SeaPort Air flies PC12s to achieve low DOCs in scheduled charter ops

Use of fields with short runways keeps pax happy with arrivals at close-in target terminals.

Chief Pilot Bruce Phillips is proud that over the course of 3 years in business, and during particularly tough economic times, SeaPort has never had to lay off a pilot.

Operating economics

In the under 10 seat market SeaPort has few equipment options to consider. Anything less than 9 seats, such as the TBM 700, would not make economic sense says McKinney. Meanwhile, new PC12s, at about $4.2 million, would not allow SeaPort to operate in the black.

A Hawker Beech King Air 300 might do the job but operating costs would be just too high. Unpressurized options such as Cessna Caravan are not as comfortable on longer 120 mile plus routes while out of production merchandise, such as Cessna 402s, would have less passenger appeal.

"The sweet spot, operationally and economically, is a well maintained 8 to 10-year-old PC12—at about half the cost of a new aircraft—operating 120 to 300-nm sectors that do not directly compete with automobiles," says McKinney.

"We operate PC12s at utilization levels above 150 hrs a month, have performance to get up and over weather quickly and pas­sen­gers have a flying experience similar to a 19 or 30 seat turboprop."

SeaPort runs BFI–PDX services with 40 min flight time, 50 min block to block, with fuel costs as a lower percentage of revenue than is the case with traditional airlines. At altitude PC12 fuel burn is typically 330 lbs/hr at 260 kts. "My personal best between PDX and BFI was 289 lbs or about 43 gal in just over 30 min," says Phillips.

PC12s are "superbly capable" on SeaPort's route structure says Phillips. "We have the flexibility to get into 2000-ft strips but also keep up with the flow on high-speed approaches at busy international airports."

Just as SeaPort has succeeded and prospered through the recent global economic turndown Pilatus Aircraft has also done surprisingly well. The company delivered its 1000th PC12 in Jun 2010 and shipped 79 new PC12s during 2010.

According to Pilatus Chairman & CEO Oscar Schwenk 2010 was the company's best year for sales revenue and operating income.

Pilot lifestyles

Total pilot group numbers 65 with 40 in the lower 48 and 25 based in Alaska. SeaPort hires pilots for attitude and ability to fit in with corporate culture. While SeaPort pilots do not enjoy the same payscales as the larger mainline regionals they do better than many of the smaller regional operations and the focus here is definitely on pilot opportunities says Dir Ops Chuck Hill.

"We're a good step up opportunity into the airlines and larger regionals and the PC12 flightdeck is actually very airlineish. Many of our new pilots are unfamiliar with 2 pilot operations so we have a focus on CRM procedures and best practices."

Working out of Flightcraft PDX pilots typically fly 5 days per week. MEM-based crews fly longer hour 3 to 4-day shifts each week with 12 hour duty days, 6–7 hrs flying each day and 1 RON per week.

SeaPort pilot benefits include 401K plan, health insurance with a small contribution, uniform allowance and pay scales better than many small regionals. Pilots say one of the big appeals to the job is having a regular schedule, hard days off and the ability to be home most nights.

Capt William Eastwood joined SeaPort just over 2 years ago with about 550 hrs TT and advanced to captain 8 months later.

Capt Jason Onstot joined SeaPort 2.5 years ago after being furloughed from ExpressJet Embraer 145 operations out of LAX (Intl, Los Angeles CA).

"Pilot lifestyle here is very good, nobody has ever been furloughed and this is a useful stepping stone into the major regionals and airlines," says Onstot who is also SeaPort's dir of safety.

"We practice extended briefing procedures and are constantly working on enhancing our safety programs."

Alaska ops

Wings of Alaska operates 3 Cessna 208B Caravans and 3 Cessna 207s based at JNU. Asst Chief Pilot Paul Lerma manages a crew of 15 pilots while Dir Maintenance Jason Dungan looks after inspections and procedures up to engine changes.

Caravan fleet operates day VFR and the set up is fairly bare bones with no deice equipment, standard Chelton EFIS avionics panel, cargo pod and quick change seating to accommodate cargo or combi cargo/passenger ops.

As with lower 48 PC12 ops, Wings of Alaska Caravans fly scheduled Part 135 without using airport terminals or TSA screening. Shortest Caravan stage is 20-min run from JNU to HNH (Hoonah AK) while longest stage is JNU–SGY (Skagway AK) at 40 min.

"Caravans fit our market in Alaska well," says Phillips. "They're rugged and dependable with high dispatch reliability. In southeast Alaska we're one of the few operators with turbine equipment. And we like the flexibility of being able to remove seats easily for cargo ops."

This is a seasonal market. About half the pilot group leaves in the fall with rehiring taking place in spring. While pay rates are "average" company structure is good and pilots are home most nights. At the end of the season Wings of Alaska pilots have the opportunity to apply for open SeaPortPC12 positions.

Weather is the number 1 challenge in Wings of Alaska day VFR ops with number 2 challenge being dealing with mixed loads. "We fly a lot of people, a lot of stuff and a lot of mail and we'll often do combi runs with passengers and cargo," says Phillips. "It's a matter of getting everything on the aircraft for a timely departure."

Looking to the future, Wings of Alaska will stay with its present fleet as local market is stable and growth opportunities may be limited suggests Phillips. "We're always trying to identify new opportunities but the current fleet and mission mix is close to ideal given current market conditions.

If we added PC12s to the mix in Alaska we'd have to fly longer sectors and this would bring us into completion with major carriers."


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