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For Member Company, Safety Is a Continuous Learning Process
South Carolina Aeronautics Commission was one of just two Member Companies to receive NBAA's inaugural 75-Year Safe Flying Achievement Award last year.
The flight department, which is based at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE), uses a King Air C90 and 350 to provide on-demand air transportation for a variety of state officials, including the governor, members of the general assembly, constitutional officers, state agency personnel, and state college and university representatives, as well as business prospects.
Longer-range missions include transporting the governor to Washington, DC, but most flights involve short, intrastate hops from Columbia to Greenville or Myrtle Beach. Service is provided on a first-come, first-served basis.
Some might question the need to fly such relatively short distances, but as Chief Pilot Hugh D. Tuttle notes, the time savings add up. "We can fly from Columbia to Greenville in 30 minutes," thus eliminating a two-hour drive for a state official. "By flying instead of driving, a traveler can have a one-hour meeting and be back in their office by early afternoon."
In the interest of transparency, the flight department's flight logs, by law, must be posted on the commission's web site within two weeks to accommodate.
Vital Ancillary Duties
Besides being tasked with providing safe, reliable air transportation, South Carolina Aeronautics Commission has several related missions. If the governor declares a statewide emergency, the commission coordinates the use of all the state's aviation assets. Even under normal conditions, the commission provides maintenance, hangar space and fueling services for other state-owned aircraft.
South Carolina Aeronautics Commission also actively promotes aviation safety and education, as well as development of the state's public-use airports. Tuttle personally works with the Civil Air Patrol, and is involved with the South Carolina Aviation Safety Council.
Tuttle notes that safety has always been a priority at the commission. "From our early days with our first aircraft, a Gullwing Stinson in 1935, to today's flights with our King Airs, our flight department has always placed a high value on providing outstanding safety and service."
South Carolina Aeronautics Commission has achieved its superb safety record by not only ensuring that its people are well trained, but by honing its operating procedures after a possible safety risk has been identified. The commission's two full-time pilots undergo annual recurrent training, and its two maintenance technicians are factory trained and undergo periodic refresher instruction as well.
"Thanks to well-trained employees and established policies and procedures that are reviewed annually, we have been able to provide a steady hand and a consistently high level of safety and professionalism over the years," says Tuttle.
Incorporating Lessons Learned
South Carolina Aeronautics Commission's operations manual includes many industry best practices, but the safety section also includes procedures developed from real-life experience. For example, a number of years ago, a pilot deviated from his altitude assignment because he was busy handling a radio call. As a result, procedures were revised.
"Now, when ATC asks us to change altitudes, the pilot not flying inputs the new altitude into the box, and the pilot flying has to acknowledge the new altitude assignment," explained Tuttle. "Everyone is on the same page. We don't assume that the pilot flying knows that the pilot not flying put the new altitude into the box. Also, when we get within 1,000 feet of the new altitude, the pilot not flying announces ‘1,000 to go.' Since we incorporated this new procedure, we have had no problems with this type of altitude bust."
In addition to addressing specific risks, South Carolina Aeronautics Commission has had a long-standing tradition of holding monthly meetings to review general safety issues, including the most recent operational advice from manufacturers. Tuttle asks everyone in the department – Co-captain John Young, Contract Pilot Mike Hugg, Chief of Aircraft Maintenance Neil Baker and Aircraft Maintenance Technician Paul Gravesandy – to identify any problem or potential problems and then help
"The idea is, if we are not doing something right and something happens, we have to put our heads together and figure out how we are not going to make the same mistake again," explained Tuttle. "Because we are such a small group, if anything ever happens during a mission, we always do a debrief right after the flight. Issues get discussed and resolved right away.
"Flying can be easy, but when things get tough, that's when you separate the good pilots from the bad," Tuttle continued. "The more things that a pilot does habitually well, then the better able he is to focus on a problem when it arises."
Tuttle also credits Baker and Gravesandy for South Carolina Aeronautics Commission's spotless safety record. "I am most proud of our maintenance guys. They help preflight the aircraft and tell us everything that is going on with the airplane."