Safe Technician Awards: Fondness for fixing complex macines a common link among top mechanics
As it does each year, NBAA is recognizing 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 technicians exceeds four decades.
NBAA Convention News talked with the top five A&Ps and avionics technicians for this year, who collectively have 201 years of accident-free corporate aviation involvement.
Martin Bollella of Unisys Corp. heads the list, with 42 years experience; John Bahrenburg of Meridian Air Charter is next, with 41 years; Johnny Higgins of Central Flying Service has 40 years; William Moeller, Hillenbrand Industries, is fourth, with 40 years; and William Howell, Wachovia Corp., dba Hawkaire, has 38 safe years.
Director of Aircraft Maintenance
Trenton, N.J. | 42 years
Martin Bollella has been director of aircraft maintenance for Unisys for 33 years. Unisys has operated Dassault Falcon 20s and 50s, Bell 222s, Gulfstream IV-SPs and a Sikorsky S-76C+. Bollella said that the Gulfstream was his favorite airplane to work on.
Before joining Unisys, he worked for Combustion Engineering at Westchester County Airport (HPN), White Plains, N.Y., where he maintained the company’s Gulfstream I and II and a Lockheed JetStar. Before that, he worked at Westchester County FBO International Aviation.
Bollella said that he became interested in aviation when he accompanied a friend who wanted to go to Aviation High School in New York to an open house, taking the day off from middle school to attend. He said he became intrigued and was accepted at the school, though his friend failed to make it.
When asked to what he attributed his long, safe career as a maintenance technician, Bollella said, “Just trying to do the right thing, following the rules.”
Director of Maintenance
Meridian Air Center
Teterboro, N.J. | 41 years
John Bahrenburg told NBAA Convention News that he was interested in aviation and was building model airplanes before he joined the U.S. Air Force. After graduating from high school, he became a mechanic, working on single-engine jet fighters. He was stationed for two years in Japan with the Air Force as a heavy maintenance technician doing flight line maintenance and repair. He spent the rest of his service at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C.
When he mustered out of the military, he worked as a mechanic at Red Bank Air Taxi, in Red Bank, N.J., and earned his A&P license. He became a shift supervisor for line maintenance, working on a broad variety of aircraft and engines, including de Havilland Twin Otters, Pipers, Cessnas and Beechcraft, and Pratt & Whitney, Lycoming and Continental powerplants. Seven years later, he moved to Linden Airport, where he worked for Matco for seven and a half years. He was responsible for customers’ aircraft maintenance, primarily the fleet operated by Texaco and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, which included Gulfstream I and IIs, Pipers, Cessna Citations, a JetStar and Beechcraft.
He then joined American Cyanamid, whose Part 135 fleet included GIIs and GIIIs, and Learjet 25s, 55s and 60s. Engines Bahrenburg worked on included the Rolls-Royce Spey, Garrett 731, GE 610 and Pratt & Whitney 305. After he worked there for 15 and a half years, the company was bought out and the aviation department was dissolved. Fortunately, Million Air started doing jet maintenance in the same American Cyanamid hangar and hired Bahrenburg as director of maintenance. Million Air became Meridian Jet Center this year.
Bahrenburg said his long, safe career is due to “caution, a lot of patience and general know-how.” He said his favorite airplane to work on was the Learjet 25, which American Cyanamid operated.
Avionics Design Manager
Central Flying Service
Little Rock, Ark. | 40 years
After graduating from high school, Johnny Higgins joined the U.S. Air Force, where he trained as an avionics technician at the Air Force tech school in Denver. He then worked on the avionics for AC-116 gunships and F-106 fighters, serving in Vietnam; Duluth, Minn.; and Rome, N.Y.
“When I got out of the Air Force,” he said, “transponders were just coming in.” More avionics innovations for the civilian fleet followed rapidly, and Higgins has been at the forefront of the avionics revolution ever since.
He is now avionics design manager for Central Flying Service in Little Rock, one of the country’s oldest FBOs. He uses a computer to design, engineer and troubleshoot avionics installations. When the company bought CAD software, Higgins took computer drawing courses at Pulaski Technical College in Little Rock for two years.
“We do mostly retrofit and upgrade work,” he said. Both Dassault and Raytheon have completion centers in Little Rock, but Higgins said that they have plenty of new, green aircraft to work with and don’t have the time or space for retrofits.
Central Flying Service, he said, works primarily on Raytheon aircraft, from Hawkers to Bonanzas. “We can handle anything,” he said, “Challengers, Falcons–but we specialize in Raytheon” products. He added that the firm also does a lot of maintenance on Cessnas.
Higgins has been with Central Flying Service for 19 years. Before that, he had worked for Midcoast Aviation, also in Little Rock. Before joining Midcoast, he worked for Central Flying Service for about five years. Higgins started his civilian career in Little Rock by working for Hiegel Avionics, a Cessna dealer, which was later bought out by Midcoast.
“I’ve done lots of Cessna work,” he said. “The 182 is a good airplane to work on, for getting in and out.” He recounted solving the difficulties of working on 185 taildraggers. “If you drop a screwdriver, it rolls down to the tail.” He learned to prop the tail up on a sawhorse and eliminate the roll problem.
Large aircraft, he said, are easy to work on, and the panels have lots of room, but people generally try to put too much in. He particularly likes working on the Raytheon Hawkers. “The new Hawkers are more standardized,” he told NBAA Convention News, “a good airplane to work on.”
Senior Technician, ret.
Batesville, Ind. | 40 years
William Moeller retired from Hillenbrand Industries at the end of last year after more than 40 years with the company. He told NBAA Convention News that he had been offered the job of chief mechanic but turned it down because he wanted to continue working on airplanes, not shuffle paperwork.
When he started with Hillenbrand, which makes caskets and hospital beds as Batesville Casket Co., he was working on Twin Beeches and DC-3s. The company progressed through Gulfstreams, King Airs, Twin Bonanzas and Citation IIs. Immediately before retiring, he worked on Citation IIIs and a Falcon 50. When asked which of the airplanes he most liked to work on, he replied, “The Gulfstreams,” then he paused and said, “DC-3s, Twin Beeches,” and added, “the Citation III and the Falcon. I just enjoyed working on airplanes!”
Moeller joined Hillenbrand after getting out of the U.S. Army, where he started as a mechanic. But he didn’t start working on airplanes until after he left the military. “I’ve always been interested in airplanes,” he said. “I was born and raised a half mile from the airport.”
Now that he’s retired, he said, he was taking some time off for a couple of vacations with his wife, playing golf and gardening.
Vice President, Director of Aircraft Maintenance
Wachovia Corp., dba Hawkaire
Charlotte, N.C. | 38 years
William Howell began his maintenance career in the Air Force, working on the engines of the C-130. He said he lived out of a suitcase for four years, in Vietnam and on every continent except Australia. After leaving the service, he went back to school. He worked for Raleigh-Durham Aviation for seven and a half years then joined J.A. Jones Construction Co. When Wachovia bought Jones’ flight department, the bank retained Howell and credited his time with the construction company to his time with Wachovia.
Today, Wachovia’s flight department, Hawkaire, operates two Cessna Citation Excels, a Bombardier Challenger 300, a Dassault Falcon 2000, a Bombardier Learjet 60 and a Gulfstream G500. Howell said his favorite airplane to work on was “hands-down, the Dassault Falcon 2000.” He said he didn’t want to discredit other airplanes but the 2000 was “just better all around.”
Howell has served on NBAA technical committees for the Hawker Siddeley series, the Cessna 500 series and on the presidential advisory board for Dallas Airmotive. He was the 1998 recipient of Cessna’s Vern Lowe award. He is now on the advisory board for the Bombardier Challenger 300.
He attributed his long safety record to “persistence–trying to make sure it’s done right.”