Q: How did you get involved in the aviation industry?
A: I couldn’t afford medical school! In 1964 I was discharged from active duty in the US Navy. I was a qualified aircraft crew chief and Pan American Airways hiring aircraft mechanics. However, union rules required rookies to start as aircraft cleaners. I was told that would be for two to three months. A hiring freeze took place and 18 months later I was the “Top Mop” still scrubbing interiors. An opening for a GSE mechanic came up and me and my dishpan hands took it and never looked back. A college degree at night helped me work my way up the ranks to director of GSE engineering and maintenance. That’s where I was when in 1991 Pan Am took its last flight and one of the greatest airlines in history was grounded forever. For a couple years I was out of the GS business. But, thanks to call from an old friend, Henry Foster, who offered me a sales job with his company (Fortbrand Services) I was back. That was six years ago and I have enjoyed every moment. Thank you, Henry!
Q: What are some trends you’ve seen in the past 20-30 years?
A: I have noticed men are wearing more pink than they did in the past! Necessity creates trends. It seems as the economy goes, so does the industry. Fuel costs go up, alternate fuels are in. Back in the ‘80s there were odd and even gas days. At that same time electric equipment was being experimented with and had some success. Fuel prices came down and most electrics disappeared. Fuel prices are up again and hybrids are the hot item. Although today the environmental issues are a key driver to alternate fuel change. Talk to me in 10 years and let’s see if history repeats itself. With the industry in a negative cash flow, we (Fortbrand) have had a significant increase in lease vs. sale of GSE. Also, with equipment prices spiraling upward, the demand for good late model used GSE has increased considerably.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
A: Raising three girls and staying married to the same woman for almost 40 years! Around the mid ‘70s I was given the task of provisioning all the GSE for Pan Am’s start of 747 freighter service into seven stations on four continents. Main deck loaders were not plentiful and lead times were just as long as they are today (some things don’t change). We had to improvise. We made a 6-foot high platform put a lower deck loader on top and that was fed by another lower deck loader behind it. Not pretty, but got us the 18 feet we needed to load the new era cargo plane. We also worked with the Cochran company and developed a flyaway MDL that could be loaded in the lower deck cargo deck, flown to an offline station, reassembled and off/on load cargo charters where they never could before.
Q: What do you favor most about the industry?
A: The free cocktail parties at the trade shows! For me, it is all about the people. I have been fortunate to travel worldwide and made many a friend in this business and met some real characters, too. At times we worked under difficult circumstances and pressure situations. But it seems we always got the job done and had a lot of fun doing it. For me it has been a really good ride.
Q: What changes would you like to see in the industry?
A: I would like to see younger flight attendants on board each flight (under 60 would be fine). I would like to go back to when vendors had inventory for immediate delivery. Vendors need to work harder to meet the delivery dates they quote or at least come close. Manufacturers need to improve quality of product and be consistent. The GSExpo should be every other year and save vendors a couple dollars. I liked it at the Rio with the outdoor display.
Q: Being a long-term vet, what advice would you give our readers?
A: First off, if you are reading this magazine, you probably already missed any real chance to have a meaningful career. But, if you stay in the airline industries, it can have great rewards. There are many opportunities and challenges. What ever area you choose, learn every element, work hard, do more than asked for, respect your leaders and peers. Learn by your mistakes, and most of all, enjoy what you are doing and never look back, unless it is to re-think fond memories. Someone asked me if I had the chance to do it all again, would I? Answer: Absolutely.