Thank you, Javier, for taking the time to speak with us about your inspiring path to where you stand now as an enviable helicopter pilot (among many other things) in New York City. First, would you mind sharing how you discovered your passion for New York and flying helicopters?
It was easy: aviation is in my blood; my father was an amateur pilot who would take the family off to the Caribbean on his small plane, and my uncle also owned and flew airplanes and helicopters. I stalled my destiny by starting off as an investment banker, but once I realized there’s more to life than banking-related benefits, I was able to wrap my head around the possibility that one could, in fact, make a living as a helicopter guide. It took my wife a while to hop on the bandwagon (when I first told her my idea of swapping piloting for banking, she responded, “Are you crazy!?”), but our lives have improved tenfold since; now that I work for myself, I can spend more time with her and our children, and that’s priceless.
How did Wings Air Helicopters come into the picture?
It all spurred from hating being stuck behind a desk. I needed an escape, and I found it in flying. While I was working for Deutsche Bank, I saved enough money to buy an airplane, which I proceeded to rent out for lessons with an instructor who I hired. Naturally (wink wink), next I bought a helicopter, which I also started to rent out. After a few years, I came to the realization that if I really wanted to make the whole operation work, I had to be in it 100%. It took 12 years, but I finally transitioned from banking to flying, and I’ve never looked back. Thankfully I have that Columbian blood; my Latin roots make me very optimistic, and, in turn, I was doggedly determined to do what I knew would make me happy at heart, regardless of any doubts.
In working for Wings Air Helicopters, what has been the biggest highlight?
The biggest highlight for me has been watching the company grow. We’ve gone from being a flight school with one helicopter to a multi-aircraft operation that can accomplish a wide variety of missions, including charters and aerial cinematography. I also like that I can work however long or short I like, and I never have to miss out on having dinner with my family.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
You can pretty much find me doing one of three things: flying, tending to official business in the office, or meeting other business-related personnel. It would be nice to be up in the sky 99.9% of the time, but unfortunately I have to take care of office things too. Work hard, play hard, right?
What is the best trip you have ever lead?
I always enjoy taking celebrities for a ride. I like to be able to talk to them during the flight; they’re very different in real life.
Have you ever had a bad guided trip?
Despite careful planning, we’ve had flights when weather has interfered, and we have had to either turn back halfway, or stay in the middle of nowhere until the storm passes. It’s always an adventure!
Ever had any odd requests from clients on a guided tour?
In fact, yes: on an early morning charter to Saratoga Springs, my passengers got hungry and asked to stop for breakfast…mid-flight! Fortunately, my co-pilot knew of a deli en route, so we landed the helicopter there (somewhere along a road in upstate New York) and picked up a few egg sandwiches. Best. Breakfast. Ever.
Since we all know no job is perfect, would you mind sharing some of the downfalls of being a guide in New York?
New York is an extremely competitive market, so it’s hard to stand out. Our goal at Wings Air Helicopters is to provide the kind of personalized service and attention that a client wouldn’t get anywhere else. We’re unique, that’s for sure, but it takes time to find one’s footing here.
As an experienced guide, can you think of any tips that people should know about before going on a guided tour?
With our tours in particular, don’t lose your cool. And what do I mean by that? I mean it’s great to get excited, but remember to pay attention; it’s important to acknowledge the dangers of being around huge electrical machines like helicopters. Those blades have no mercy. The bottom line is to listen to your pilot: if you follow his or her instructions, you’ll be ensured a safe and efficient flight.