Stellar flies a Citation Excel for customer contact, strategic planning and construction management

Company works with Nestle, Kraft, Sara Lee in creation of refrigerated
warehouses, food processing plants and commercial facilities.

Stellar provides architecture, engineering and construction services to many public, commercial, government and military operations such as Kraft Foods, Bell and Evans, Starbucks, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach FL.

Chief Pilot and Flight Dept Mgr Paul Petraglia joined Stellar in April 2004. As the company's 1st pilot, he was instrumental in the launch of the flight department. In the beginning of his career, Petraglia was always airline bound. "Prior to Stellar I didn't have any concept of corporate flight operations," he says. Petraglia flew for Mesa Airlines and was also an FO on a Lockheed L-1011 with American Trans Air. Then he was hired by United Airlines and flew as FO on Boeing 727 and 737 aircraft for 3 years.

Seeing furlough on the horizon, he garnered a workforce investment grant from the state of Nevada to pay for a CE500 type rating. As predicted, he was furloughed in January 2003 but with his new type rating in hand, he was able to move into a Part 135 charter operation out of CLT (Charlotte NC). That job led to his 1st experience with corporate flying and he never returned to the airlines.

Petraglia graduated from JU in 1993 with BS degree in aviation management and flight operations. When approached about the job with Stellar, he was happy to return to his old stomping grounds, although he admits that moving into a Part 91 operation was a huge learning curve. "It was orientation by fire, but I've never been involved with a better group of people and an organization that takes pride in its employees like Stellar does," says Petraglia. "I love what I do and would not give any consideration to going back to the airlines."

Petraglia is quick to recognize and appreciate the unique corporate culture of Stellar executives. "Management respects our judgement and decision making, even if it means saying 'no, we can't go.' This makes our job so much better,"
he adds.

Captain Zach Lautzenheiser joined Stellar in 2015 as an Excel FO. He was typed right away and now the 2 pilots swap legs. Lautzenheiser began flying in high school in 2002 and also dreamed of becoming an airline pilot. He entered JU in 2004 on a track for the airlines and earned his pilot ratings flying out of Craig Airport with Delta Connection Academy (DCA).

They were affiliated with JU at the time before being acquired by Aerosim and renamed Aerosim Flight Academy. Lautzenheiser graduated in 2007 with a BS degree in aviation management and flight ops.

Determined to fly for the airlines he began instructing at DCA. Unfortunately, the market crashed when he was getting ready to apply for an airline job in late 2008. The airlines stopped hiring and began furloughing, so he remained at DCA as a group leader in charge of academy instructors. As a 141 check instructor with self-examining authority, he gave check rides and issued certificates for Private, Instrument and CFI licenses.

In 2012 he applied to Florida Fish and Wildlife to be a law enforcement officer flying a Cessna 182. After a year-long hiring process he was offered the position but turned it down when he found out his wife was pregnant and the baby had heart problems. He would have been gone for nearly a year of training.

Things turned around for Lautzenheiser when a former student informed him about the position at Stellar. He was hired with 2000 hours, 750 multiengine in Seminoles and 600 in a Cirrus SR20.

Lautzenheiser really enjoys the small family atmosphere at Stellar. "The company has a great culture and provides a good work/home life balance," says Lautzenheiser, He is also responsible for booking vehicles for Stellar passengers, updating contract fuel, ordering catering, and keeping the aircraft stocked with supplies.

Pilot training, schedules and lifestyle

Chief Pilot and Flight Dept Mgr Paul Petraglia joined Stellar in 2004. As the company's 1st pilot, he was instrumental in the launch of the flight dept. Paul holds a BS degree in aviation mgmt and flt ops from Jacksonville University.

Petraglia and Lautzenheiser are Stellar's 2 full-time pilots, and both of them are typed in the Citation XL. In addition to attending CAE in Dallas for annual recurrent training, they participate in supplemental safety training courses such as Embry Riddle's hypoxia awareness in Daytona Beach.

Every quarter they make it a point to review emergency procedures, cover memory items and discuss abnormal scenarios and solutions to stay sharp. Emergency procedures are always at the top of their minds. Prior to the 1st flight of every day they brief engine failures or fire procedures.

Stellar flight ops average 250 to 300 hours per year, and they expect to surpass 300 in 2017. A typical day starts with a 6 am brief, then they check the weather, file flight plans, and do systems checks and preflights to be ready to launch by 7 am. Trips average 300 to 1000 miles with 5 to 6 passengers.

Travelers include architects, engineers and designers visiting plants, and other executives attending groundbreaking ceremonies or negotiations. Normal operations have them on site for 6 to 7 hours. They return to JAX the same day 90% of the time. Crews alternate flying every 2 legs.

"Our schedules are fairly predictable," says Petraglia, "We usually know 2 weeks out what we are doing. However, we will get an occasional pop-up trip for emergency response." Pilots fly about 25 flight hours each month and average 3 to 4 RONs. They rarely fly on weekends but do spend time at the hangar in between flights to manage regulatory responsibilities and management duties. If one of them needs time off, they use a contract pilot to fill in.

In addition to his many other duties, Petraglia works directly with executives to schedule trips, order maintenance and create itineraries. For most maintenance, the company outsources to the Cessna Citation Service Center in GSO (Greensboro NC) and uses CAMP for mx tracking.

Aircraft and equipment

Stellar flies a single Citation Excel Model 560XL equipped with Honeywell Primus 1000 and Dual Universal FMS. To ensure uninterrupted operations once the ADS-B mandate takes place January 1, 2020, the company is exploring options for upgrading its avionics or moving into another aircraft.

"While the XL is perfect for our mission and we're very happy with its 99% reliability rate, we may consider a NextGen-equipped aircraft – one with a little more utility, dual wheels and better braking for going into short or contaminated runways," says Petraglia.

Just over a year ago, Stellar added inflight Wi-Fi for both pilots and passengers. "Before we made the decision to get Internet, we fielded a lot of questions about the need for constant communication and feasibility," says Petraglia. "Now it's not uncommon to see 8 to 10 devices in use in the back, and no one wants to be without it."


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