Each year, NBAA recognizes the top aviation maintenance and avionics technicians with good safety records who work for member companies. Maintaining corporate aircraft or avionics for three accident-free years is the minimum requirement for an NBAA Safety Award but the actual number of years for many of the top technicians adds up to four decades or more.
AIN talked with some of the top A&Ps and avionics technicians for 2009 to learn about their backgrounds and safety philosophy. The top five collectively count 221 years of accident-free corporate aviation involvement.
Manager, Wheel and Brake Facility
KaiserAir, Inc., Oakland, Calif.
Cliffton Lofthouse worked on F-100s, F-104s and F-106s in the U.S. Air Force. Before joining KaiserAir 20 years ago, he worked for American Can Company at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y.
KaiserAir is an FBO, charter and aircraft management and maintenance company at Oakland International Airport, and Lofthouse manages its wheel and brake facility. He said his favorite corporate airplane to work on is “any model Gulfstream.”
KaiserAir, which started out with the Convair 440 and Gulfstream I, now operates mostly Gulfstreams and employs 35 pilots and 16 A&Ps. Lofthouse attributes his long safety record to “not rushing the job, being methodical and reading all maintenance data carefully.”
W.L. Kobs, Chief pilot (formerly director of maintenance)
Tri C, Inc., Oklahoma City, Okla.
Tri C, the flight department for a private company, operates a Bombardier Challenger 604 but W.L. “Joe” Kobs liked working on the Westwind best. At Oklahoma State, Kobs took aeronautical technical courses and went on to get his A&P and an associate’s degree. After graduating, he worked for Aero Commander as a mechanic and service representative.
When Israel Aerospace Industries bought the Jet Commander line (which evolved into the Westwind), Kobs worked for the company as a service rep. He joined Tri C 31 years ago, when it was operating a Westwind, and he started flying. Kobs was director of maintenance for 20 years before becoming chief pilot. He continues to do maintenance, though.
Kobs said being safe “is a matter of paying attention to detail, not overloading yourself, crossing the ‘t’s and dotting the ‘i’s, and not hurrying.”
Donald Hunt, Aircraft maintenance manager
Outback Steakhouse, Inc. (OSI), Tampa, Fla.
Donald Hunt has been aircraft maintenance manager for OSI Restaurant Partners–
owner of the Outback Steakhouse chain, Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill, Roy’s and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse–since 1993. Based in Tampa, OSI operates two Dassault Falcon 50s, which Hunt said is his favorite corporate airplane to work on, as it’s “a great product, with great support.”
OSI got its first Falcon 50 in 2002. The flight department has seven pilots, an aviation manager, an administrative assistant and three maintenance technicians, including Hunt. “We do the smaller inspections in-house,” Hunt said, “and contract out the larger maintenance jobs.”
Hunt started working on F-4s, F-11As and F-9Js as a jet mechanic in the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s. He said his long safety record is due to the fact that he has been fortunate to work for companies that want to take care of their aircraft and people, and do it by paying attention to safety, detail, training and quality. He worked for Page in Rochester, N.Y., in the 1960s, then joined Xerox in 1971.
“My biggest break in my career,” he said, “was when I went to work for Xerox, whose flight department was managed by Dick Van Gemert, one of the icons in this industry. He had high standards and the department was run professionally. My standards were set there.” After leaving Xerox, he set up and ran the maintenance department for Manufacturers Hanover for 12 years. He then set up the maintenance department for Mills Pride.
As he looks back on his career Hunt feels fortunate to have worked with some great people. At OSI, he said, “We have a great team. It takes everyone together to make an organization successful.”
Michael Basnett, Aviation Mechanic
Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), Hampton, Va.
Michael Basnett worked as a federal employee for NASA in 1966, after he graduated from high school. “Ever since I was a kid,” he told AIN, “I wanted to be a test pilot.” But his eyesight was a problem and NASA offered an apprentice program. At NASA, he participated in a number of research programs, including the microwave landing system, which was superseded by GPS. He also worked on a runway friction project that involved displacing water on the runway for safer landing. Another program studied three methods of wind shear detection–radar, thermal and laser. Radar proved the best, he said, and Collins developed it for commercial use.
Basnett retired from NASA in 2006 and went to work
for CSC, a private firm that provides aircraft maintenance for NASA Langley. The firm operates a Beech King Air 200 and a C-12, (the military Super King Air), a Cirrus SR-22 and a Cessna 206. CSC’s flight operation employs mechanics, avionics technicians, quality assurance personnel and managers.
His favorite airplanes are the Boeing 757 and 737 used for research, and the King Air. Basnett’s credits his safety record to reinforcement from management and proper training and equipment. “If we don’t have the expertise for a certain job,” he said, they find someone who can do it. “And it helps to have a good working relationship with the quality assurance team and with fellow workers.”
Donald Swanson, Maintenance Technician
Aerodynamics, Inc. (ADI), Waterford, Mich.
Don Swanson said that as a child, he became interested in aviation from watching television programs and building model airplanes. He had a ride in an airplane and “got a hold of the controls and that was it!” he told AIN.
Serving in the U.S. Air Force as a mechanic, he worked on military and civilian airplanes to obtain pilot training. After leaving the Air Force, he moved to ADI, where he has been for 38 years. He started as an accessory repairman, then became shop foreman, then service manager. He moved back to the accessory shop and is now “back on the floor as a technician.”
ADI is a diverse company, with a large corporate shuttle operation, an FAA repair station, Hawker Beechcraft and Pilatus service centers, an avionics shop and FBO, an aircraft brokerage and an interior refurbishment division.
Swanson’s favorite airplane to fly is the Bonanza and his favorite to maintain is the King Air. ADI has been a Beechcraft dealer since 1963 and is one of the companies being recognized by NBAA for 50 years of safe operation. Swanson attributes his own safe record to “good training and attention to detail.” He said the importance of training was embedded in the Air Force milieu and is at ADI as well. Swanson is now mentoring the younger workers at the company. “We concentrate on maintenance work and safety,” he said.