In this installment of Interview with an Aviator, we introduce a pilot that put his aviation career on hold decades ago – only to reach for the stars later in life and accomplish his dream.
David Hanner, Base Chief Pilot at Jet Linx Indianapolis, graduated with a degree in aviation from Indiana State University. After graduation, he chose to enter the mortgage and finance industry, where he enjoyed a long and successful career until the aviation bug finally took hold for good in 2006. Already well-versed in the industry, he got a running start and jumped into a career flying a Hawker 900XP.
In total, Hanner has amassed over 6,000 flight hours flight instructing and flying for companies including Republic Airways and Jet Linx.
Hanner’s impact at Jet Linx stretches beyond the cockpit. In 2017, he was awarded the Jet Linx Supply the High Grand Prize for going out of his way to provide supplies to residents of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. As Base Chief Pilot for the Indianapolis location, he works closely with local crews to ensure seamless operations, while working to reinforce company culture. Read on to learn more about Hanner and his efforts to Supply the High in his Jet Linx flight career.
Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in Indianapolis, and I am blessed to have an amazing and supportive family. My wife Katte and I have been married for nearly 29 years and we have a 16-year-old daughter, Maisy. More than anything, I enjoy spending time with the two of them when I’m not working. As Base Chief Pilot of Jet Linx Indianapolis, I’m either piloting a Hawker 900XP or assisting fellow pilots with scheduling, training or hiring. When not on the job, I just try to spend as much time with family as possible.
Do you have any other aviators in your family?
My grandfather was in the Marine Corps and he was also a private pilot. He didn’t fly in the military, but our family has a small farm with a grass strip, and there used to be a small hangar there. I vaguely remember being at that farm and on the airstrip as a child, and I seem to recall that my great grandfather may have sold Taylorcraft aircraft, but that’s all before my time. I have some fond memories at the farm and on that grass airstrip.
I did have a great uncle that was an aviator in World War II, which always captured my attention as a child. I vividly remember a painting that hung in my great uncle’s law office of a B-17 that is titled, “Fortress Under Fire.” I found out years later he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “extraordinary achievement” while serving as a B-17 pilot in the Air Force. Seeing that picture and the service award has always stuck with me.
I still remember the small town where his office was, and the large picture behind his desk. This helped solidify two major decisions in my life; I wanted to serve my country and I wanted to be a pilot. In 1987, I joined the United States Navy Reserves and in 1989, I obtained my private pilot’s license while studying aviation at Indiana State University.
When did you interest in aviation begin?
I can’t pinpoint one moment or another where it dawned on me that I wanted to fly, I’ve just always known that I wanted to be a pilot. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated with airplanes. When I was little, my mom reminds me that I would point to the sky as a plane would fly over and exclaim, “appa-jay!” and all of my toys as a child were centered around aviation. As I grew, my fascination with aircraft became stronger and stronger. My parents bought me a discovery flight when I was about 14 or 15. That was in a Cessna 172, which was the first time I had been in a cockpit. That was a real step forward in terms of dreaming about something and actually experiencing it – so that propelled me in the right direction at a younger age.
Walk us through your career before flight.
I did not take the traditional path to becoming a pilot, but it began when I graduated Cum Laude from Indiana State University in 1992
with an aviation degree. Back then, the market for pilots was soft, and the ability to earn a respectable income as a flight instructor was not possible. I was offered a job as a flight instructor at American Trans Air, but the pay was so low I couldn’t justify accepting the offer. I was pretty disappointed to work so hard through school only to find out that I would barely earn more than minimum wage working as a flight instructor. In a sense, my aviation career – at least the first time around – ended before it even began. After a lot of deliberation, my wife and I decided to forgo my aviation dream for the time, and I began a career in mortgage and finance.
I graduated from Indiana State with a minor in business, and one job led to another. I eventually landed a nice job that I held for about 15 years as an area manager with a Fortune 500 mortgage company while also earning a license as a Certified Residential Appraiser.
I really have no regrets about my time in that industry, but I always knew I wanted to be a pilot someday. I also think that the time away allowed me to learn some things I would not have been able to if I became a pilot straight away. It allowed me to grow a bit more mature, practice a little patience, and build some business acumen as well.
What brought you back to aviation?
The aviation bug returned in 2006 when I was consulting for a large real estate development in Fort Myers, Florida. The project involved the construction of a large building which was going to impact the local airport. This building was perfectly in line with a runway, so I had to work closely with the airport and the FAA to redesign the approach to accommodate the construction of the building. In the end, that building was never constructed, but while spending time at the airport, I ended up getting refamiliarized with flying. Around 2006, career prospects looked better than they did when I graduated with my aviation degree, so with a blessing from my wife, I took my first steps towards becoming a pilot – again.
I officially returned to aviation in 2008 when I obtained my Multi-Engine commercial license. I had been on hiatus since 1992, so I immersed myself to become proficient with flight instructing, and I began instructing full-time soon after. I instructed for nearly three years before landing an opportunity to fly as a First Officer in a Citation CJ1, Citation Bravo, and Citation XLS. In 2013, I left my corporate flying job to work for Republic Airways flying the Embraer 170/175 until accepting a job in 2015 with Jet Linx flying the Hawker 900XP.
What do you like most about being a pilot?
I saw a T-shirt once that said, “I’m a pilot – what’s your superpower?” I believe the ability to take an aircraft to flight is my superpower. I can’t imagine a more rewarding or fulfilling profession.
I also love the sense of adventure that comes from private aviation. I often tell others I begin each morning with a pretty good idea how and where the day will take me, but there’s that “X-factor” that makes every day unique. Challenging weather, complex airports, passenger interactions, schedule changes, international destinations; no two days are alike. What other profession allows you to wake up in Boston, MA, stop for lunch in Miami, FL, and finish the day in Aspen, CO? Even a job with a commercial airline wouldn’t provide that.
Finally, I love the feeling of satisfaction when we’ve completed a challenging day. There is a sense of pride knowing our passengers were delivered safely, comfortably and efficiently to their destination. If we did our job successfully, we have elevated the passenger’s travel from simply a mode of transportation to a memorable experience.
Why do you enjoy working for Jet Linx?
I enjoy the flexibility that comes along with a business that is large enough to have many resources available, but also small enough to allow for unique opportunities you would not find elsewhere.
For example, my wife, daughter, and two of her best friends were scheduled to take a vacation this past summer to St. Petersburg, Florida. Two days before our vacation I noticed we had an empty leg scheduled from Chicago to Fort Myers the next morning. I called my wife and asked if she and the girls would like the opportunity to see what I do on a daily basis, and experience private air travel. With little hesitation the four of them said yes and quickly packed and headed to Chicago. As I began preparing the aircraft, I asked them if they wanted to come to the cockpit and observe. I fully expected them to decline since like most teens they were busy in the back taking “selfies” for Snapchat and Instagram – much to my surprise I was wrong. All three of them came to the cockpit and spent about 30 minutes with me watching and learning. They all loved the trip to Florida, and for me it was the highlight of the vacation. I don’t think that would have been possible with different operators.
What is your favorite aspect in the Jet Linx culture?
My favorite part of the culture at Jet Linx is catering to our passengers and providing the personal touch. As a crew member, I get the opportunity to engage with a variety of passengers and cater to their unique needs and preferences. When you fly for a major airline, you fly the same routes and then you go home. There are few surprises – and some people enjoy that. I like the variety of experiences I’ve had over the years. I also appreciate that my input is heard. If I have an idea it can have some room to breathe and possibly take root to improve systems and processes.
What about the Jet Linx safety culture?
When it comes to safety, I think Sheryl Clarke (Director of Safety), Mike Kopp (Director of Operations), and Ari Sarmento (System Chief Pilot) are really amazing at soliciting feedback. Not only is your opinion wanted, it is valued. Our Safety Management System is impressive, and needs that consistent nourishment in order to thrive and improve. I think that constant effort to refine our processes and systematically improve is what defines a great safety system because that work is never complete.
What is your fondest memory as a Jet Linx pilot?
In 2017, with the help of Jet Linx Indianapolis Pilot Tess Mast, I was able to lend a hand following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. An aircraft owner had contacted Jet Linx wanting to get his family out of the area, and that required two different trips over three days. Tess and I thought that while we were in the area, we might aswell offer assistance. We both purchased cartloads of water, Gatorade, diapers, and snacks in anticipation of our return trip.
Going into Puerto Rico just one week after it was hit by the hurricane presented numerous challenges, beginning with the flight planning. Because of the widespread nature of the storm, most radar facilities were inoperable throughout the islands, which required specialized routing, holding, and flying the last several hundred miles at VFR altitudes. We spent hours planning our flight trying to come up with every contingency, and both flights went smoothly. In all honesty, Tess and I had a great time and a lot of laughs going to the store the night before our return trip. I’m still not sure how we fit all those supplies in that poor rental car! Our colleagues at Jet Linx awarded us the 2017 Supply the High Grand Prize for this effort.
What type of aircraft are you typed on? Do you have a favorite?
I have experience in several Cessna jets including the CJ1, Bravo and XLS, as well as the Embraer 170/175 and the Hawker series. It’s difficult to narrow it down to a favorite – I really enjoyed the Embraer with all of its automation and technology, but the Hawker 900XP is a very capable aircraft for a variety of missions and a pleasure to fly. I always like to compare the Hawker to a flying minivan – it may not be the sexiest option, but you can fill it up with fuel and passengers and easily get where you need to go. Most planes don’t have this kind of capability, but the Hawker offers a nice balance between the two.
What are your favorite airports to fly into?
My favorite airports are the ones with beautiful or interesting scenery during the descent, approach and landing phase of flight. Some of my favorites include Saint Maarten, Telluride, San Diego, and Reagan National Airport in Virginia. That said, it’s always nice to land in Indianapolis and have a few days at home before the next adventure.
Throughout your aviation career, what have been your favorite destinations?
It’s hard to pick a favorite destination because every trip is so different. What I have found is if you take the time, you can find something noteworthy or memorable most anywhere you go. Sure, most of us enjoy the occasional trips to a tropical location, but I’ve also enjoyed wine tasting in Napa, majestic waterfalls in Oregon, hiking in Yellowstone, exploring museums in Washington, D.C., or immersing myself in the local culture in Costa Rica.
Anyone that has flown with me also knows I enjoy the ability to explore different types of food across the country. With much trial and error, I can point you in the right direction for the best beef brisket (Terry Blacks in Austin, TX), the best Ramen (Carlsbad, CA), the best authentic Chinese street food (Queens, NY), and the best Cuban food in Miami. If you want to know what’s good at any of the major chains, I won’t be able to provide any assistance. I like to support local businesses and find something unique and authentic.
Did you have a mentor to lead you along the way?
Ed Daugherty, a retired Jet Linx Captain, and I worked together at a previous company before working together again here at Jet Linx.
He was instrumental in teaching me so many tidbits when I was beginning my corporate aviation career. I still try to pass along that knowledge today. One of his musings that sticks out to me is, “Fly people, not airplanes.” Ed used to tell me that our passengers should deplane at their destination and never feel like they were on an airplane. I try to conduct each flight as smoothly as possible, so my passengers feel like they are in their recliner at home.
What advice would you give an aspiring aviator?
Never give up. This can be a difficult career with a lot of highs and some occasional lows. Stick with it, pursue your dream and keep reaching for the stars.