"There are two kinds of pilots," says Adam Schaefer, Tradewind Aviation’s Director of Operations. "Those that have a mechanic's license and those that wish they had it."
Schaefer, a graduate of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, is one of the latter. The license was not required, but he was encouraged by a superior while at Embry to get the mechanic certification (a 15-month post-graduation course at East Coast Aero Tech, with two months spent on electrical problems and six on engine problems). He can disassemble and reassemble a jet engine, knowledge that he says "helps mostly to communicate with the mechanics if there's a problem in flight," although he has on occasion repaired a Tradewind plane himself.
Schaefer's passion for flying started at age 12. As he had for several summers, that year he was spending his school vacation on Block Island with an uncle. Another uncle came to visit in his friend's Piper Warrior and offered to fly Schaefer back with him to Hamden, Connecticut.
"The pilot made the mistake of saying, 'Do you have any questions?' he says, and from then on the flight was nothing but question-and-answer. "I was hooked at that point." He got his private pilot's license at 18 upon graduating from high school.
Schaefer primarily flies the Pilatus PC-12, which Tradewind operates on scheduled shuttle and private charter flights throughout the Northeast US and Caribbean, as well as the Citation CJ3 jet, typically used on flights of 500 miles or more. "The beauty of the CJ3 is going from New York to Florida non-stop at 45,000 feet," Schaefer says. That trip (roughly 1,000 miles) takes 2.5 hours, about the same as in a B757.
One of his favorite Tradewind destinations is Fishers Island, off the coast of Rhode Island—"I like it because there's almost never any other traffic there.” It's mostly a golfing destination, which gives Schaefer four or five hours free to spend at the beach located right at the end of the runway. He also likes St. Barths, which sometimes allows a quick swim. (His favorite beach is Colombier, one of the island's most isolated strands.) As for the landing, he says it's challenging, "but once you've trained for it, it's not hard. It's a matter of knowing and sticking to the landing profile."
Schaefer has the hours to move up to a larger plane and a larger airline, but two things keep him at Tradewind. One is that the smaller airports Tradewind uses are less of a hassle. "The hardest thing about big airports is taxiing," he says. "At Westchester Airport (White Plains, NY) it takes two minutes to reach our terminal. At JFK it can take 15."
The other—and clearly bigger draw for him—is the personal relationship he develops with customers. "We have regular customers every week," he says. The relationship cuts both ways, however, meaning that Tradewind returns the commitment, something that Schaefer says is perhaps the company's key characteristic.
"Tradewind stands for safety and service," he says. "We'll move mountains to get a customer another aircraft or get a mechanic there to fix it."