NBAA Convention News

Top performers credit safety culture for flight departments’ accident-free hours

 - October 1, 2008, 7:09 AM

Over the last 76 years, Exxon Mobil has operated a variety of aircraft from Beech Staggerwings and Douglas DC-3s to Gulfstream IVs and the Bombardier Global Express. Today, the 68-member flight department operates four Global Expresses and five Challenger 300s. James Johnson, who joined the company in 1991, became manager of aviation services last year when Patricia Andrews retired.

Seventy-six years is a long time to fly so extensively without an accident, but Johnson said the good record is due to the company’s “strong safety culture throughout every affiliate, a very robust safety management system and all of the current and past employees of our aviation department.”

Johnson said his love of aviation started when he watched airplanes fly over his backyard as a kid. His parents took him to the local airport to see an airplane up close and “I was hooked from then on.”

He served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years, flying the OV-10, B-52G, T-39 (Sabreliner), C-141, C-140 (JetStar) and Gulfstream III.  “My last job in the military was with the 89th Military Airlift Wing in Washington, D.C., working in the Presidential Pilots Office.” He retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Steve Sabree is the general manager of Chevron’s Aviation Services. Chevron is one of the world’s leading energy companies with approximately 59,000 employees working in countries around the world. The company operates a fleet of aircraft that provides global transportation service for Chevron executives. Through 2007, Sabree’s group had flown 93,740 flight hours of accident-free flight operations.
Safety is one of Chevron’s core values, said Sabree, and every member of the company’s workforce is empowered with the responsibility and authority to stop any work process considered to be unsafe.

Terry Smith, director of flight operations for Owens Corning, said that the company has an unconditional commitment to safety. That commitment has led to its impeccable record for flight operations. “We firmly believe that all accidents are preventable and that safety is everyone’s responsibility,” he said.

Another reason for the many years of continuous safe operations is the extraordinary talent that makes up the flight department. “I’ve been here 29 years,” he told NBAA Convention News, “and everyone in the flight department is fully engaged and are top performers.” The department consists of 11 pilots, including Smith, and has 19 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 62-year history, and is on its second IS-BAO certification period. “Our safety management system has changed the way we operate on a daily basis,” said Smith. “However, it takes 100 percent of participation to have a successful system in place. We continue to strive for excellence in every aspect of the operation.”     

Owens Corning is a global company that produces glass fiber and foam insulation, roofing, cultured stone and composites. The Owens Corning flight department, based at Toledo Express Airport, flies mostly in North America, Smith said, with some European trips. It operates two Cessna Citation Sovereigns and a third is on order for 2009 delivery.

Dean Maertens, director of aviation and chief pilot for Sears Holdings aviation department, said the company started flying 62 years ago with a DC-3 and now has a two Bombardier Learjet 60s. He has been with Sears for nine years and has served in his current capacity for three years. The flight department has six pilots, including Maertens and Joe McLaughlin, manager of flight operations and assistant chief pilot. There are two dispatchers and six mechanics, including Larry Studer, manager of aircraft maintenance.

Sears operates from Chicago’s DuPage Airport, and flies mostly domestically, with some international flights to Canada, Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Maertens said that Sears’ long safety record “has to be attributed to the people who have come before us, and to all of the current folk’s hard work.” Their efforts to never compromise on safety or to cut corners has resulted in the outstanding safety accomplishment.

“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 safe and efficient service for the employer.

“We are honored to receive the NBAA award,” he said. “It’s a major milestone and speaks highly for all the work we do here and that of those who came before us.”
William Allen was born and raised in El Dorado, and started flying right out of high school. He wanted to fly for Murphy Oil’s aviation department and discovered that he was right to want a job there, he said. “It was too good a company to work for. No one would leave, so there were no openings until someone retired.” Allen worked in corporate flying jobs around the country until finally the position he had been waiting for came along and he went to work for Murphy at last, 26 years ago.

The Murphy flight department started out 61 years ago, with a variety of aircraft, working its way through the corporate aircraft of the various decades. In the beginning, there was a Lockheed Lodestar, then Beech 18s, King Airs, then came the 1960s and jets–a Jet Commander, Hawker jets and a number of Cessna Citations. Today, Murphy flies a Citation Excel and a Dassault Falcon 2000.

When we asked his favorite corporate airplane to fly, Allen said, “That’s a hard question. Each one has its special characteristics.” But he admitted, “Right now, it’s the Falcon.” The flight department employs seven pilots, including Allen, and three full-time maintenance technicians.