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Feature Story

Business Aviation Keeps This Company Connected

Connections. Steve Edwards, co-owner of the Edwards Group – a privately held Seneca, SC corporation that publishes community newspapers, magazines and e-newsletters; operates radio stations and web sites; and is involved in real estate development – believes that connections are essential to success in any endeavor.

But while the Edwards Group’s publications and associated web sites help keep the residents of smaller communities connected, managing such a diversified set of enterprises and the 350 employees who work in far-flung locations – from South Carolina to Michigan to Wyoming – isn’t easy. That’s why the company uses a Pilatus PC-12 single turboprop piloted by Steve Edwards and based at Oconee County Regional Airport (CEU) in Clemson, SC to meet most of its short- and medium-range travel needs.

“I don’t think we could run the company without an airplane, because when you have problems in a company our size, you have to handle them right now. That requires a time machine that gets you where you want to be,” declared Steve Edwards, who is president of Edwards Land Management, the company’s real estate division. “For us, it’s about getting to the problem, fixing the problem and getting home. It’s a great tool – one that we couldn’t live without.”

Connecting to Rural America

Jerry Edwards, who co-owns the Edwards Group and serves as president of Edwards Publications, agrees with his brother that it would be difficult for them to run their business without an airplane.

Not long ago, when the PC-12 was down for maintenance, Jerry attempted to travel commercially from South Carolina to Riverton, WY, which is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Casper, WY, the nearest city with substantial airline service. Not only did the outbound multi-leg journey take virtually all day, but during the return trip he spent more than 12 hours stuck in Denver.

Typically, the PC-12 makes the direct flight from Seneca, SC to Riverton in about four-and-a-half hours. “I could easily have gone from South Carolina to Wyoming and back in the time I spent in the airline terminal,” Jerry Edwards said ruefully.

The PC-12 serves the Edwards Group even better when multiple stops at smaller airports are required. Jerry Edwards noted, “I can leave our home base [in South Carolina] at 6 a.m. and be in Alpena, MI by 8:30. I handle business there until noon, grab some lunch and then fly to Caro, MI. I work there for four hours, then fly back home and have dinner with family.”

The Edwards brothers aren’t the only employees who travel on the PC-12. When company people needed to go to Holland, MI to inspect a printing press that the Edwards Group was considering buying, some press technicians went along to inspect the equipment. After a senior management meeting held in South Carolina concluded, the airplane was used to bring company leaders back to Michigan and Wyoming. And when a printing press breaks down, the Edwards Group can use the airplane to send technicians and replacement parts to get the press up and running as quickly as possible. “That’s thousands and thousands of dollars of savings,” noted Steve Edwards.

Equally important, the Edwards Group uses its airplane to acquire new businesses. “With acquisitions, you have to be in a position to move now,” declared Steve Edwards, who has made trips to a number of destinations on short notice to close acquisition deals. “We would lose those deals without the airplane,” he asserted.

Keeping a License, Sharing a Ride

Steve Edwards is not only an entrepreneur, but also a noted author and motivational speaker who makes up to 50 appearances per year in front of college and corporate audiences, drawing upon his business and aviation experience to help teach people how to improve their lives.

Edwards, who has been a pilot for more than 30 years, often tells audiences of his decade-long battle to control his diabetes without taking medicine that would disqualify him from being a pilot. “I have worked so hard to be a pilot. Every day is a battle for me to deal with diabetes, [but] I don’t want to give up flying and what aviation does for our company.”

The Edwards brothers also believe it is important for them to use aviation to support their community. When local cancer patients have needed transportation to a treatment center, the Edwards Group has rolled out its airplane at least a half dozen times. For example, a priest with a brain tumor who could not endure a six-hour car ride to a hospital in North Carolina was flown several times to the medical facility in just over an hour. The PC-12’s wide cargo door enabled the wheelchair-bound patient to be loaded easily on to the airplane. When asked to perform such missions of mercy, Steve Edwards said, “We always say yes.”

You have to be in a position to move now. We would lose those deals without the airplane.

The Edwards Group also has made its plane available to support Pilot-N-Paws, a Landrum, SC-based nonprofit that organizes transportation of orphaned dogs from kill shelters to no-kill shelters. During one airlift from New Orleans, the Edwards Group’s PC-12, which normally is configured to carry six passengers, transported 33 dogs and four people.

The Right Airplane for a Unique Job

Although the PC-12 has excellent range and payload characteristics for a single-engine airplane and is fuel-efficient and inexpensive to operate, Steve Edwards concedes that he has thought about operating a jet. “Any turboprop owner who says he doesn’t want a jet is lying.”

But when he runs the numbers, it’s clear to him that the turboprop is the right airplane to meet his company’s travel requirements. The higher cruise speeds of jets are attractive, but smaller jets don’t have the payload capacity that the Edwards Group requires and would need to make a fuel stop to reach the company’s most distant destinations, increasing overall block time. And larger jets can’t operate into some of the short fields that the Edwards PC-12 utilizes.

So whether it’s the current company airplane or a new PC-12, the Edwards Group plans to continue valuing its turboprop for making the business connections that ensure its continued success.

To Own or Not to Own?

New NBAA Guide Helps Answer That Question

Review the Rules of Thumb for Business Aircraft Ownership and Operating Options.
www.nbaa.org/rules-of-thumb

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