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  • Writer's pictureSun Country

Beyond boarding: An in-depth look at our System Operations Control center

Updated: Jun 6

Dave smiling in the SOC

At Sun Country Airlines, we're all about making travel dreams safe and stress-free. Today, we're spotlighting one of the key leaders who help make that happen: Dave Setterstrom, our Senior Director of the System Operations Control (SOC) center. Dave plays a vital role in ensuring our flights run smoothly, safely, and on time.  

What does the SOC do for our airline, you might ask? Dave explains it simply: "Every airline has a command center that manages daily operations, and ours is called the SOC." This center includes Flight Dispatch, Maintenance Control, Crew Scheduling, and several other essential teams. They work together to coordinate our daily flight schedules, covering our three lines of business: scheduled service, charter operations, and cargo flights. With redeyes, charters, and our overnight cargo operations, the SOC never closes and is staffed around the clock. 


Safety is a top priority for Dave and his team. "Our passengers assume safety because we do not," Dave says, echoing the mantra of our COO Greg Mays. The SOC team can stop operations and fix any issues before proceeding. While on-time performance is important, it never comes before safety.” 


From maintenance issues to crew scheduling to aircraft positioning and transitions from charters to scheduled service and to weather, the SOC is constantly resolving daily disruptions. Dave shared a recent example of how his team works while overcoming a significant challenge. "On Sunday, March 24, we faced a big snowstorm during one of the busiest days of spring break," he recalls. Despite the heavy snowfall forecast, the SOC team planned meticulously, coordinating everything from aircraft routing to crew accommodations to operate our 133 scheduled service flights carrying over 20,000 passengers. Their efforts minimized disruption, with average delays of 29 minutes for departures and 39 minutes for arrivals, even in such tough conditions.  

Dave's journey to his current role is rooted in a lifelong passion for aviation. Despite initially pursuing a post-secondary education in Health Science and spending time in the health care industry, Dave's childhood fascination with aviation eventually led him to change his career path. "As a kid, I always had an interest in aviation and would love to go to the observation decks at airports to watch planes take off and land," he said. This curiosity about the theory of flight inspired him to earn his private pilot’s license in 1995. 


During his flight training, Dave met a Horizon Airlines flight dispatcher who introduced him to the complex world of airline operations. "I was amazed by all the tasks that needed to be completed and coordinated with each department prior to and during every flight," he recalls. This fast-paced, high-intensity environment intrigued him, leading him to obtain his flight dispatch license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Dave held multiple roles within the operations teams, including at Champion Air and Northwest Airlines, before deciding to pursue a management path. 


Dave has faced significant industry challenges throughout his career, including 9/11, the 2008 recession, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic required creative problem-solving skills to ensure the safety of the team to continue the staffing needed in the operation. "We had to reconfigure our SOC room and move teams to different locations while maintaining communication through Microsoft Teams," Dave explains. This experience underscores the importance of flexibility and adaptability in aviation operations.  

Dave working on multiple computers in the SOC

Dave fosters a culture of collaboration and innovation within the SOC. "Together Everyone Achieves More," he says, emphasizing the importance of TEAMwork. The SOC team works closely with various departments, solving problems and coordinating efforts to manage daily flight schedules effectively.  


For anyone interested in a career in airline operations, Dave's advice is to gain experience in multiple areas. "Understanding all the actions and coordination needed for every flight will make you a well-rounded operations leader," he says. Our smaller, unique airline allows employees to interact with all departments, providing a comprehensive understanding of airline operations. 


“I have worked for larger airlines which provided great experiences; however, the larger the airline the more focused you are on a single area and will likely not have the exposure or interaction with all the different aspects of an airline operations.  That is part of why I came to Sun Country. I wanted the opportunity to make a difference and interact with many different aspects of an airline operations,” shared Dave. 


Looking ahead, Dave envisions leveraging technology to provide the SOC team with better real-time information, enabling more efficient decision-making. As we grow, expanding the capability of the SOC will be essential to continue enhancing our travelers' experiences.  


Next time you board one of our flights, know that Dave and his incredible team are working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure you have a smooth and safe journey. People like Dave make Sun Country more than just an airline—we're a community dedicated to making your travel dreams a reality.   


If you're interested in learning more about careers with us, head over to our LinkedIn page to discover how you can join our team.  


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