NBAA Convention News

Top five commercial flight ops rack up 175 years, 282K hours of safe flying

 - October 1, 2008, 7:14 AM

 Crow has been a family business since 1947, and is run by Eric Barnum, who has been president since 1982. He told NBAA Convention News that Crow operates three Bombardier Learjet 35As–“one of the most versatile aircraft in the fleet in terms of payload and speed; it’s hard to beat,” he said–and a Beech King Air B100. Crow has owned every Learjet model up to the 35A. Barnum admits to being “very fond of Learjets,” but he adds, the King Air is a versatile airplane, too.    

Crow, based at Toledo’s Metcalf Field, has operated Aero Commander twins, Pipers, Beech 18s, a Metroliner, King Airs, Conquests, Learjets, a Caravan and a Grumman Mallard.

Today, 10 full-time pilots fly the Learjets and King Air, and there is a support staff of four for charter sales and dispatch. Most flights are domestic, but bases in Albuquerque and Phoenix are tasked with many Latin American and South American air ambulance flights. Crow also has a charter sales office in Cleveland, Ohio.

Barnum attributes the company’s long record of safe operation to “its relentless dedication to training, maintenance and a culture of attention to detail.” He continued: “Since its inception, operating piston-engine aircraft, both land and sea, through to today’s complex turbine aircraft, the safety of its clients and employees has been Crow’s guiding principle.”

Norman Anderson, who started Skybird Aviation 32 years ago, told NBAA Convention News that the executive air charter company operates a Gulfstream G550, mainly on international flights to Asia, Europe and South America, from its Van Nuys Airport base. Skybird started in 1976 with two pilots and a dispatcher operating a Learjet 24. In just the first five years, it operated a Learjet 24E, 23D, 28, 35 and 55E. In 1979, the company added a Gulfstream II and in 1987 became the operator of the first GIV built. Then, after 14 years, the company traded it for a new GIV-SP.

Skybird now has four full-time G550 captains, a dispatcher, a mechanic and a flight attendant. Anderson said that for many years he thought the reliability, size and dependability of the GIV were unmatched by anything he had flown before “until we took delivery of the G550.”

He was an aviation mechanic in the U.S. Navy, working on the F-3H Demon and F-4H Phantom and was a crew chief on the A-3D. After leaving the Navy he started several aviation companies, including a flight school and charter company, where he built up his hours as a Gold Seal flight instructor.

“I attribute Skybird’s good safety record to hiring the right people,” he said.

“Safety is our number-one company core value,” John Morganthaler, Jr., president of Aero Charter, told NBAA Convention News. “We teach all of our team-members that safety comes before anything else. We have a safety officer, a safety committee and we hold regular in-house pilot meetings that include safety panel discussions.”

Aero Charter, based at Spirit of St. Louis Airport, provides a number of aircraft for charter. In the fleet are a Hawker 800A and 700A, a King Air 200 and E90, two Baron 58s, two Sabreliners and two Piper Chieftains.

Aero Charter also flies organs for medical transplants. Its avionics department specializes in custom installations and retrofit systems. It has an active aircraft sales division and a management care program in which Aero Charter acts as the flight department for the owner– providing flight crew, maintenance, FAA-compliant recordkeeping and catering. In 1995, it introduced Aero Travel, a full-service travel agency.

“It’s the personal service that we offer and our relationships that make us stand out,” said Bob Thomas, the company’s co-founder, co-owner and CEO.

Aero Charter employs 16 pilots, six mechanics and four avionics specialists, with a total of 35 people. Included in the pilot pool are the two owners. Jeff Thomas, Bob’s son, is also in the pilot pool.

The company expects to have its concrete ramp extension ready by mid-month, despite delays in the approval and permit process. “On the good side,” said Morganthaler, “we have become a full-service FBO, able to sell fuel and services to outside clients. We have a strong base of employees and are dedicated to customer service. Even with the delay in the construction process and the increase in construction costs, we are looking forward to being able to provide great service from our existing facility.”

Aero Charter plans to further expand its facilities, its aircraft management, charter, FBO, avionics and maintenance departments “while maintaining our family style environment and all our common core values.”

Celebrating its 25th anniversary last fall, Executive Flight is an on-demand jet charter operator that also provides FBO services and aircraft maintenance. It is also the aircraft contractor to Airlift Medical Northwest, with facilities at Seattle Boeing Field and Juno, Alaska. Based at Pangborn Memorial Airport in East Wenatchee, Wash., Executive Flight operates 12 aircraft including seven Learjet 35s, two Learjet 31As and a Learjet 60, a Challenger 600 and two Commander 840s, all on its charter certificate. Of the 105 employees in all locations, about 50 are pilots, said Timothy Thompson, director of business development, a position he has held for almost nine years.

COO Don Harter told NBAA Convention News that he has been with the company since it was formed, and his first responsibility is safety, and then service. The secret of the company’s long safety record, Thompson added, is its excellent leaders, whose emphasis has focused been on safety and customer service before profits.

The company started with a Twin Turbine Commander, then operated a Learjet 25, later a Learjet 35, and in 1995 bought a Challenger 600. Thompson said his favorite corporate aircraft to fly is the Learjet 31A, while Harter said he likes to fly the Twin Commander.