Company support helps pilots keep flying safely

 - September 20, 2007, 9:12 AM

The National Business Aviation Association presents Pilot Safety Awards each year to member-company pilots with exemplary safety records. To be eligible for an award, a pilot must have flown corporate aircraft 1,500 hours without an accident, but the actual number of safe hours flown by many of the top pilots comes close to 30,000 hours.

This year’s top five have appeared in these pages before. As we have in the past, NBAA Convention News talked with the top pilots–George Thomsen of Aviation Management Systems, Edward Drennan of Publix Supermarkets (who recently retired), Gordon Czelusta of Rich Products Corp. and J. Paul Boening of Keller Companies–to learn their safe-flying secrets. Together, the top five have flown 130,948 safe corporate flight hours.

George Thomsen
Aviation Management Systems
Naples, Fla.
29,832 Hours
Before moving with Aviation Management Systems to Naples, Fla., George Thomsen flew for the company from Orange County Airport in Santa Ana, Calif. He previously ran his own air charter service in California, flying for Frank Tallman of Tallman Aviation. Tallman did a lot of Hollywood film work with partner Paul Mantz, and Thomsen recalls flying in support of some 30 movies for the pair. “I have a list, but there are so many I just don’t remember them all,” he told NBAA Convention News.

Thomsen flew as a corporate pilot mainly in the timber and mining industries before starting his own charter firm. He did three tours in Vietnam, flying AC-130s and KC-135s. He credited the Air Force for his flying career. “Before I went into the Air Force, I flew as a hobby–I grew up near Fullerton Airport,” he said, “and had no intention of flying professionally. But it turned into a career because of the Air Force–they made my choice for me. I had all the ratings and had done flight instruction at Orange County. When I went into the Air Force, they said, ‘You will fly’.”

Thomsen has added two more aircraft type ratings, which now total 16 at the ATP level. He holds a Gold Seal flight instructor rating, advanced ground instructor rating and seaplane rating. He also received an appointment from the FAA to be a FAASTeam representative for the government safety team initiative.

He reported that after his move to Florida, “My company, Aviation Management Systems, is still growing with aircraft sales, management and contract pilot services. I have also started a newer company, Creative Technology Solutions of Naples, which is in the computer management business” related to Web site design, computer security and business systems for aviation and general businesses.
“With more than 29,000 flight hours,” he continued, “I still enjoy my flights, teaching and my new computer business.”

Edward Drennan
Director of Flight Operations, retired
Publix Supermarkets
Lakeland, Fla.
24,429 Hours
Edward Drennan retired in March as director of flight operations for Publix Supermarkets, after 43 years in the business. He still flies for Publix part time and acts as a consultant for the flight department.

NBAA is giving Drennan a safety award for his 24,429 hours of safe corporate flying, making him one of the top-five safe pilots. He attributed his record to continual training at FlightSafety International–since 1966.

Drennan told NBAA Convention News, “I started flying in college in 1957 and broke into corporate aviation in 1964 flying a Twin Beech with Hooker Chemical Co. in Niagara Falls, New York. Two years later, the company purchased a Hawker 125 and moved to White Plains, New York.” Drennan said he was in the right place at the right time. Before he started corporate flying, he owned a 1948 Stinson Station Wagon and a half share in a Piper Apache.

Drennan helped start the Publix flight department in 1976 with a King Air 200 and a Beech Baron. It currently has two Learjet 60s and a Beech King Air 350. “We don’t fly a lot of hours,” he said, “but we fly a lot of trips. We’ll fly 5,500 passengers this year.” He explained, “The aircraft are not reserved for top management. Anyone in the company can use them for business if their supervisor approves.” He said that the flight department rarely has to cancel a trip. “You can count the number of mechanicals we’ve had over the years on one hand.”

Drennan has type ratings for the Hawker, JetStar, Dassault Falcon 20, Cessna Citation 650, Learjet 60 and King Air 350. He said his favorite corporate airplane to fly is the JetStar. “That’s an airplane I wish they still built. It was the greatest.”
Gordon Czelusta
Director of Flight Operations
Rich Products
Buffalo, N.Y.
24,003 Hours
In 1966, Gordon Czelusta was a highly skilled, highly paid tool and die maker. Then he took his first flight. “I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do’,” he told NBAA Convention News. “I sold my brand-new Corvette and started taking flight instruction. I had a wife, two children, a mortgage, but I became a flight instructor. I would do it all over again.”

Czelusta’s enthusiasm as director of flight operations for Rich Products of Buffalo, N.Y., is still high, and is what he credits for his long accident-free record. “Number one is enthusiasm,” he said. “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing,” he said.
“If you’re not enthusiastic, the enemy is complacency,” he continued. “At Rich, we stress safety above all else.” Also, “standardization training, frequent pilot meetings, situational awareness and excellent maintenance practices are big contributors,” he added.

Another factor that adds to safety and smoothness of operation: “Our passengers always allow the crew to work in their own way, and never question the pilots’ judgment or decisions. In addition, the variety in the work we do continues to be challenging,” he said.

Part of Czelusta’s enthusiasm comes from working with the Riches. Company chairman Bob Rich died last year and his son, Bob Rich, Jr., who has children working in company, became chairman. Czelusta described the elder Rich as “a great guy. There’s something to be said for working for a small company,” he added.
Czelusta was Rich’s first pilot, joining the company when it bought its first airplane, a Citation 500, in 1981. As Rich Products grew from a regional company to a worldwide operation, it had to buy bigger aircraft, and its fleet has included a Citation II, a Hawker, a Falcon 50 and then a Falcon 900B and Learjet 35A. Rich now operates a Falcon 900 and two Learjet 45s. Rich Food’s major trips are domestic, but 25 percent of the flying is abroad.

Rich Products is a privately held frozen food company, with plants in the U.S., Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, the UK and Thailand. It employs more than 6,000 people worldwide and sells more than 2,000 products in 80 countries.
Czelusta has flown trips to 122 countries promoting and supporting Rich products. A highlight was a flight over Antarctica.

Before joining Rich, Czelusta flew for Carborundum, which was taken over by Kenicott Copper, and then Standard Oil of Ohio. He also flew for Wer Industrial, which was later bought by Emerson Electric.

Czelusta’s favorite airplane to fly is his 1941 J-3 Cub. “It’s my version of fun flying,” he said of the airplane, which he’s had for 20 years. (Before that he had a Pitts.) For corporate flying, the Dassault Falcon 900 is his choice. “I really enjoy the Falcon 900. It’s really smooth and quiet and has a great cabin.

“I hope that before my career is over–in eight or ten years, I get the opportunity to fly a G550, Global Express or Falcon 7X,” he told NBAA Convention News.

J. Paul Boening
The Keller Companies
Manchester, N.H.
23,029 Hours
J. Paul Boening, who has received a number of NBAA safety awards and who is passing his 30-year mark in corporate aviation, has been flying safely for The Keller Companies since 1977. He got his aviation start in the flight school/FBO/charter business, working for Bill White, who became chief pilot of Keller.

Based in Manchester, N.H., Keller is a family-run manufacturing business whose main product is Kalwall translucent building panels. Most of the company’s flights are domestic or to Canada and the Caribbean. The department flies just under 3,000 hours a year. Boening has a total of 23,029 hours.

Keller operates two Mitsubishi MU-2s and a Dassault Falcon 10, which the company has owned for the last 16 years. The airplanes are flown by White, Boening and another full-time pilot. The company had a Cessna Skymaster when White hired Boening to fly it.

Boening credits his safe flying record to the company’s strong belief in recurrent training, along with the outstanding maintenance the aircraft get from the company’s three mechanics. Boening went on to tell NBAA Convention News, “Over these many years, the Kellers have been very good to work for. Our CEO has always given us the support and backup we need. In fact, he has gone out of his way to recognize the sacrifices that we and our families make to ensure our commitment to having a safe and efficient flight department.”
Boening said that his parents swear that he announced at the age of two that he was going to be a pilot. He learned to fly while attending New England Aeronautical Institute, now Daniel Webster College, and finished his ratings at Bill White’s flight school.