One V.I. family had a Thanksgiving get-together to remember at the Cyril E. King Airport this weekend, with help from the Port Authority. The celebration began as American Airlines Flight 1461 landed on Friday afternoon.
On board, in the cockpit, sat copilot Adrian Tutein, 33, a graduate of the St. Croix Educational Complex. On the tarmac, friends and relatives gathered to welcome him. They were joined by Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe and Airport Manager Jerome Sheridan.
Family patriarch Gilbert Sprauve rose from a wheelchair provided by airport service agents to hail the arrival as passengers began to disembark. Earlier on Friday, Sprauve helped lead the annual observance of the 1733 Forstberg uprising on St. John.
The aviator’s mother, Massarae Sprauve-Webster, stepped onto the tarmac and waved a Virgin Islands flag as the jet rolled to a stop. She was accompanied by her husband, Augustin Webster, who she said was instrumental in helping to raise Tutein, and by Tutein’s father, Phillip Tutein.
Dowe and Sheridan escorted the young copilot from the plane to the airport lounge, where a modest reception was prepared. Parents, grandparents, friends of the family and other relatives trooped inside behind Tutein and the Flight 1461 pilot, Capt. Kevin Haynes.
Tutein’s arrival was lauded in a Port Authority statement as one of two Virgin Islands pilots making the flight from Miami to St. Thomas that day. The other was retired Navy Lt. Commander Sigo Sprauve, Tutein’s uncle, who was a passenger on the flight and is a pilot with United Airlines.
During a conversation in the airport lounge, the young copilot said he got the inspiration to pursue an aviation career from watching his uncle’s example.
“As I was wrapping up high school, and the question comes: So what are you going to do? The natural decision was to go into aviation,” Tutein said.
The chance to sign up with American Airlines came in early 2022, he said, at the end of a long effort to amass the required number of flight hours. By the time he graduated college in 2011, Tutein said he had already met the requirements to earn the needed certifications to become a pilot.
Sheridan called Friday’s arrival a special day when a young Virgin Islander came home bearing the rank of an aviation officer. Dowe presented both pilots with gift watches as mementos. The watch faces bore the images of St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John; he told his special guests he hoped each time they checked the time, they would think of this day.
Then Dowe told the gathering about efforts undertaken at the Port Authority to expand opportunities for other Virgin Islanders to train for opportunities in aviation. So far, he said, there was potential financial support to be found in the Legislature.
Talks with the owner of a local flight school showed similar promise, Dowe said. Those talks are expected to continue into the coming week with Education officials and Port Authority representatives.
Everyone who takes advantage of the new program may not become a pilot, he said, but there are other duties in and around airports that could be filled by the Virgin Islands, given the proper training.