Bill O'Brien: 1943 - 2008

A tribute to Bill O'Brien


O’Brien was a stand-up guy who fully supported the AMT. He strongly believed in the professionalism of our workforce and worked hard to achieve this recognition for us. He believed we could be more than just wrenches or grease monkeys. One way that he helped increase awareness of the AMT’s professional stature was by co-founding the Aviation Maintenance Technician Awards Program; another way was by creating and writing the advisory circular on the Charles Taylor “Master Mechanic” Award. In addition, he was able to convince educational institutions to provide college credits for our experience, allowing many of us college wannabes to go back to school and receive a degree in doing what we love.

O’Brien strongly believed in the well-trained maintenance technician, and believed that this training and learning should continue throughout one’s career. To that end, he made significant contributions — from writing articles to making hundreds of FAA inspection authorizations renewal and other safety presentations to more than 100,000 technicians.

Outside of the FAA, the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) and Flight Safety Foundation recognized O’Brien with the “Joe Chase Award” for his contributions toward improving the knowledge, safety, and dignity of the aircraft maintenance technician. Additionally, the AMTSociety has a scholarship in his name.

In his 21 years at FAA Headquarters, he wrote and revised many official documents and procedures. These included more than 23 FAA advisory circulars on maintenance, numerous FAA orders, notices, information bulletins, and maintenance rules — the latest of which were the rules governing light sport repairmen.

O’Brien was a mentor to many of us at the FAA. When I first came to FAA Headquarters, I was delighted to learn that I would be working with the famous Bill O’Brien. He was well-known to the field inspector workforce through his articles, participation at IA seminars, and often as a leading speaker at conferences, among other things. When I first met O’Brien he was quick to point out that he had checked me out and announced that I might just be OK; however, I was still wet behind the ears and had a lot to learn about life at FAA Headquarters.

My first assignment from O’Brien was a research project for one of his presentations about IAs and the origin and evolution of this field. He showed me the legal library and how to look up old rules, statutes, and other policy documents. This special assignment was truly an act of kindness that showed me more than I would ever have discovered on my own. That was just one of the ways that O’Brien demonstrated his professionalism and helpfulness; he mentored me in ways that helped me be a better inspector and employee.

When O’Brien retired, many of his friends, former and current co-workers, and family attended the farewell luncheon and celebration. The turnout was overwhelming. It was a way of saying goodbye to a friend, a co-worker, and a true professional. O’Brien was the keeper of the safety flame for us. He talked about the retirement “happy dance” that he would do on his last day in the front of the FAA building, and how his leaving the FAA did not mark an end but rather another beginning in the next stage of his life. We all lined up outside and along the windows to watch as he did a dance that was surely influenced by an Irish jig.

For those of us at the FAA, his sudden passing was devastating. To quote Dave Cann, the former manager of the FAA’s Aircraft Maintenance Division, “I didn’t think that anything could get the tough old Irishman down. We’ve lost a strong Irish friend who gave his all. He will be sadly missed.”

Well, Bill, you are sadly missed, and yet we know you have crossed over to the heavenly stage of your life to the biggest and most well-equipped hangar we know. You are probably there writing your next article on what it is like to be an angelic grease monkey!

God bless you Bill, and our sincerest condolences to your family.

The Bureaucrat

By Jim Sparks, A&P, AMT contributor, AMTSociety Director

The memory is still quite clear. It was a major industry trade show and I was hoping to get a regulatory issue clarified. After perusing the day’s agenda, I noticed a presentation addressing regulations specifically for mechanics. It was about 30 minutes prior to the scheduled start when I walked into the room. It was then I noticed “The FED.” He was an un-intimidating entity, standing in front of the podium, reviewing his notes. I approached, posed my question and stood by for the usual “You’ll have to contact so and so for that.” What actually transpired was a precise and conclusive answer to my question. I thought “this is interesting,” and decided attendance in his presentation would probably be warranted. I gathered this wouldn’t be the usual dry, boring FAR lecture. I thanked The Fed and said I would return at the assigned start time.

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