Safe Flying Awards: 50 Years

 - September 20, 2007, 11:51 AM

In 1998, the National Business Aviation Association started honoring companies that have flown 50 years or more without an accident. NBAA Convention News talked with representatives from this year’s top honorees to find out about their
operations and the secrets of their successes.

Tecumseh Products, Tecumseh, Mich.
Dennis Bailey, aviation department manager

The company that heads the list of 50 years of accident-free flying is Tecumseh Products of Tecumseh, Mich., which has had a flight department since 1949. Dennis Bailey, aviation department manager, said the first aircraft the company operated was a Lockheed Lodestar. Over the years, the list included DC-3s, Beech 18s, King Air 100s and 200s, a Merlin, two Citations, a Westwind II and King Air 350s.

Today Tecumseh operates two King Air 350s, but one of them is for sale, as the department–which includes Bailey, another pilot and a full-time mechanic–prepares to downsize. Bailey, who has been a Tecumseh pilot for 29 years, serving as aviation department manager for 15 of them, said he considers himself lucky to have been able to fly the DC-3s and the Beech 18s.

“I believe our safety record can be attributed to having many employees over the years dedicated to providing our passengers the safest transportation possible,” he told NBAA Convention News. “We have had the full support of management to maintain the aircraft in like-new condition and to continually train and retrain our pilots and mechanics.”

Tecumseh manufactures hermetic compressors for refrigerators, freezers, water coolers, dehumidifiers, air conditioners and heat pumps; and gasoline engines and power trains for a variety of products.

Vulcan Materials, Birmingham, Ala.
William Bontly, director of aviation


William Bontly has been director of aviation for Vulcan Materials since January. Vulcan has had a flight department for 50 years, and in the past has flown Learjet 25s and 35s and Hawkers. It now operates a Dassault Falcon 50EX, which Bontly and two other pilots fly. The department has five other employees. Bontly said the Falcon 50 is his favorite corporate airplane to fly, as he’s flown it for 11 years. He previously flew for Saks, based in Memphis, Tenn.

He told NBAA Convention News that the secret to Vulcan’s long safety record is communication–communication with the pilots, communication with the mechanics and communication between the pilots and the mechanics. “We leave no stone unturned,” he said (with perhaps a touch of witticism–Vulcan produces crushed stone for the building industry).

“We discuss what’s going good, what’s going bad. No idea is a bad idea. We’re always looking for the most effective, safest way to operate.”

He added that training at FlightSafety International is key to the company’s safe operation.

Federal-Mogul, Waterford, Mich.
Thomas Gaydos, director of flight operations


Federal-Mogul is an OEM and aftermarket supplier of a variety of products including spark plugs, bearings and pistons to the automotive, agricultural, marine and rail markets with more than 45,000 employees worldwide. This year marks the flight department’s 50th. It started flying a Ryan Navion, then a Piper Apache, a Beech 18 and a Grumman Mallard.

The flight department today operates a Dassault Falcon 50EX, which flies about 700 hours a year. Three pilots, a dispatcher and a mechanic operate from a private hangar at Oakland County International Airport in Waterford.

Thomas Gaydos joined Federal-Mogul in 1994 and was named director of flight operations in 2000. He noted that the management team of the company has changed several times, “but the philosophy of the flight department has remained the same. The aircraft is a management tool to improve the company’s efficiency and ability to compete in the global marketplace,” he told NBAA Convention News. “We always strive to operate using the ‘best practices’ and as such reflect the highest standards of operational safety.”

H.E.B. Grocery, San Antonio, Texas
Peter Gianos, chief dispatcher


H.E.B. started 100 years ago as a tiny family shop in Kerrville, Texas, but didn’t purchase its first aircraft, a Beech 18, until 1956. The Beech 18 was followed by a Merlin, a Citation 500 and a Citation 560. H.E.B. has operated a Learjet 60 since 1997, a Citation 560XL since 2000 and expects delivery of a Challenger 300 in November. Operating these aircraft are six full-time cross-trained captain-rated pilots (“soon to be seven”), two mechanics, one maintenance technician and one flight scheduler/dispatcher.

One of the nation’s largest independently owned food retailers, H.E.B covers Texas and Mexico with more than 300 stores and 56,000 employees.

Asked to what he attributes the company’s long safety record, Peter Gianos, chief dispatcher, who has been at H.E.B for nine years, said, “H.E.B. officers realize that corporate aircraft help the company gain and maintain a competitive edge. They also understand that having operational control with well-trained aviation professionals gives them the highest level of safety and convenience. We use the NBAA guidelines and recommendations from the Flight Safety Foundation as a benchmark for current and future aircraft.”

General Dynamics, Dulles, Va.
Gary Rogerson, director of flight operations


General Dynamics’ first aircraft were a Stinson Station Wagon and a D-18 Beechcraft. Today, the Falls Church, Va.-based firm operates two Gulfstream G450s and a G550 in its corporate flight department, based at Dulles International Airport, with 15 full-time employees. The defense contractor has four main business groups: Aerospace (including Gulfstream), Combat Systems, Marine Systems and Information Systems, and each division has its own flight department with a total of nine additional aircraft.

Gary Rogerson, who was chief pilot from 1996 to 2001, when he became director of flight operations, said, “I attribute our company’s long safety record to the support given to our department by management. Each person who has headed this department has been given whatever tools needed to operate safely. We have always been able to attract and retain top-notch personnel in our flight departments, and those people are what makes for a long safety record.”

Hill Aircraft & Leasing, Atlanta, Ga.
Larry Westbrook, president


In addition to being a full-service FBO at Atlanta Fulton County Airport-Brown Field, Hill offers aircraft charter and management, aircraft sales, aircraft maintenance and parts support. Hill has owned and operated aircraft since 1955, when Guy Hill, Sr. a military World War II pilot, founded Hill Aviation. Some of its early aircraft included a Beech Travelair, a Beech 18, a Lockheed Lodestar, a DC-3 and a Piper Navajo, said president Larry Westbrook. The charter department was started in 1962. “Today,” said Westbrook, “we operate two Cessna Citation IIs, two CJ1s, a King Air 200, a Hawker 700 and a Falcon 10. We have 12 full-time and 12 part-time pilots and two charter coordinators.”

Westbrook has been with Hill for almost 26 years. Asked about his favorite corporate aircraft, Westbrook replied: “I enjoy flying a variety of airplanes. My favorite corporate airplane to fly right now is the Cessna CJ1.”

Westbrook said that the company motto was always “safety first. Some years ago a King Air 200 from another operator crashed in northern Georgia. It was being operated single pilot and as a result of that tragedy, we changed our company policy to operate all of aircraft with two pilots. All of our personnel are trained twice a year at FlightSafety and undergo periodic recurrent ground and overwater training. I think the key to safety is a commitment to quality training.”

Hill is also being honored by NBAA this year with a Commercial Business Flying Safety award.