Top Pilots Rack Up Hours Flying Safely

NBAA Convention News » 2011
Michelin North America team
Retired pilot Stuart Swanson, seventh from left, with the Michelin North America team.
October 8, 2011, 4:40 PM

The National Business Aviation Association presents Pilot Flying Safety Awards each year to the member company pilots who have exemplary safety records. To be eligible for an award, a pilot must have flown corporate aircraft 1,500 hours without an accident, but the actual number of safe hours flown by many of the 2010 top pilots are above 20,000 hours, and the top recipient, T. William White, chief pilot of the Keller Companies, has logged 31,264.

Like White, Paul Stinebring, director of International Operations for Emerson Flight Operations, second on the list with 26,930 hours; J. Paul Boening of Keller Companies; Ken Qualls of Flight Management Solutions and George Thomsen of ACP Jets, have appeared in these pages before. AIN this year talked with four other top pilots–Bill Starnes, Stuart Swanson, Norman Anderson and Dennis Oliver–to learn their safe-flying secrets. The Flying Safety Awards will be presented today, at the VIP luncheon (by invitation only).

Bill Starnes, chief pilot
K-VA-T Food Stores/Food City Aviation
Abingdon, Va.
26,500 hours
Bill Starnes flies all three of Food City Aviation’s aircraft–a Cessna Citation Bravo, Hawker Beechcraft King Air 200 and a Bell Helicopter 407. Currently, said Starnes, the aircraft are a partnership with Central Coal, based in Bristol, Va. K-VA-T Food Stores operates a chain of food stores in Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. The fight department started with a Piper Seneca and a Navajo.

Starnes has been with the company for five years and previously worked for Pittston Coal. He said he got interested in aviation at an early age. His father was a private pilot and owned a Cessna 172. Starnes was a military pilot for 39 years, flying “all helicopters–Bell 205 Hueys, Bell AH-1G/F Cobra gunships, Hughes LOH6s and Bell 206s.” Not surprisingly, when asked what was his favorite aircraft to fly, he said, “The helicopter.”

He attributes his long safety record to: “Military training and being fortunate enough to have had experienced instructors, both military and civilian, and, hopefully, common sense.”

Stuart Swanson, pilot-captain, ret.
Michelin North America
Greenville, S.C.
22,113 Hours
Stuart Swanson retired from Michelin Tire April 15 after flying for the company for 24 years. Based at the Greenville/Spartanburg (S.C.) Airport, the Michelin flight department operates two Hawker 850XPs with six full-time pilots, three aircraft technicians and one flight dispatcher. The flight department runs daily weekday passenger shuttles to its North American plants. The Michelin flight department started 25 years ago in October 1986, with one Cessna Citation III.

Swanson told AIN, “I have been interested in aviation since I was eight years old. I would watch the small airplanes fly over my parent’s farm in southwest Minnesota and I knew then I was going to be a pilot.” He said that he kept focused on that goal through high school and college, and after getting his certificates, he became a flight instructor, charter pilot and mail pilot for an FBO in Sioux Falls, S.D., flying a Beech 18. “I then did some corporation flying and had a small stint with Western Airlines, based at Los Angeles International, until I was furloughed,” he said. “I went back to fly corporate and enjoyed finishing out my career with a great company– Michelin.”

When asked about his exemplary safety record, he replied: “I have contributed to my safety record with self discipline, awareness, crew coordination and especially flying with other high-time qualified experienced co-captains as pilots.”

Norman Anderson, director of operations, line captain                                                
Skybird Aviation

Van Nuys, Calif.
21,330 Hours
Norman Anderson, who has been with Skybird Aviation for 35 years, trained as an aircraft mechanic in the U.S. Navy and became crew chief on the A-3D. After leaving the military, he went to work for Western Airlines as a station agent. He used the GI Bill to earn his commercial, instrument, multi-engine, CFI and ATP certificates and ratings, as well as A&P certificate. He then worked for Jet Avia as a pilot and there met the owner of Skybird Aviation. When Skybird’s owner bought his first airplane, a Learjet 24E, to operate in charter service, Anderson joined the company.

“In 1977, I held the titles of director of operations, chief pilot and director of maintenance,” Anderson told AIN. “We added aircraft at a rate of about one every three years. Eventually, Skybird operated a fleet of five aircraft–a Lear 24D, a 28, a 55, Gulfstream II and Gulfstream IV. I am typed on and have flown all of these aircraft.

“We now operate only one aircraft: a Gulfstream 550. Most of our flights are dispatched with three pilots and a flight attendant as transcontinental flights. Our most frequent destinations are Brazil, Russia, western Europe and Asia.”

Anderson said that his favorite corporate aircraft to fly is the G550. “It’s a wonderful aircraft. I have been flying it for five years now and I still marvel at what it can do with long trips and short runways.”

When asked to what he attributes his long safety record, he replied: “What I’ve learned about flying is: one, always have a good, solid alternative; two, never fly the airplane where your head has not already been; three, your next flight is the most important flight of your career; four, if you don’t want to embarrass yourself, check the Notams; and five, never try for the first turnoff with passengers on board.” 

He added, “I have always enjoyed hard work and accomplishing the task at hand. I have always tried to anticipate want the boss wants. Early on, I recognized that I needed to protect my integrity. I feel strongly about helping to further the careers of the people I work with. I get involved only with win-win business relationships. If I can’t make the customer happy, I pass.”

Dennis Oliver                                               
Williamsburg, Iowa
21,018 Hours
Dennis Oliver flew for corporations in the financial arena from 1970 to 1994, when he left the corporate world and started flying for his own agricultural company, raising registered quarter horses, cattle and exotic animals such as buffalo, camels and alpacas. The company is based on the family farm, where he first flew at an early age from the farm strip with his mother, who was a pilot. He now keeps his Decathlon there, which he uses most mornings to fly over the pastures and check on the animals. “If I spot a problem, I take a pickup [truck] to investigate.” He keeps the company plane, a Cessna 421C Golden Eagle, at the Eastern Iowa Airport at Cedar Rapids and flies the big twin all over the country for business.

In his last corporate job, Oliver flew the Beechcraft Super King Air 300, his favorite corporate airplane. “It had the big engine and was a great performer,” he told AIN. “When I was in the commodity business, I loved flying into Meigs Field in Chicago, especially at night when you had the lights of the city contrasting with the darkness of Lake Michigan.” Meigs, only blocks from his destination at the Chicago Board of Trade, is now closed. Another airport he misses is Washington National, access to which has been severely limited following the 9/11 attacks.

Oliver also flew air taxi in a variety of airplanes. He said he had never had an accident, incident or violation in his 21,018 flight hours. Situational awareness had kept him safe, he explained, and when focusing on weather, it’s important to know what conditions to expect. “There are times when you can’t go,” he said. “You could, but it would be prudent not to.”

On June 21, 1980, Oliver and a friend set a Guinness world record in a Beechcraft Bonanza for the most takeoffs and landings in one day–138. Two years ago, he received the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award from the FAA.

“Flying,” he concluded, “is an amazing phenomenon.”

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