NBAA conference highlights leadership roles for today’s maintenance technician

 - September 19, 2006, 6:32 AM

More than a few business aviation technicians have expressed frustration that NBAA doesn’t represent them and their interests, maintaining, instead, that the organization is primarily flight-crew oriented. The association’s maintenance committee is aggressively trying to change that perception, and the Maintenance Management Conference, held this year in Dallas, is one part of that effort.

“The conference is going great,” Jim Janaitis, NBAA maintenance committee chair, told AIN. “Every year it gets a little bit better and it becomes more entrenched into the thought process of the industry.” Janaitis said the organization is constantly experimenting with ways to make the conference better.

“We tried to get more people involved one year by holding two conferences, but it lacked consistency. People were no longer sure when it was going to be held,” Janaitis said.

“The committee learned that it is better to have one large conference a year and move it around the country. We also learned some hard lessons last year in Colorado Springs. The weather in April is too unpredictable there and prevented a lot of people from getting to the city. Another problem was that accessing Colorado Springs requires a connecting flight, significantly increasing travel time to get there. We also had some complaints that the hotel was too expensive. Next year we’ll be in San Diego and we have applied the lessons learned.”

Conference Hits Its Stride
According to Eli Cotti, director of technical operations for NBAA, approximately 150 people and 33 exhibitors attended this year’s two-day conference. Both morning sessions were dedicated to developing “dynamics of empowered leadership,” taught by Shari Frisinger of CornerStone Strategies. The afternoons were composed of breakout sessions that focused on two optional tracks– administrative and technical.

The administrative track included sessions such as “Aircraft Maintenance Outsourcing–A Review of Fundamental Processes to Effectively Develop Business Proposals,” by Len Beauchemin of AeroTechna Solutions; “NBAA’s Prototypical Safety Manual–Emergency Response Plan” by Dave Huntzinger of TAG Aviation; “Inspiring Leadership: Where the Rubber Meets the Road” by Lou Centini of Darden’s Corporate Aviation Leadership; “Meet the Regulators” with Rick Domingo of the FAA; “Legal Briefs, a Gold Mine” by Marshall Filler of the Aviation Repair Station Association; and “Finally, a Compliance Alliance,” with presenters Joe Hertzler and Dennis Steinbeck of Avtrak, Derek Brown and Chris Gaudry of Gulfstream, Mark Steinwender of Raytheon and Ray Lemoine of Sikorsky.

For those inclined toward the technical, sessions included “Future Cabin Technology” by Brian Culbreth of Gulfstream; “Satellite Communications at Altitude” by Howard Lewis of Satcom Direct; “Tire Technology and Maintenance” by Leah Feig of Michelin Aircraft Tire; “Choosing Your Electrical Potential” by Steve MacLelland of Securaplane and John McCoy of SAFT; and “Enhanced Vision Systems” by Dr. Richard Kerr of Max-Viz.

At the end of the second day Skip Mudge of CMR offered an error identification and elimination technique called “Concept Alignment Process” followed by a general conference wrap-up by Janaitis and Brad Townsend, the maintenance committee’s vice chairman and co-chair of the advanced education subcommittee.

Cotti said he was pleased with the topics and the attendance this year. “I’ve been coordinating the conference for the last five or six years and it continues to grow every year. We see the growth not only as a factor of the economy getting stronger but also as a result of the maturing of the maintenance career.

Building a Better Program
“The industry is beginning to recognize that there are good managers in different occupations. As a result, management positions that were historically held only by pilots are now becoming available to maintenance personnel too. That’s one of the reasons NBAA has the Certified Aviation Manager program, to level the playing field and give everyone an opportunity to move upward in their career,” Cotti said.

He said the programming has also gained strength over the years, with the focus on four major topics: new technologies, human factors, regulatory issues and leadership. “We choose specific topics based on initiatives,” he explained. “For example, we’re all affected by health and safety so a subcommittee was formed to look at those issues, and as a result we provide the information our members need at these conferences. Next year, training in general and career training in particular will be a major topic.”

Townsend also outlined the path for those interested in joining the maintenance committee. He said that the average experience level of maintenance committee members is about 25 years and that, with that experience, members frequently know what the problems are and have ideas about how to fix them.

“To be a member of the committee you have to want to change things,” Townsend said. “The most common route is to begin by joining a subcommittee. For example, my subcommittee is training and advanced education. Other subcommittees include standards, nominating, scholarship and–the newest addition–succession planning.” The succession-planning subcommittee was added in response to a member’s concern that there was little focus on in-house development of talent.

According to Townsend, once someone is a participating subcommittee member, if they wish to be on the maintenance committee, they must write a biography of their experience and a short essay about what they want to accomplish. “All the committee members read it and sometimes the passion for a subject just jumps out and grabs you. Everyone on the committee votes on the prospective member,” he said.

The committee monitors the ratio between corporate flight-department members and those that represent OEMs, MRO facilities and other facets of the industry. “We want to keep our flight-department members at the head of the initiatives,” Townsend said. “We also try to maintain a balanced representation of both large and small flight departments.

“The most positive thing I can tell our membership is that the maintenance field has a bright future,” he said. “The OEM production numbers are up, there’s a constantly improving economy and then there are the new very light jets.

“The introduction of the VLJ has significant implications for our industry,” he said. “It will open up business aviation to a larger market than ever before. The current OEMs are talking about producing as many as 800 VLJs in the second year. Those are massive numbers and they’re going to need a lot of maintenance professionals to keep them flying.”