Kohl's flight department

National retailer with more than 1100 stores in 49 states prizes personal connections and flies Challenger 605 and Learjet 45XR. Av division partners with EJM to maintain high standards.

Flight dept personnel

Chief Pilot Frank Duckwall earned his private pilot license at age 18. He joined Kohl's in 2011 after receiving a call from the CEO inviting him to launch the company's flight dept.

Kohl's employs 5 pilots, each of whom fly approximately 250 hours a year and average 1 to 2 RONs per week. Chief Pilot Frank Duckwall grew up around aviation. His father was a professional pilot, so he developed a passion for flying early on. He began his flight training while in high school, earning his private pilot license at 18 and his commercial and CFI soon after. While in college he flew charter in Northern Michigan and did some flight instruction. Duckwall moved to the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1994 to fly for a small airline.

After 4 years he was hired as an FO by American Eagle to fly ATR 42 and 72 turboprops and Embraer ERJ 145 regional jets. When the airline began furloughing pilots after 9/11, Frank decided to return to corporate aviation. In 2005 he was hired as chief pilot for Sterling Aviation and flew Citation 650s, Beechjets, Learjet 45s and Challengers.

In 2011 took the job with RJ Corman Railroad but shortly after joined Kohl's and has been there ever since. Duckwall has taken courses towards a BS degree in Technology and Applied Science from Northern Michigan University and is responsible for daily operations, overseeing the pilots and mechanics, and maintaining a seamless operation.

Pilot hiring requirements follow EJM standards. Applicants must meet a minimum of 3500 total flight time, hold an ATP license with 1 or more type ratings, and have logged 1500 hrs PIC in turbine-powered aircraft. EJM also prefers previous corporate flight ops or jet charter experience, plus a bachelor's degree or equivalent work experience.

Average logged flight time for pilots who fly for EJM is 9600 hrs. Kohl's pilots are exclusive to the company, their schedule is dictated by Kohl's and pay and benefits are guided by Kohl's.

Flights are generally scheduled weeks to months in advance. Pilots mostly fly on weekdays with very few short notice trips or flights over holidays. Schedules are accessed through a convenient calendar application where everyone can see all the trips and post days off.
In addition to flying, all pilots have non-scheduled hangar time duties. On non-flying days, pilots complete paperwork and make sure the aircraft are stocked, cleaned, maintained and ready to fly.

Pilots love working for Kohl's and feel it is a great corporation with an excellent balance of work and time off. "I am very proud to be a part of Kohl's. It's a tremendous company," says Duckwall. "And by partnering with EJM our flight department is better for everyone."
For pilots interested in flying for EJM or one of its managed flight departments, EJM Dir of Ops Steve Jackson says, "We expect a lot, but we give a lot in return. We don't try to micro-manage the flight departments we oversee; we respect their experience and judgment, but we do make sure everything is regulatory compliant."

Aircraft fleet and equipment

DOM Alex Kalempa has always been interested in aviation. His experience overseeing 12 aircraft as chief inspector at Sterling Aviation prepared him to run the mx dept at Kohl's.

Kohl's 1st Learjet 45XR, purchased in 2009, was equipped with Honeywell Primus 1000 avionics. In 2011 the company purchased a 2nd 45XR. Then in 2016 they then sold the Learjet in 2016 and acquired a Bombardier Challenger 605 in order to keep up with the department's evolving requirements.

Each of the Kohl's aircraft flies on average 280 hours per year and trips are completely paperless. Pilots use iPads with Jeppesen charts and Rockwell Collins ARINC for flight planning, weather and communications. Additionally, both aircraft are equipped with Iridium Satcom phone systems, AFIS, WAAS and Aircell ATG-5000 Wi-Fi capable of high-speed data transfer.

Kohl's is planning to update the aircraft avionics this summer to meet the 2020 mandate for ADS-B Out. Additionally, the Challenger will be fitted with SVS, multiscan weather radar, LRC, RNP AR 0.3, and FANS-1/A. Additional equipment presently installed includes AFIS on the Learjet and Collins Ascend Information Management on the Challenger. These upgrades will permit worldwide database download and update, as well as downloading aircraft faults back to the MKE base for troubleshooting when the aircraft is away.

Expected downtime for the project is several weeks and the work will be done by Bombardier Wichita. The maintenance team will be on-site for the input side and remain engaged throughout the process. "By the time they're done with our Challenger 605, we'll have essentially everything that's new on a Challenger 650," adds DOM Alex Kalempa.

Aircraft maintenance

Kohl's has 2 A&Ps on its maintenance team. As with the pilots, they are dedicated exclusively to the company's flight department.

DOM Alex Kalempa came from Sterling Aviation to join Kohl's in 2011. He has always been interested in aviation. Growing up near Pittsburgh, PA his father would take him to watch airplanes land at PIT (Pittsburgh Intl). He was in awe of the heavy iron and years later saw a quote by Leonardo da Vinci that most accurately portrayed his passion, "For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return."

Before Kalempa had a driver's license, he rode his bike 8.5 miles each way to the HXF airport (Hartford WI), to work at an FBO. He initially wanted to be a pilot, but he had to get glasses and at the time that derailed his dream of flying. He decided to work on aircraft and enrolled at Fox Valley Technical College in Oshkosh WI, where he earned his A&P. Kalempa then relocated to Milwaukee to work at the MKE Cessna Citation Service Center, where he worked his way up to becoming chief inspector.

At Kohl's, Kalempa is responsible for overseeing aircraft mx requirements, including scheduled and preventative maintenance planning, keeping up aircraft records, and tooling and equipment. "We maintain our aircraft to a very high standard," he says.
The Kohl's mx dept is based at Signature Flight Support MKE and they do most work in-house. Anything beyond 12-month intensity is sent out to Bombardier, but some jobs will occasionally go to Flight Star, West Star or Duncan Aviation.

For maintenance tracking, EJM uses Maintenix as the primary source, cross-checked against CAMP to ensure both systems are correct and in agreement. Monthly MSRs are automatically generated by the Maintenix software. After the tracking programs undergo the regular cross-checks, tasks are transferred to a spreadsheet that projects maintenance out 24 months. This provides a visual method of grouped tasks and serves as a quick reference of what is happening in any given month. "EJM provides us with great support. They are always on standby, just a phone call away," says Kalempa.

Training, committees and safety

Kohl's pilots and mechanics train annually for each aircraft at FlightSafety Intl; pilots go there twice each year according to EJM standards. In addition, international flight procedures training is done through Scott IPC in Denver CO.

EJM participates and maintains the highest ratings with auditing agencies. The company has achieved ACSF, ARGUS Platinum rating, IS-BAO and Wyvern Wingman certification. Consequently, Kohl's benefits from those accreditations – subject to annual EJM audits. The department also benefits from established SMS and ASAP programs. Internally the team holds quarterly pilot and safety meetings in addition to being active in the Wisconsin Business Aviation Association, where they meet with other operators to discuss issues and share information.

Kohl's is a member of NBAA, and Duckwall encourages the team to take advantage of the professional development and leadership courses the organization offers. Additionally, EJM supports and provides leadership training to its member partners.

Charity and philanthropic projects

Kohl's has a rich history of supporting communities across the country. In 2000, the company launched Kohl's Cares, including a merchandise program that has raised and donated over $300 million since its inception. The program features popular books and plush toys for $5 each, with 100% of net profit benefiting children's initiatives nationwide. Kohl's Cares also partners with hospitals across the country.

From its humble beginnings chartering aircraft to support a growing operation, Kohl's has been dedicated to excellence both on the ground and in the air. When tasked with launching the flight dept in 2011, Duckwall was asked to create a department where employees would want to stay until retiring. That mission set the tone for a workplace culture where people are valued, appreciated and loyal. The Kohl's flight department has truly created a winning team.

Cindy Youngblood holds an ATP license and is type rated in the BE400, CE500 and CE560XL. She serves as president of Women in Corporate Aviation and has extensive experience in both Part 91 and Part 135 ops.


1 | 2 |