If Sunday's crash of a Pilatus PC-12 turboprop plane in Montana has raised concerns about its safety, SeaPort Airline's CEO aimed to put them to rest.
"It's one of the safest airplanes in the world," Kent Craford said during a phone interview Wednesday.
SeaPort flies the Swiss-built PC-12s in and out of the Astoria Regional Airport in Warrenton, the Newport city field and the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton.
Craford was more than willing to talk about his company's planes and their safety record.
"There has never been a commercial PC-12 accident," Craford said. "Ever."
And by accident, Craford said that doesn't just mean a plane crash, anything the Federal Aviation Administration or the National Transportation Safety Board could classify as an accident - from landing gear failure to the wing of one plane on the ground scraping the wing of an adjacent plane.
"There has never been anything in 15 years. That is a record no other commercial airplane can match," Craford said.
Flying safe planes isn't only a requirement, it also makes good business sense. One reason SeaPort uses the PC-12s, Craford said, is because safe airplanes mean lower insurance rates. Because of the record of the PC-12, insurance rates are considerably less than other models.
Two words - commercial airplane - are key, Craford said, because commercial airplanes and pilots have to operate at a much higher standard than private planes and pilots do. Craford said there are great private pilots, but it's "really apples and oranges" to compare private and commercial pilots. The FAA requires private pilots must log a minimum of 40 hours of flight time before going solo, but Craford said SeaPort pilots must have 1,500 hours of flight experience.
Likewise, commercial planes have to meet standards that are "exponentially greater than that of private owners," Craford said.
Along with being subject to spot FAA inspections, Craford said SeaPort runs scheduled and unscheduled maintenance using an FAA "approved aircraft inspection program" that SeaPort developed based on its planes and flights.
Craford explained the program uses a computerized maintenance tracking and forecasting system integrated with an electronic parts inventory database. The system tells mechanics when to inspect planes and what they need to do. That information also synchs with SeaPort's parts inventory. All parts have a bar scan, Craford said, so after a mechanic scans in the bar code, the system tracks the part.
The company's mechanics initially weren't fond of the program, Craford said, because they rather turn a wrench than punch a keyboard, but now they appreciate it.
"It takes a lot of the room for error out of the equation," Craford said.
And the FAA likes it because the company can easily produce a maintenance record for a specific airplane.
Craford said he was aware of the recent airworthiness directive the FAA issued concerning the PC-12s elevator cables, which control the up-and-down movement of the tail. He said airworthiness directives are relatively common, and some older planes may have hundreds, but the directives are not optional.
"An AD is something you have to do," he said.
Craford also advised it's too early to come to any conclusion about what caused this crash, and it also would be irresponsible to make conclusions about the airplane. He said it will be months before investigators can determine anything for certain about the crash.
"The investigation will reveal in time the cause of this accident," Craford said, "and given the safety record of the PC-12 it will really surprise me if a properly maintained airplane somehow contributed to the accident."
Flying, Craford also said, still is an "order of magnitude" safer than driving.
On the scene in Montana, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said it was too early to single out any one factor in the Butte crash.
"We're looking at mechanical issues. We're looking at weather. We're looking at the structure of the aircraft. We're looking at human performance, weight and balance issues," Holloway said. "We're even looking at the health of the pilot."
About 800 PC-12s are in service in the U.S. including those used by SeaPort Airlines which serves Pendleton, Portland, Seattle, Astoria and Newport.