Coke bottler flies Citation Excel

CLT-based Coca-Cola flight dept provides company air travel and civic good will.

By Mike Potts
Contributing Writer

Members of the Coca-Cola Consolidated flight department include (L–R) Safety Capt Daniel Johnson, Vice Chairman Henry “Hank” Flint, Senior Maintenance Tech Dan Canfield, Av Dir Mark Chaney, Training and Standards Capt Ron Griffin and Chief Pilot Mike Garrett.

Shortly after its founding in the early 1890s, the organization that was to become The Coca-Cola Company made a key decision—not to bottle and sell its cola drink to customers. At the time, all Coca-Cola was sold in soda fountain shops, where syrup was mixed with carbonated water on site to create the final product.

In fact, the president of Coca-Cola thought so little of the future prospects for selling Coke in bottles that he sold the rights to do so for $1.00. One of the first entrepreneurs to be licensed to bottle and sell Coca-Cola was J B Harrison, who began his business in Greensboro NC in 1902.

Over the years the company grew dramatically, and today Harrison’s great-grandson, Frank Harrison III, is chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated (CCBCC), the 2nd largest Coca-Cola bottler in the US. CCBCC serves a customer base of more than 18 million people and does business in 11 states, primarily in the southeast.

The company now has its headquarters in Charlotte NC and is a leader in manufacturing, selling and distributing soft drink products, including carbonated soft drinks, bottled water, teas, juices, isotonics and energy drinks. Most, but not all, of CCBCC’s offerings are products of The Coca-Cola Company.

Beverage Industry Magazine recently named CCBCC the industry bottler of the year, based on its record of innovation and performance.

Adding a flight department

In 1986, with transportation needs growing, CCBCC opened a flight department. Starting out with a Lockheed JetStar II and a Bell 206L LongRanger, flight operations were initially based at CHA (Chattanooga TN) where the company’s executive offices were located.

Then, as now, CCBCC’s operational headquarters was in Charlotte. The advantages of corporate aviation became readily obvious and the flight department soon expanded to meet growing needs. In 1988 the Bell was traded on a Sikorsky S76 and soon after a British Aero­space Jetstream 31A fitted with a corporate interior was added.

In 1992 a 2nd corporate Jetstream 31A was added, and in 1994 a Gulfstream III replaced the JetStar. In 2001 Mark Chaney was named director of aviation for CCBCC. It was a pivotal year for the flight department, as a decision had recently been made to relocate the flight operations to Charlotte. Chaney began overseeing construction of a 37,000 sq ft hangar and office complex for his department at CLT (Intl, Charlotte NC), and also reconfigured the fleet to match evolving operational needs more closely.

A new Citation Excel was ac­quired, replacing the 2 Jet­streams. On delivery the Excel was based at CLT while the GIII continued to operate from CHA during the transition period, which lasted until the hangar was completed in the summer of 2004. By that time the department totaled 17 employees.

In 2006 the cost of fuel, aluminum and corn syrup—key elements in CCBCC’s business—rose sharply. In response the company instituted costsaving measures, including a reduction in flight operations. The GIII and S76 were sold and flight department employment was pared to 7. As the recession continued through 2008, further cuts brought the department to its current configuration of a single Citation Excel and 5 employees—the aviation director, 3 pilots and a maintenance technician.

While the department may be smaller than it has been in the past, it is no less vibrant. Staffed by a team of experienced professionals—the lowest-time pilot has more than 10,000 hrs—the CCBCC flight department employs state-of-the-industry procedures and methods to provide first-class transportation.

IS-BAO certification is pending, and the department has flown more than 25,000 flight hours since 1986 without an accident, including international destinations. Av Dir Chaney is representative of an emerging trend in flight department managers who did not rise from the pilot ranks.

Chaney, instead, is a business major, with a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He is also the maintenance director and a certified aviation manager (CAM). Chaney says his business background is a critical tool in communicating with upper management in the language of business—the charts, graphs and spreadsheets that demonstrate his department’s value to CCBCC’s bottom line.

Chaney started out to be a pilot, earning his private license when he was 17. He knew he wanted to work in corporate aviation and the conventional wisdom at the time suggested that an aspiring corporate pilot ought to get an A&P rating to make himself more marketable. This he did, graduating from Florida Aviation Academy of Aerospace Technology (today National Aviation Academy) in 1976.

Despite his initial plans, Chaney’s maintenance career blossomed, and in the mid-1980s he decided that he could not be both a good pilot and a good mechanic. Realizing that his destiny lay in maintenance and management, he enrolled at the University of Tennessee.

An industry leader

An assortment of products bottled and distributed by Coca-Cola Consolidated. The company sells carbonated soft drinks, bottled water, teas, juices, isotronics and energy drinks.

In 2003 Chaney became one of the first to attain NBAA’s CAM certification. Today he is a member of the CAM governing board. He is also chairman of NBAA’s Cessna 500-series technical committee and a member of Cessna’s MSG3 (maintenance steering group) industry steering committee.

In Oct 2009 Chaney added a dispatcher’s license to his credentials. He had taken on the department’s scheduling responsibilities after a round of layoffs and noticed that the scheduler’s job description called for the license. The company uses Aviation Information Systems dispatching software.

Chief pilot for the department is Mike Garrett, a retired US Army aviator who joined the company at CHA in 1998 after working as an instructor for FlightSafety Intl (FSI) in Hous­ton TX. Garrett’s responsibilities include crew scheduling, maintaining the department’s publications and manuals, and overseeing the other pilots.

With Chaney, he handles hiring new pilots—an infrequent requirement at CCBCC, although the company occasionally uses contract pilots. Minimum flight time for a CCBCC copilot is 1500 hrs, Garrett says, although the company prefers to use cocaptains with a minimum of 2500 hrs TT and at least 500 hrs of jet time.


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