Hangar Heroes

In the world of corporate jets, the task of performing maintenance is always a complex and challenging one. Since everything is so high tech, no airline mechanic will ever win a bet with a corporate jet mechanic about who is working on the most state-of-the art aircraft. All it takes to win the bet is to let the heavy iron guy take a peek in today’s corporate jet cockpit and watch him shake his head — then you collect the winnings.

Maintaining a complex corporate aircraft is a two-edge sword. No matter how well-trained a mechanic can be, it is a rare mechanic who can profess to be an expert in every system on every aircraft that he or she touches. Plus, the comfort of having company maintenance experts available 24-7 is not part of the average corporate mechanic world as it is in the airlines. There will be times when the proverbial fertilizer hits the ventilating fan and the corporate mechanic must surrender his or her ego to the enviable and make the call for help.
If you have an engine problem that you cannot solve, and your engine is no longer in warranty or supported by the manufacturer, most likely you will call the folks at Dallas Airmotive and ask for a tech rep to come and save the day. Dallas Airmotive has been around for 76 years, going way back to 1932. They are experts on working on older engines such as PT6, Honeywell TFE 731, ALF 502, CFE 738, Rolls-Royce Tay, Spey, and GE CF34, T700, and CT7, just to name a few. Dallas Airmotive marketing folks call these engines “legacy engines” and the company has built a niche market maintaining them.

Before this article sounds like an ad for Dallas Airmotive, the real purpose of this article is to find out what makes tech reps different from your standard A&P working on the hangar floor. The first reason I chose to write about Dallas Airmotive tech reps is that it is the biggest provider of engine maintenance services and it has more than 32 dedicated field tech reps stationed around the world (plus another 60 or so A&P licensed salespeople and repair center employees available for field work). These are the people you talk to on the other end of the line when you call and say you have a problem.

My second reason is that earlier this year I was invited to give a regulatory seminar at Dallas Airmotive to its field service reps. The three-hour regulatory training session was pretty routine. It was not much different than other presentations that I have given, except that the reps’ questions were a little more direct and polished than the norm. I also noticed that every one of them had a computer and a cell phone which they snapped back on during breaks. These tech reps, I concluded, were very sure of themselves, maybe to the point of being overconfident. It was easy to believe that they could look you in the eye and tell you that they could solve your problem. These people definitely were not shrinking violets. Since I was a known quantity, I had an in with field service manager Larry Galarza and director of marketing and strategic planning Chris Pratt. They allowed me access to a pool of their tech reps.

I asked Larry and Chris if I could interview at least four tech reps and I sent them a sample list of 10 questions that I prepared. In good time, they gave me four contacts and I picked up the phone and went to work. The four tech reps I had the telephone interview with were Marc Rochette, TFE 731 program; Dale Dulworth, P&WC programs; Rob Hancock, TFE program; and Frank Spetic, RR program. Instead of giving each tech rep’s individual responses to my 10 questions, I arbitrary picked the best representative answer(s) to each of my 10 questions for your review and evaluation.

Question #1: Two part question. First part: Why did you choose aviation maintenance as a career? Second part: How long have you been an A&P?

Answer: Rochette says his father was an FAA inspector and he influenced him to go into aviation. Spetic claims he caught the fever early on because he was an airport kid. The average experience as an A&P was 18 years. Everyone says they worked on cars/trucks before coming into aviation.

Question #2: What was your training and aviation maintenance background before you became a tech rep? Two of our tech reps got started in military aviation while the other two worked for repair stations that concentrated on doing engine overhauls.

Question #3: Why did you choose to become a tech rep? I found this interesting. All four tech reps say that they were recruited by Dallas Airmotive based on their expertise and were offered a job they could not refuse.

Question #4: What do you like about the job? Hancock says he enjoys the fact that everyday there is a different airplane and a different problem to solve. Spetic likes the action; Dulworth likes being the “guy in charge!” Rochette likes the travel and challenge.

Question #5: What do you dislike about the job? All say that unscheduled travel, living out of a suitcase, and being away from family and friends make the job hard, especially during the holidays.

Question #6: What was your greatest victory? Rochette says getting his A&P was his greatest victory. The rest responded by solving the “unsolvable” problem: being the hangar hero and reveling in the 15 seconds of fame.

Question #7: What was your greatest defeat? While all were reluctant to share a personal failure with a recovering bureaucrat, one of the tech reps after a long pregnant pause answers, “a ‘dissatisfied’ customer.”

Question #8: If you had to do it all over again in aviation, what would you change? All four say they would not change a thing.

Question #9: What would be your ideal job in aviation? Dulworth says he would still be a tech rep, but instead of working on the engine himself, he would like to stand off to the side and shoot a red laser pointer at a problem and have some one else do the work. Rochette, Spetic, and Hancock say that although they like being a tech rep, some time in the future they would like to move into management.

Question #10: What words of wisdom would you offer new mechanics coming into the trade? Hancock recommends getting training in avionics if you want to succeed working on tomorrow’s aircraft. Dulworth suggests taking advantage of every opportunity to gain experience. Spetic says you’ve got to make aviation your first love, that it’s not a job but a career. Rochette says you have to learn to stick to your guns, do it right, and keep in the back of your head that nobody knows everything.

What I got out of the interview process was this: all these men are in the tech rep business for the challenge, not for the money. Make no mistake, each of our tech reps is well paid — but money never once was mentioned in any of the interviews. They are all proud to be the “face” of Dallas Airmotive and told me so. I could tell, even though they never mentioned it out loud, that they know that they are the best in their field. They are real-life hangar heroes and every day they rise to the challenge and get out there and prove it to the world. Not a bad way, I mused, for someone to live their life.