Two East Coast flight depts hit by hard times

 - April 15, 2008, 8:40 AM

When a Fortune 500 company’s fortunes crash and burn, corporate jets usually go up for sale and pilots end up looking for work. Such is the case with Tyco International, which has had its share of negative headlines over the past month. What that means for Tyco’s 22 flight department employees (11 pilots) at Portsmouth (N.H.) Pease International Airport (PSM) is that Tyco’s two Falcon 2000s, Falcon 900, Sikorsky S-76 and Beech Baron are on the block. The flight department personnel, in turn, are back on the job market.

Chief pilot George Vincent confirmed the bad news. “We have ceased operations–the hangar will be shut down and the aircraft sold,” he told AIN. He is optimistic that his employees will be successful in finding work: “The job market could be a lot worse. And we’ve been treated fairly by the company on the way out. We have some breathing room.”

While he said all the flight department employees are disappointed and saddened by the breakup, he added, “We’ve gotten a flood of calls and e-mails from people in the aviation field offering job leads and any other help they could. I find that gratifying. It tells me we were respected and people know we ran a good operation.”

Meanwhile, another large East Coast flight epartment has been hit hard, downsized to just one aircraft. Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna, one of the largest U.S. insurers, completed a virtual closing of its flight department last month that resulted in the dismissal of all but two administrative personnel out of 24 employees, and the sale of a Falcon 2000 and one of two Sikorsky S-76s. The company kept the other S-76 “for short flights,” but is outsourcing the flight crew. Aetna purchased shares with NetJets to provide executives “access to more aircraft,” a company spokesman said. Aetna will also sell or lease its portion of a shared hangar at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn.

Aetna plans not only to save an estimated $3.3 million annually from the staff and operations reductions but also to realize as much as $20 million from the sale of the aircraft, according to the company. Aetna execs will have access to a smaller helo of as yet undisclosed make and model that will be managed by NetJets. John Rowe, Aetna’s chief executive, said in April that the company has identified about $300 million in cost savings it plans to achieve this year, and the aircraft sale is apparently part of that strategy.