Flight Department Profile: Chalk Hill Winery

 - November 5, 2007, 5:19 AM

For some flight-department managers, the thought of the boss and his 150-pound Great Dane flying a brand-new, small jet around the world might be cause for concern, but not for Mark Dietrich, aviation manager of Chalk Hill Estate Winery Flight Department.

Dietrich’s boss is Fred Furth, a preeminent antitrust litigator who focuses on class action lawsuits and is CEO of Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards and Winery in Healdsburg, Calif. Flexibility is a requirement for the winery’s flight department. In fact, Dietrich told AIN that a week before he made the round-the-world flight by himself, Furth casually commented, “By the way, next week Brandenburg and I are leaving to go around the world in the [Citation] Mustang.”

Dietrich keeps the flight department running smoothly in his role as aviation manager, mechanic and I.A. He developed his enthusiasm for business aviation early in his career. After high school Dietrich enlisted in the Navy for four years, was trained as a jet mechanic and was stationed at NAS Alameda. His squadron operated DC-9s and Sabreliners.

“I was 18 years old and went to the Sabreliner initial maintenance school,” he said. “I was exposed to business aviation at an early age and I really enjoyed it.”

Later, Dietrich worked for CSX Beckett Aviation, where he serviced Furth’s Sabreliner 60. During the three years Dietrich worked on Furth’s aircraft the winery kept expanding. One day Furth asked Dietrich to work for him full time so Furth could move up to the winery. Dietrich accepted and the two made the move in June 1986.

Furth’s real love is working with the earth, but there is a lot to be done beyond Chalk Hill Estate, and he’s developed the ideal flight department to make it happen.

“Fred is all about doing things right,” Dietrich said. “This flight department, not counting the aircraft, is probably in the neighborhood of about $2.5 to $3 million. We have 14,000 square feet of hangar space and an additional 2,500 square feet of office space. Fred’s commitment makes this all easy to do. He’s not shy about giving you the necessary tools to get the job done right and take things to the next level. Fred always does things first class and expects a first-class operation in return.”

Dietrich said Furth has owned aircraft since the mid-1970s when he first bought
a Bonanza. He transitioned, in order, to a pressurized Baron, Duke, King Air F90 and (in a short-lived partnership) a Sabreliner 60. In 1983 he bought a Sabre 40 Silver Edition and moved it and Dietrich to Santa Rosa in June 1986. Three years later he traded it for a Sabre 65.

“In 1997 Fred bought his first Cessna Citation X and liked it so much he ordered a new one in 2000. He also had a Cessna Turbo 206 amphibian he flew for fun,” Dietrich said. “In 2002 the new Citation X arrived and the next year he had a Soloy conversion done to the 206, converting it to a Rolls-Royce 250 turboprop. That lasted until 2005, when he got the Grand Caravan, and the next year he added the Mustang.”

Fleet Supports a Multitude of Missions
The current fleet–a 2002 Cessna Citation X (S/N 192), a brand-new Citation Mustang (S/N 7) and a 2005 Cessna Grand Caravan–provides a range of aircraft that covers all of Furth’s trip requirements from international to getting away for a couple of days to go camping, and Furth is always in the front seat flying.

“Fred started flying in 1959 when he earned his private pilot certificate while in the Army,” Dietrich said. “For most aircraft owners, getting in the back of the airplane is an opportunity to relax en route to business; but not Fred. For Fred, flying is relaxing. We always joke that he would have been a professional pilot except it just didn’t pay enough.”

“Why would I buy an airplane for someone else to fly?” Furth said. “Besides, I want to know what’s going on. I like to be in control.”

Furth is the flight department’s senior captain and Jeff Stock, also rated in all the aircraft, flies co-captain with him. Occasionally the Citation X will make a trip without Furth and Dietrich fills in as copilot to Stock.

Administration is handled by Susan Malouf, whom Dietrich refers to as his savior. She splits her time between the flight department and the winery. Dietrich’s son, Cole, has also worked as a junior tech part time. “He’s not a licensed mechanic but he’s capable and helps me with maintenance and occasionally hangar maintenance,” Dietrich said. “Cole is about to start working as an FAA ATC controller at the local tower, so now that we’ve added the Mustang I’ll probably hire on another full-time mechanic.”

The flight department uses FlightSafety for training. Furth, Stock and Dietrich regularly take Citation X training; all three went to initial Caravan school but only Furth and Stock attended Mustang training.

“It didn’t make sense for me to get checked out in the Mustang,” Dietrich said. “The Citation X flies just under 400 hours a year, of which about 75 percent is domestic, but even though the Mustang is less than a year old it looks like it will top out at about 250 hours this year. It tends to do more personal trips–the fun stuff.”

Furth litigates all over the world and the Citation X is his primary source of transportation, but recently he has become more hands-on with the winery, Dietrich said, so he’s spending a greater proportion of his time using the aircraft in support of it. “We’ve been to every continent except Antarctica. I don’t think there’s anywhere there he could land, but I really don’t want to plant that bug in his ear,” Dietrich joked.

‘Dog Is My Copilot’

“A lot of people ask how the around-the-world trip came about,” Dietrich continued. “When Fred bought the Mustang he immediately fell in love with it. So he and Roger Whyte, Cessna’s senior v-p of sales and marketing, came up with the idea. We had a total of 35 hours on the aircraft when Fred nonchalantly said he was going around the world the following week. I really wasn’t worried about the airplane or whether it could make the trip because it is such an early model. All our experience with Cessna has underscored the tremendous reliability of their aircraft. I also knew there wasn’t anything that could go wrong that we couldn’t deal with.”

Dietrich said the Mustang’s interior is maintenance friendly. “It comes out and reinstalls easily,” he said. “So we removed two seats in back, Cessna made a leather covered filler block for the drop aisle and we put a dog bed in that area.”

Planning an around-the-world trip isn’t trivial, especially when you’re using an aircraft with fairly short legs and you have a dog as your copilot.

“We did do a fair amount of homework because not only did we have the issues you’d anticipate such as customs and immigration, the availability of appropriate fuel, access to airports and so on but we also had to be sure the country was dog friendly,” Dietrich said. “We couldn’t land somewhere and have the authorities quarantine Brandenburg for three months. Fred and I did the planning in conjunction with Universal Weather.”

Furth and Dietrich speak highly of Cessna. “We have an amazing relationship with Cessna,” Dietrich said. “We looked at how both Cessna and our own flight department could support the flight all the way around the world. In parts of the world where Cessna had assets positioned it agreed to provide parts support and in other parts of the world such as Russia, we decided we could launch our Citation X with necessary parts and personnel on board.”

Dietrich said they compiled a top-20 threat list to determine what they thought they might need to support the aircraft. “The majority of it was already in the Cessna Citation Service Center in Sacramento so we figured if a problem did arise we could put the appropriate tools and people in the Citation X, go up the road to Sacramento, pick up the necessary parts, and go wherever we needed to go. We were mostly concerned about the possibility of a cut tire or maybe having to replace a wheel, starter/generator or battery if something was inadvertently left on.

“We were talking about places like Anadyr, Russia. Sure, they have a power cart there, but who knows what it actually puts out? You could end up with a smoldering pile on the ramp.”

Dietrich said they decided not to put any spares on the aircraft. “The Mustang was already carrying Fred, who at six foot three is built like a linebacker, Brandenburg at 150 pounds and full fuel every leg. Besides, how would we know what he’d actually need?” So Furth and Brandenburg went around the world with a handheld Iridium phone as their link to help should they need it.

“The entire flight went without a hitch other than an occasional permit issue when trying to get permission to land somewhere,” Dietrich said. “The Mustang performed perfectly on routine service items only.” The entire trip, including a few business stops in the U.S. and a few days at the Paris Air Show, took about three weeks, with an actual flight time of approximately 38 hours.

It was during a press conference in Cessna’s chalet at the Paris Air Show that Brandenburg received international attention by being interviewed on AINtv.com as Furth described the trip they were taking around the world.

Maintenance is a cornerstone of Chalk Hill Estate’s flight department. “I told Mark in the beginning that I want my jets maintained as the best jets in the world,” Furth said. “I’ve had people look at me funny when I say that, but the reality is somebody has to maintain some airplane somewhere as the best. We’ve made the conscious decision to be that somebody. I gave Mark the absolute authority to say, ‘It’s a no-go today.’ If Mark grounds an airplane, it’s grounded until he says it goes. In all the years we’ve been doing this we have had 100-percent dispatch reliability for every one of our aircraft since the day we took delivery of them.”

“I like to call the Citation X the ‘Perfect 10,’” Dietrich said. “She takes a lot better care of me than I do of her. The Citation X is just a great, highly reliable airplane.” Dietrich routinely goes to FlightSafety for maintenance training on all the aircraft and is a master technician on the Citation X. He estimates he does about 80 percent of all the required maintenance on their aircraft.

“The MSG-3 [Maintenance Steering Group-3] program for the Citation X is really flexible,” he said. “It makes it simple to work around our flying commitments; if we can’t fly, it becomes the world’s most expensive paperweight.” Dietrich was part of the original team that helped Cessna develop the MSG-3 program for the Sovereign, the Citation X and the Excel.

An Airborne RV

Among the airplanes in Fred Furth’s fleet is the Cessna Grand Caravan, Furth’s version of an RV. “Fred and Brandenburg [his 150-pound Great Dane] took the Caravan on a few trips to visit some property Fred has in Minnesota. It occurred to him there were places he could go with the Caravan that would be enjoyable trips but there were no hotels and restaurants. So we began brainstorming and figured out that with the seats removed in back a queen-size mattress fit perfectly in the cabin,” said flight department manager Mark Dietrich.

After that discovery, he said, the Caravan slowly morphed into an airborne recreational vehicle, with the huge cargo pods storing everything from a dining flysheet to a Honda generator that can be plugged into the aircraft to provide AC power. “He and Brandenburg have taken some great camping trips in Florida, the Grand Canyon, on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula and all sorts of places,” Dietrich said.