First Premier I owner reflects on 100 hours in the sharp end

 - November 14, 2007, 9:37 AM

Troy Eaden learned to fly just three years ago, but these days you’ll find him in the front office of the first Raytheon Premier I to be delivered. He took possession of his new airplane in late June, bolstering a tradition of ownership that began with the new Bonanza A36 he bought right after qualifying as a pilot and continued when he traded the piston single for a Jaguar Edition King Air C90B. “The King Air was an airplane I could probably have lived with for a long time,” recalled Eaden, “but trips from Omaha to Florida and California with family made me look at something bigger and more capable.”

Eaden is not only the first Premier I customer but also the archetypal owner for Raytheon’s first shot at an entry-level jet. He has moved up within the Beech/Raytheon family, just as the marketing people hoped it would happen.

How does Eaden like his new jet? When the manufacturer hands an owner to the press on a platter, as Raytheon did, you can safely bet he’s not a disappointed customer. And of course Eaden, 39 years old, is thrilled to bits with his Premier I. He loves the thrust unleashed when he moves the levers forward; he loves the speed; he loves the ergonomics of the cockpit and the room in back for his family; and one day he might fly it single-pilot.

Safety Pilot
Unlike some newly wealthy owners of high-performance airplanes, Eaden has had the wisdom to employ an experienced pilot, Bruce Bartunik, to keep him safe until he feels comfortable alone up front at 430 ktas and 41,000 ft–with his wife and kids in the back and a long way from the private pilot certificate minted just three years ago. Bartunik has occupied the left seat so far, for the first 130 hr or so, and for about 100 of those hours Eaden has been in the right seat. “If I can afford to have an airplane like this, I can afford to have a safety pilot,” noted Eaden.

Of course, the insurance company had some input on this score, too. Bartunik has been flying for 20 years, about half his life, and used to manage a flight department for a bank flying a King Air 200. He also has a couple of thousand hours flying Falcon 10s. For him, a FlightSafety course and 25 hr of dual satisfied the insurors’ scrutiny.
Eaden has about 1,000 hr TT, of which about 600 hr were logged in the C90B. For Eaden to fly single-pilot, the insurance company was going to insist he had 100 hr of dual under his belt before being allowed to strap in alone. “Then,” said Eaden, “it would become a premium issue.”

As it is, with Eaden flying right seat and Bartunik cleared to fly the airplane single-pilot, the premium for Eaden’s Premier I is $30,000 a year, about $6,000 more than the premium had been for his King Air.

Flying single-pilot in the Premier is not a burning ambition for Eaden, although it was a consideration when he was evaluating which jet to buy. “It’s a goal of mine one day to fly it single-pilot,” Eaden told AIN, but then he rethought that and conceded he might never fly it single-pilot. “Bruce has more than 100 hours in the left seat now, and I wanted that before we switch seats,” Eaden said.

‘So Darn Fast’
Is there anything intimidating about the Premier, compared with the King Air? “No. Nothing,” said Eaden. “I have found the jet emergency procedures are actually easier because of the more central thrust line and no propeller management. The airplane is so darn fast you do have to watch speeds. It picks up speed so quickly. Bruce has commented on the raw acceleration. You put those thrust levers forward, and it just wants to go, with no looking back.”

Eaden flight planned on 240 ktas in the King Air; in the Premier he gets 430 ktas, burning on average 1,000 lb of fuel per hour of operation. “Assuming fuel costing $2.50 a gallon, that works out at about $375 an hour. For the ground it covers, it doesn’t burn much more than the King Air.” His preferred cruise altitude is about as high as it gets: “We’ve been doing a lot at flight level 390 and 410, the certified ceiling, and we’ve been using max cruise settings up there.”

Eaden recalled a recent trip: “The other day we brought it back from San Diego to Omaha. We had to trim off about 300 pounds of fuel to accommodate the cabin load, and we made it back nonstop to Omaha with 750 pounds remaining.” Hangarage in Omaha costs $900 a month.

Has anything broken on the airplane in the first 130 hr? “Other than regular glitches–a bad circuit or a bad fuse or a chafing wire, common stuff–it’s done extremely well,” said Eaden.

How did Eaden, who didn’t learn to fly until 1998, end up taking the first copy of an airplane unveiled in 1995? He took the delivery position from the original buyer, who changed his mind for undisclosed reasons.

Former Fractional Owner
If Eaden is the archetypal Premier I owner from Raytheon’s perspective, he’s also a compelling component of the argument that fractional ownership benefits all of business aviation by bringing in fresh blood. Before becoming a pilot, Eaden owned part of a NetJets Citation V Ultra. “NetJets did a fine job,” he recalled, “but when you look at the raw expense (because fractional is by no means a cheap way to go) I guess you can get more airplane for your money by buying–depending on how much flight time you need.

“I calculated that if I flew a couple of hundred hours a year I could make the math work on owning my own Premier I outright, as opposed to owning a quarter share of a comparable aircraft,” concluded Eaden.

Fortune Built on Phone Calls
Eaden made his fortune as a cofounder of West Corp., one of the largest call-processing organizations in the U.S. The company was founded in 1986, and this year it will have revenues of about $850 million. The company provides a customer-service function in what Eaden describes as a soup-to-nuts package, from taking the call to dealing with the issue.