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When the Businessperson Is the Flight Department

Dick Shine is a business aviator who wears many hats. As the owner of a family metal-recycling business near Buffalo, NY, Shine is a pilot who uses his company's Mitsubishi MU-2 for both business and personal travel. Because he is the company's aviation department, he's the pilot, chief pilot and flight operations manager – all at once.

Owner-pilots are quite common. Typically, it's someone who learned to fly a single-engine airplane at the local airport and, as the business prospered and needed greater capability, he or she purchased a twin-engine aircraft. The owner takes the skill and experience garnered from the years flying those single-engine airplanes and applies it to the new, sophisticated company airplane. After a few orientation rides, the owner is ready to put the new aircraft to use.

Well, not so fast.

A minimum of training may be adequate for smaller, piston aircraft. But for pilots who are new to turboprops or light jets, there is a need to develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) similar to those used by many larger flight departments. When moving up to faster, more complex aircraft, following SOPs – as is done by the airlines, charter operators and other fly-by-the-book organizations – is critical. The "book," in this case, is an operations manual, said Shine.

"Most operators I talk to say they use the aircraft flight manual," said Shine, who serves on NBAA's Board of Directors. "But I tell them, a flight manual shows you how to fly the airplane. An ops manual shows you how to be safe."

Relying on SOPs to Enhance Safety

While Shine may seem to be a typical owner-pilot, he actually calls upon 20 years of military aviation experience each time he fires up the MU-2. During his Air Force career, Shine was a C-130 and C-141 flight instructor, where standard operating procedures ruled. It wasn't always that way, he said.

During the 1950s and 60s, the military experienced lots of crashes. Military pilots were still applying the World War II "kick the tires, light the fires" flying philosophy in the less-forgiving jet age. To save lives as well as aircraft, the U.S. Department of Defense required aircrews to follow detailed SOPs. The resulting drop in accidents was dramatic.

"Military pilots are young and somewhat inexperienced, but they're safe because they're using ops manuals," Shine explained.

The airlines learned the same thing as they entered the jet age. Pilots attempting to fly the new swept-wing airliners using the techniques more appropriate for a Douglas DC-6 caused numerous accidents. As a result, all airlines developed comprehensive SOP programs without any prodding by the Federal Aviation Administration.

An owner-pilot upgrading from a Cessna 182 or Piper Arrow to a turboprop or light jet is, in many ways, experiencing the same transition.

The increased power comes with a price: an obligation to thoroughly understand all those new systems and devices – altitude alerters, yaw dampers, auto feather, flight management systems, autopilot, pressurization controls, traffic alert systems and enough warning lights to make the annunciator panel look like a Christmas tree.

That's why flying sophisticated aircraft – particularly turbine-powered ones – should be a total-flight approach, not just piloting the airplane.

Creating a Single-Pilot Ops Manual

Inspired by Mitsubshi's pilot proficiency program, as well as the annual fly-ins where Mitsubishi owners receive safety training, Shine developed his own two-page operations manual.

He drew from several sources: ops manuals from the Air Force and other companies, the NBAA Management Guide and a lot of his own experience. His guide, which provides procedures for each phase of flight, is applicable to all aircraft. For example, under Preflight Planning, "if departure weather is below landing minimums, designate a departure alternate within 30 minutes and at a minimum en route altitude obtainable on one engine."

SOPs found in operations manuals ensure that certain things always happen at certain times. For instance, a common SOP during a precision approach is bringing down the landing gear when the glideslope index is one notch above the glideslope on a horizontal situation indicator or is one dot above the "doughnut" using a course deviation indicator.

Other common SOPs are altitude callouts, checklist calls and flow checks, where pilots memorize a sequential pattern for doing certain cockpit chores that are confirmed with a checklist. These procedures, as Shine noted, keep flights safe and have little to do with how to fly the airplane. SOPs also enable pilots who have never worked together to conduct a flight as a team. In addition, they ensure that a single pilot has accomplished all necessary tasks.

Benyam (Ben) Negussie, who flies a Piper Navajo single pilot for a Virginia paving company, says SOPs are his prompts that ensure nothing is overlooked. During climbout, for instance, he performs a flow to check for proper instrument indications, and, if everything looks good, he engages the autopilot and confirms his flow with the checklist.

For getting his destination weather, Negussie sets the ATIS frequency in the No. 2 transceiver and waits for the "R" in the digital display to illuminate, indicating a strong signal. When that occurs, he then selects Com No. 2 on the audio panel. The procedure eliminates interrupting cockpit chores several times to raise the ATIS.

"I still brief the approach, no matter what," said Negussie, a former regional airline pilot. "It's a reminder of what I need to set up."

He then uses the audio panel as a checklist to confirm that the necessary frequencies for the approach are properly set. "I point to each button. You can't go wrong," Negussie said.

Procedures that cover everything – before, during and after a flight – not only help single pilots reinforce safety, but they assist them in complying with rules, regulations and even insurance requirements.

In short, standard procedures create the proper structure and environment to help single pilots operate as safely as possible. They're really a checklist for the entire operation. They create standards, set limits and demand expectations. In short, they make every pilot a better one.