Luxaviation UK Phenom 300 captain danni Stoney was Ireland’s youngest qualified pilot at the age of 17. Now she’s busily forging a career with global ambition
Pilots in executive and business aviation are a dedicated, driven bunch of individuals. Many come into the industry after military or commercial careers with thousands of hours of jet flying behind them, while for relatively few, executive flying was an original calling. Typically, though, there’s aviation in the family, often way back in the family, and flying is in the blood.
Not so for Luxaviation UK Phenom 300 captain Danni Stoney. Unexpectedly bitten by the flying bug in her teens, she’s founded a sparkling career in executive aviation and is loving every minute. EVA caught up with her in a car somewhere between Salzburg, where she’d parked the jet, and Munich. “I’d had no thoughts about aviation at all when my parents, stuck for what to get me, bought me a flying lesson for my 15th birthday. And that was it. I absolutely loved it. I came down eyes wide open and couldn’t think of anything better to do in the world. I was hooked!”
The sky-struck teenager was the first in her family to consider aviation as a career, “I think my dad had a flying lesson once and maybe my uncle went solo, but that’s it.” By the age of 17, Stoney had her PPL, making her the youngest pilot in Ireland, only to find herself looking at an industry in decline across the board. “So I went to university to study mechanical engineering.”
At the University of Edinburgh she joined the local University Air Squadron, one of a network of units across the UK, run by the Royal Air Force to offer youngsters looking for a serious way into flying the opportunity to progress into military service or the wider world of aviation. “I was lucky enough to continue my flying there while getting my degree,” Stoney says, without mentioning the fact that again she excelled, winning a Royal Air Force Flying Excellence Award.
When Stoney graduated in 2006 the military was also in decline and many budding aviators, especially those with newly won engineering degrees, might have sought alternative careers. “I looked at it in the long term,” she recalls. “Going into commercial aviation, whether the airlines or business aviation, seemed the best path. I was willing to work at anything that would keep me in the industry and making contacts.”
Through bloody-minded perseverance and a big helping of luck, she found a position with CAE in April 2009, working as a Boeing 737-400 simulator panel operator at Oxford Aviation Academy – a very ground-based take-off to a flying career. The Oxford job paid dividends later in 2009, when she learned of an operations and flying position across the airfield with FlairJet, a new aircraft management and charter company.
“I was really lucky to find out about the opportunity. It involved operations, which I’d started doing, and flying, and it was at Oxford, where I already was. It’s how I got into business aviation, which wasn’t something I knew much about, although it had always intrigued me.”
FlairJet introduced both the Phenom 100 and 300 into European service, beginning operations with the smaller jet early in 2010 and the larger, swept-wing Phenom 300 around 12 months later. Not only then did Stoney find herself in a new job, but also on a new aircraft, although it wasn’t all flying.
“When I began training on the Phenom I was the only one who hadn’t come from an established flying career. After me, a few more followed the same path, but looking back I think I was something of a trial case; I didn’t realise at the time because I was just so excited to have a job!
“A lot of the time I’d get the initial quote, then quote for the flight, plan it, deal with the catering and everything else then fly it; I’ve dealt with everything apart from the accounting. Customer service is a massive part of it and it can be extremely rewarding – I really enjoy being able to interact with the passengers and provide a bespoke service. I think the experience has made me an all-round better business aviation pilot.”
Progressing from Phenom 100 to first officer on the Phenom 300, Stoney moved jobs to London Executive Aviation, now Luxaviation UK. In November 2016 she was promoted to captain and continues to build experience in the role. So what impression has the Phenom made?
“I love the Phenom and I’ll always have a soft spot for it, I think you do for the first jet you fly. The 100’s fantastic, the 300’s even better. They’re very similar from a cockpit point of view, but the 300 has longer range and great performance. And it’s got the ramp presence of a much larger aircraft, with the proper staircase and swept wing, and it’s really spacious inside. Perhaps in hindsight, Embraer might have called it something other than Phenom…”
Stoney has built her career on hard work and dedication, embracing opportunities as they arise, rather than attempting to follow a path. She therefore came to business flying with no preconceptions, so what is it that makes the job worthwhile?
“When you see all the hard work from sales, operations, ground staff, brokers and ourselves paying off, there’s real satisfaction. We also fly to lots of amazing destinations, places I would otherwise never see. I’ve taken the Phenom up near the Arctic Circle in Canada, to Cameroon and into tiny airfields I’d never even heard of before. They all make for great days for completely different reasons.
“I don’t think you understand business aviation until you’re in it. It’s a completely different industry. I’ve learned so much, I’m still learning and I’ll continue to learn, especially since passengers, destinations and regulations change all the time.
“I’m really enjoying command on the Phenom 300, but in future I’d like to move on to a larger aircraft to increase my worldwide experience. But I’m very lucky that although the Phenom 300’s range is about 2,000 miles, I’ve managed to take it to Africa, Canada and the Middle East – I’m branching into worldwide, I’d just like to go further!”