Q & A with Sarah O’Brien, private pilot

"People always ask me if I'm the flight attendant. I say no, I'm the captain. Then

I ask them to sit down." – Sarah O'Brien

TRAVERSE CITY- Sarah O'Brien is the chief pilot for Air Services International. From A.S.I's base and hangar in Traverse City, O'Brien oversees a crew of nearly 25 pilots-80 percent of whom are graduates of NMC's aviation program. We caught up with her during some rare downtime on the ground to see what's up in the world of private flight.

BN: Where do your flights take you?

O'Brien: We're fairly regional to the Midwest, but we go all over the United States, down to the Caribbean … I just took a customer to Palm Springs and had the opportunity to spend a couple weeks there.

BN: Who are your customers typically?

O'Brien: We keep that very confidential.

BN: Is private flight only the domain of business tycoons?

O'Brien: Not necessarily. We've got bean counters, middle managers flying all the time-there's a lot of value in face-to-face meetings in industry, and we facilitate that in less time and for less money.

BN: Seriously?

O'Brien: Say you want to go to the Upper Peninsula or Milwaukee. If you're flying out of a small town like Traverse City, there's no stopping in Detroit or Chicago first. You're there in 45 minutes, for less than $2200 [on a plane that can sit up to nine people]. You walk in the door and right on the plane. No baggage, no security line-it's as though you stepped into your air-conditioned car. You just call up, and we're ready and waiting for you to go.

BN: Other perks?

O'Brien: For some people, the main reason they [charter private flights] is that they can fly with their pets. I have one guy who flies, I think, just because he loves his dog so much.

BN: Why private flight? Why not pilot for a big airline?

O'Brien: On a big plane, you never know whom you're traveling with. My customers always know me by name. It's a different experience-here, my job isn't just flying, it's taking care of the customer. The man who owns my plane-I feel a great responsibility to fly him and his family. I need to take care of them so they can take care of their business.

BN: Your plane?

O'Brien: Certain crews are assigned to certain planes. I usually operate a Citation Jet. It's incredibly efficient and technologically advanced

BN: What do you recommend for speed?

O'Brien:The Learjet-it's the fastest. A little cramped inside, but it's like a rocket.

BN: How rare are female pilots these days?

O'Brien:We've got two here [at ASI], but women still only make up eight percent of the industry. People always ask me if I'm the flight attendant. I say no, I'm the captain. Then I ask them to sit down. BN