NBAA Convention News

Long safety history a testament to ‘good people’

 - November 13, 2006, 9:11 AM

Each year NBAA recognizes member companies with superb safety records. In 1998, the organization started making special note of companies that have flown 50 years or more without an accident. This year, the corporate flight operations of ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Eastman Kodak, Owens Corning and Sears are the top five in that category, while commercial business (Part 135) operators Lane Aviation and Crow Executive Air are the top two in their category. (Aero Charter, Executive Flight and Mayo Aviation, which have fewer than 50 years in business, rounded out the top five Part 135 operators.)

NBAA Convention News talked with representatives of the top five companies in each division to find out more about their operations and safety successes.

Patricia Andrews
manager, aviation services
74 years–286,109 hours

When Exxon and Mobil merged, Patricia Andrews headed Mobil’s flight organization operations and, in 2001, she became manager of the combined operation. An NBAA board member, she has been involved in a variety of safety initiatives, including as the first vice chair of NBAA’s Safety Committee.

Among Andrews’ many accomplishments and honors is heading task forces for the Flight Safety Foundation. She has also been awarded the FSF President’s Citation for outstanding achievement in safety leadership and its Business Aviation Meritorious Award.

Andrews emphasized that credit for ExxonMobil’s excellent safety record goes to a lot of people, not just a single employee. “It’s a longstanding tradition,” she said, adding that the company has an overall principle of safety, a company culture that has as its mantra, “Nobody gets hurt.” This principle applies in all its operations, which stop if they can’t meet the safety margin. The aim, she said, is zero accidents. “We face a lot of challenges,” she said, “but we never doubt that the company stands behind the decisions we make.”

Adopting conservative operational standards, hiring high-quality people and fostering a willingness to invest in technology are factors, she said. In the spring, the average fleet age will be less than two years old and all aircraft will be equipped with terrain warning, runway alerting systems and infrared enhanced vision.

The current fleet consists of four long-range aircraft, based at Dallas Love Field–two Bombardier Global Expresses and two Gulfstream IVs (which will be replaced in the spring with Global Expresses). There are also three Bombardier Challenger 300s based at Houston and two at Dulles.

The flight department has 67 people, including 27 pilots. “We try to maintain a ratio of three pilots per aircraft,” Andrews told NBAA Convention News. There are 21 maintenance technicians in the department. Andrews said that since they fly to some remote locations in West Africa and Asia, the long-range aircraft always carry a maintenance technician. More than 50 percent of the long-range aircraft operations are outside the U.S.

When asked which corporate aircraft she preferred, Andrews said, “I like whatever aircraft I’m flying at the moment.” She did mention the GIV and, of course, her award-winning 1951 Navion, which she keeps at the residential airport where she and her husband live.

Dean Maertens
director of aviation, chief pilot
West Chicago, Ill.
60 years–118,229 hours

Like pilots at lot of corporate flight departments, the current crop of crewmembers at Sears Holdings has to give a nod to their forebears in recognition of a long safety record spanning several decades. Dean Maertens, director of aviation and chief pilot, said the company started flying 60 years ago with a DC-3 and today has two Learjet 60s, a Dassault Falcon 50 and 2000 and a Sikorsky S-76.

Sears’ long safety record, he said, “has to be attributed to the people who have come before us.” Their hard work, he said, was a major factor in the successful completion of 60 years’ worth of safe operation.

The flight department currently has seven pilots including Maertens and Angela Dunnington, manager of flight operations and assistant chief pilot. There are also two dispatchers and five mechanics on staff, plus management and airport support personnel. Maertens said the Sears aviation operation at Chicago Dupage Airport flies mostly domestically, with occasional international flights to Canada, Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

“Safety,” Maertens said, “always has to be our primary concern. Not far behind,” he added, “is cost control.” He added that the goal is to provide excellent service and a safe operation, all the while keeping costs within reason without cutting corners.

“We are honored to receive the NBAA award,” he said. “It’s a major milestone and speaks highly of all the work we do here and the work of those who have come before us.”

Eastman Kodak
Sydney Baker
director of aviation
Rochester, N.Y.
60 years–111,071 hours

Throughout Kodak’s long history, its flight department–which has a long history in its own right–has been an integral part of the company’s success. And it has been a safe operation, with 111,071 accident-free flight hours logged. Director of aviation Sydney Baker, who has been with Kodak for the last three years, explained that airline service at Kodak’s Rochester, N.Y. headquarters is somewhat lacking, making the use of corporate aircraft essential for even domestic travel.

When asked what made Kodak’s flight department safe, he said, “Safety starts with the individual, and Kodak has always hired good people.” He called the 18-member flight department “a great group, truly professional.” He added, “We have good equipment and a good passenger-pilot relationship.” He said that the passengers respect the pilots’ decisions and do not pressure the crews to make a trip when safety is at stake. “We work at it daily,” he told NBAA Convention News.

The flight department started in 1945 with the acquisition of an ex-military DC-3, which was replaced with another because of war damage. The first corporate flight was made on July 29, 1945, more than 60 years ago. On the 60th anniversary, NBAA presented a commemorative plaque to Eastman Kodak chairman Antonio Perez and Baker noting the milestone. NBAA president Ed Bolen said, “For six decades, Eastman Kodak’s flight department has set the standard for safe flight, and NBAA is proud to honor the company’s flight department with NBAA’s Corporate Business Flying Safety Award.”

The Kodak fleet over the years has included Gulfstream I, II, V and Bombardier Challenger 600 series aircraft. Kodak now flies a Challenger 604 and a Global Express.

Kodak, of course, is synonymous with cameras and film, but Baker noted the company nowadays is involved heavily in digital photography and is active in commercial printing and health imaging. He added that every movie that has received an Academy Award for best picture was shot with Kodak film.

Baker himself became interested in aviation by watching airplanes at the airport. He served in the Marines, then flew for IBM for 20 years. He joined Southern Natural Gas as director of aviation, then worked for Gateway Computers in San Diego.

Owens Corning
Terry Smith
director of aviation services
Swanton, Ohio
60 years–89,225 hours

Terry Smith, director of aviation services for Owens Corning, said the company’s unconditional commitment to safety is responsible for its outstanding record. “That’s our stand today,” he said. Second, he said, is a crop of exceptional pilots. “I’ve been here 28 years,” he told NBAA Convention News, “and everyone in the flight department is extraordinarily talented.”

The department consists of 11 pilots, including Smith, and 20 people total. “Our retention rate is high,” he said. “More than half of our people have been here more than 25 years.” The flight department itself has a 60-year history.

He said the management team is integrated with the flight department and treats it with respect. He also noted Owens Corning’s recent International Standard for Business Aviation Operations (IS-BAO) certification. “It was a two-year process,” he said. Owens Corning produces glass fiber insulation, roofing, siding, acoustics and composites.

The Owens Corning flight department, based at Toledo Metcalf Field, flies mostly in North America, he said, with some European trips. It operates three Cessna Citation Sovereigns, all 2005 models. The previous fleet included two Raytheon Hawker 800s and a Dassault Falcon 900EX.

Smith said the Dassault was the most fun to fly, and he’s flown every type. For his personal flying, he has owned a Citabria (and he got his seaplane rating in a Citabria on floats) and a Piper Aztec.

One of the greatest problems facing business aviation today, he said, is corporate access to airports. He said, “You can really see it in the Northeast, with the proliferation of TFRs.”

Chevron Texaco
Steve Sabree
general manager
Oakland, Calif.
60 years–88,939 hours

Chevron Texaco Aviation Services operates three Gulfstream IV-SPs from Oakland International Airport (OAK). With 12 pilots on staff currently, the department employs about 30 people in all.

When asked to what he attributes Chevron Texaco’s long flying record, general manager Steve Sabree replied, “It’s hard to say for the whole 60 years what made it safe.” He added, “Safety is no accident. It’s due to the people in this department. Safety is the service we sell. We’re in the safety business. Anyone can move airplanes around.”

He continued, “Our customers, the executives, are totally on board; it’s never an issue about safety being number one. If they miss a meeting” because of a problem, “it’s OK.” He said, “It’s a big difference with that attitude in the front office. The crews know that the people in back respect them.”

Chevron Texaco travel is 60 to 65 percent international, so Sabree said the issues that concern them are security and safe operations in different countries around the world. “It takes a lot of work,” he said.