including our new VA strategy for growth and a detailed list of upcoming projects and initiatives in the pipeline for our members. It also communicated things that we weren’t going to do anymore and generally speaking set the tone for who we wanted to be. The response from pilots and staff was overwhelmingly positive. And still today my (sometimes long but usually a good time) “State of the VA” address gets published for our pilots on a quarterly basis to keep everyone informed, create excitement and inspire our members. I believe this type of communication, in whatever format makes sense for your leadership style, can be an effective tool for a VA of any size.
Most importantly though, a clear strategy and a defined sense of culture will helo you better decide what projects you will or will not devote time, energy and resources to. It will also empower your leadership team, which is extremely critical. My leadership team at AFKLM is one of the best in the IFC, in my humble opinion. They are all extremely engaged, committed and hard-working, which allows us to accomplish a tremendous amount of work. Most importantly they are selfless in their efforts.
I’m fortunate that I’ve had a great supporting cast around me since I first took over and I’m extremely grateful to all of them. This is also true of our SkyTeam friends and partners at DLVA, AMVA and GAVA. We’re always looking for ways to improve the VA experience for our mutual benefit. DLVA has been instrumental in helping us complete key projects, e.g. the launch of our new PIREP system and the AFKLM Academy among others.
And finally, it’s easy to succeed if you are having fun. This entire experience, the VA projects we work on, the group flights we embark on, it makes the duties required of a CEO/President feel like a passion project, not another job (or homework assignment).
What has been the biggest challenges you face leading AFKLM?
Every phase has its challenges — they can be big or small. At first the major overhauls and projects like the launch of our new website, route table update and new PIREP system were very labor-intensive. Lately, optimizing sustainable growth for the VA has been a big focus. We’re looking at the best ways to increase everything from overall operational efficiency and pilot retention to new ways to innovate without burning out staff members. There’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure!
How important is it to have great staff around you to help lead the efforts?
By far it’s the most important. I’m very fortunate to have an amazing staff team as I said before. Everyone is really dedicated from the top down. My COO, Philip and Chief Pilot, John are my metaphorical left and right hand. I could not do this job of AFKLM President without either of them. Right now our staff team is the largest it’s ever been, with almost 15 of us altogether, but we’re also the most active we’ve ever been. There are no ceremonial positions on our staff team. Everyone there has a job to do, a clearly defined job description and they are held accountable. Luckily, they do an amazing job!
As a VA leader, it’s important to empower your staff team to do their jobs. Listen to them and be open to new ideas. Clearly communicate your strategy and vision and work together. If you do, nothing can stop you!
What advise would you give to up and coming CEO’s about what it means to lead a Virtual Airline or Organization on the IFC?
Firstly — and I say this with the best of intention — check your ego at the door. If you are looking at becoming a CEO of a VA because you like the way it sounds then are you’re in for a rude awakening. Leading a VA or VO is a service you provide for your pilots. It requires a lot of work, selflessness and patience even for an existing VA with the most finely tuned operational structure.
However, if you are really passionate about going down this path I’d say  Be very clear in your mind what your VA is about. What makes you unique and what are your values?  Take the time to get it right before you launch. You only have one shot at a first impression.  Ask for help, use the combined resources of the IFVARB or look at one of the available VAs in SkyTeam. We help our fellow VAs out with many of the tools and resources and wisdom you’ll need to get started. And we have a lot of fun flying together!
Last but not least, focus on creating an experience that people won’t want to leave. Cultivate your pilot community and inspire loyalty. The human connection is key, even in the virtual skies. Good luck!
VA: Fly Emirates
Fly Emirates Information:
What has been some of the biggest challenges you’ve seen with starting a Virtual Airline and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge with starting a virtual airline is finding the right staff. I value a professional and hardworking staff team that I can rely on when the VA is at it highest, and its lowest. Starting off, I have had about 10-15 people join the staff team, and leave due to other VA opportunities, due to the fact that the VA was not the biggest and best at the time, other circumstances as well. It has been hard trying to find the people who love the game, have the time, and have the passion to make sure that a VA is running smoothly. I feel that my current staff team dubbed “Board of Administrators” are the best that this VA could ask for. They are hard working. They are extremely reliable. They care about their work and they are very professional when doing it. I couldn’t ask for a better staff team to carry out the core values of what it means to be in Fly Emirates Virtual.
What was your process like going through the certification, and what challenges came up that you didn’t foresee as you were preparing to launch?
This was not my first rodeo with running a VA as I was the previous CEO at Southwest Virtual. When creating the VA, I was very proactive with the creation of our core systems including our website, thread, crew center, airtable databases, and our Slack. This made it easy to get our VA approved quicker so that we could fulfill the eager passions of the pilots of the Infinite Flight Community. I made sure that everything was perfect and that no corners were cut. When our website was being reviewed, it did take a couple tries to get it perfect, but it most certainly paid off with the amazing feedback from the IFVARB team.
What inspired you to want to launch Fly Emirates?
The opportunity to take over Emirates virtual was simply by chance. I was in communication with the old COO and was wondering why the VA was closed. Once he told me that the VA was forgotten, I knew at that moment, it was my duty to fill the shoes left behind. I knew Southwest Virtual would be in good hands with Kayden, because he had the same love for the VA that I did. Before I made my decision, I did research on the old VA. When I saw how much people loved Emirates, that’s when I was inspired to launch Fly Emirates Virtual. The previous Emirates virtuals closed down many times and were very inconsistent. Many pilots who loved Emirates virtual were very sad at the fact that it closed down so many times. I then made a promise to the community, that our VA will always be here, no matter what bumps we face in the road.
Since opening, what are some of the things you’ve experienced as a CEO that your VA had to overcome?
Probably our biggest challenge was finding the right staff to lead our operations. The staff team is the beating heart of any VA/VO. Without them, this VA could not possibly be at its best. We have had many people leave our VA, but we currently have the best staff team in the entire VA community. Another challenge that I still face today, is finding a solution on how we train our pilots. Our training academy has closed many times due to numerous issues. I want the Training Academy to be the highlight of my VA, but it hasn’t performed to the standard that I have in place for it. I have some ideas, but it takes a tremendous amount of work and focus to make sure our pilots are getting the most realistic training and information possible. Soon, we will find a solution to train our pilots efficiently, professionally, and accurately. It will be the best training process this community has ever seen.
What advice would you give to users wanting to start a Virtual Airline about the process and launching of a new VA on the IFC?
The number one rule to start any VA/VO is to have passion and determination. You must have that before you even think about starting any business. You also must have grit. It is going to take a while before your VA/VO is recognized by the community. During that time, you must always think positive. You will go through many tough times, you will have many bumps, and you will have many second thoughts about running a VA, but you have to be able to get through it. That circles back to the number one rule. You must have the passion that fuels the process into creating an awesome VA/VO. I suggest being very proactive with the creation of the VA operations. This will make the reviewing process faster and easier. Trust the process, and always remember that what you created is credible, professional, and unique. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.
VA: Delta Virtual
Position: Board of Directors // DLVA Pilot Academy
Delta Virtual Information:
What inspired the idea for Delta Virtual to create its Pilot Academy?
The thought of the Pilot Academy actually bounced around for awhile before we got it rolling. @mwe2187 (back when he was still staff with us), @michaelmc, and I had played with the idea of improving pilot training while making it an easier transition for new pilots, so we did our best to create a syllabus and made it a reality. Every VA wants to have the best pilots, so we had many conversations about how to make the training process thorough without being too cumbersome for new pilots. We found that a decent number of people actually wanted to learn, but sometimes lacked the motivation to find the tutorials or read through an article on their own; our goal was to give one-on-one lessons where we could not only spot and correct potential issues, but also could give a personal touch by explaining the logic behind it.
What were the biggest challenges for getting the Academy off the ground?
The balance between information and time was a big one. We had to come up with a plan to check all of the boxes without overwhelming a new pilot; in the same breath, we wanted to make sure that new pilots were able to fly on their own schedule instead of waiting for all of their training flights to be finished. Our solution was to work our way up from a simple regional flight between uncontrolled airports to FNF-style heavy traffic. This allowed for new pilots to hit the ground running and receive feedback after a quick basic and then fly similar routes on their own. As they worked their way up through more difficult scenarios, more options opened for them.
What difference have you seen in pilots that complete the academy today compared to those that did not go through it before it was launched?
We’ve definitely seen an improvement in the quality of our new pilots as well as their ability to hit the ground running instead of searching for answers to questions about how the VA operates. We have fewer complaints than before, and although it does take time to get people up to speed, I think it’s a win-win for everyone. Not only have we seen that spike in quality, but pilots also know that they can come back with more complicated questions and get that same one-on-one additional training if they want to learn something else that isn’t part of our basic curriculum.
What is it like being a part of the board of directors for a large VA on the IFC?
I’m honestly surprised more VAs don’t operate with a Board of Directors because it has made everything very smooth and fair for us so far. Having one person call all of the shots can be a recipe for disaster in some cases, but being able to bounce ideas off of a trusted group and actually vote on important decisions has helped us countless times. Everyone on the Board has slightly different/specific roles, but when there’s a major decision to be made, it’s great to see other points of view and come to a fair consensus that best serves the VA instead of one person’s opinion.
What advice would you give to CEO’s or prospective leaders of pilot academies at other VA’s on the IFC?
The biggest goal for us was to operate on the principle of “training, not testing.” If someone has already passed our entrance test, they’re going to get to stay. The goal of the Pilot Academy was to simply make sure they knew how to fly professionally on the expert server and to get them up to speed on how the VA operates instead of just leaving them lost on their own. When we see issues with how someone is flying or communicating with ATC, we give them feedback and tell them what they did wrong, why it was wrong, and how to correct it instead of just failing them and kicking them to the curb or making them wait to re-test. We know that our applicants already have a passion for aviation, and we know that most people are interested in learning more even if it requires a little extra push sometimes. This additional training also gives us a chance to really welcome a new pilot and let them know right off the bat that we’re here to answer any questions and help them in any way possible. It takes a solid chunk of time to really make it work, but it has been worth every minute!