Being the most experienced Chief Pilot of HondaJet aircraft is no easy task. However, Azim Sumar has a wealth of experience in the role and sat down to discuss his journey, role at Volato and more.
Azim Sumar currently holds the role of Chief Pilot and Director of Training for Volato, two roles that he says work hand in hand, with a critical element, is managing. Azim moved from Kenya to the United States, and his first goal was to get his pilot license.
However, returning to Kenya did not end up happening quite as he may have imagined. Despite returning to Africa for a short stint of flying, he quickly realised that America had become his home away from home, and Azim now permanently resides in the United States.
After 9/11, Azim found himself as an assistant chief pilot. After this role, Azim took a sabbatical before returning to the industry as an instructor with Flight Safety International. Following this, there were roles at Cessna on their production flight test team, instructor in a Gulfstream, flying Gulfstreams and then a role as a training director. Management became a crucial part of his job, and that’s where he finds himself today with Volato.
Azim speaks of his previous roles highly, explaining that, like with any career or mere job, it’s hugely important to take bits and pieces from everything that correlates; it’ll bring you to where you are now.
All experience is valuable experience, according to Azim. You may not be overjoyed even if you’re working a 9 to 5 in a role. Azim has had the pleasure of being involved in all areas of the industry, from engineering to the instructional side. It meant that he’d become a better manager, understanding what it takes, the actual demands of each specific role and being understanding of that with his colleagues.
HondaJet has always been in Azim’s blood, and he’s been lucky enough to see the company’s development from an insider view and exterior, with the aircraft they’ve been releasing and are planning to release in the future.
His first experience came in 2006. Azim’s admiration is evident, explaining that Hondajets, launching their first aircraft, had a plane already on par with competitors. They’re a leading force in the sector and ensure that every product produced, any innovation and every decision is carefully curated for maximum efficiency and customer satisfaction.
While the future can be unclear, Azim believes that for HondaJet, the sky is the limit, with the ability to strengthen its aircraft portfolio.
“They’re starting to venture out; they’re looking at more Honda facilities for service, so they expand their grip on that. Once the 2600 comes out, there’s maybe something bigger after that. But, again, it’s Honda. Once they get something finessed, they are experts at it. Then there’s no stopping them.”
Currently, Azim works for Volato under Matt Liotta. See my interview with him here. Volato was started through Matt’s vision, realising that so many aeroplanes were transporting one or two, maybe even four, and it was a waste of resources. Matt didn’t want to be a pilot. However, he wanted to be in the back. One thing led to another, and fractional ownership became at the forefront of the idea for Volato. They’re expanding their services, though, as per Azim.
“Since then, we’ve included the aircraft management and the charter once we acquired our 135 charter certificate. So now we can do that, and we’re also starting aircraft management. Hopefully, soon, we’ll have maintenance facilities out there as well. So, and then FBOs, training facilities, we have … it’s just a company that we provide instructional services for upcoming pilots. So the vision is to have an aviation company that does everything.”
A company that does it all presents challenges and can also be a risk for any business. Finally, Azim answered the question regarding the speed of expanding a business and how a measured approach to developing services is the way forward.
“We want to pace ourselves, you don’t want to find yourself in a position where you’re grabbing everything, and then you’re dropping things off. So I think it’s more of a priority too – this is a resource we have, this is a skill level we have, this is what we’re going to do. And then once we finesse that, once we’re expert at that, you start adding more things to it.”
For Azim, there are job opportunities as far as the eye can see, but why exactly did he choose Volato? Azim dives deeper into some of the core reasoning, alongside, of course, Matt’s vision but also a passion for the company that continued to radiate everywhere.
“Nicholas Cooper’s background, individuals such as Josh Newstead, who was my predecessor, Jim Lawson’s background, and we’re looking at who we’re trying to bring on, and you can see the individuals now in the company, Mike Parker. So we have individuals with the vision to those with the skill and expertise. So I think we’re headed the right way, and we’re getting more and more individuals in our company that have good firepower either previously or currently in the industry.”
Azim’s other role as briefly touched on, is also a Director of Training for Volato. He delves further into the role and its specifics.
“With such oversight that the FAA had over 135 companies and 121 as well, we have to make sure training is a priority, it’s the utmost … it’s the most important thing, and it has to be done right, right from the start. If you do not train your individuals correctly, they’ll be unsafe; they’ll feel less confident, and their performance won’t be great because they’ll always be going to second guess themselves. They’re not going to be the experts in the aircraft, and it might reflect down to the customers – if the customer asks a question and they don’t know the answer, our maintenance team is calling them and saying, “Hey, did you try that? Did you try that?” and they have no clue what’s going on.”
However, Azim has made a name for himself through HondaJet, being the most experienced Chief Pilot globally on the company’s jets. However, what goes into a role as Chief Pilot? Azim explains that the two positions he currently holds are similar and can work together.
“Once they’ve finished their training and the qualifications, now they go into the line, now you have to manage them and make sure they’re always on time, make sure their duties are correct, make sure their flight times are correct, make sure their assignments are suitable, and then make sure that the training is currently scheduled correctly, and make sure that their fatigue is never in doubt, make sure that their schedule is correct, they’re assigned to the right aircraft.“
It doesn’t stop there, however, as a Chief Pilot. Azim is also responsible for helping pilots with questions, giving advice and more. While pilots have a lengthy training period, they’ll never know every question in the book, especially in the early stages of their careers. In addition, questions may surround trips, hours and more. So Azim is on hand to answer any questions pilots may have about their aircraft, upcoming flights and more.
Azim’s day in life, or it should be said week in the life, is also a very intriguing read.
“From Monday through Wednesday, every day is, or our case, the morning till mid-afternoon like today was, is because we’ve been hiring workers for a while. So the mornings, I usually do interviews. So you’re looking at hiring more talent at Volato. Then come afternoon, maybe you have an aircraft broken down, so now you have to look at the whole schedule and help our operations team figure out how you can fix the problem. They’re pretty good at it themselves. But often, they want a second look, so you jump in and get this pilot out of here, put him on this aeroplane, and move the plane here. So, frequently, you get into operations and management calls and then wind down and play cricket when you get a break.”
Azim’s journey is fascinating and inspiring, proving that the sky is the limit if you put your mind to something. He is now part of a company shooting for the stars, on a mission to become a leading aviation services company, diving into the fractional ownership world and more. Led by Matt Liotta, an inspirational figure, the company is in safe hands for an exciting future.