For one week at the end of each July, Wittman Regional Airport here is billed as the world's busiest airport as more than 12,000 aircraft — from homebuilts to leading edge tactical fighters — arrive for the annual AirVenture, put on by the Experimental Aircraft Association. When it comes to line service, few events present the challenges of Oshkosh, as refuelers meander through the fields of campers and aircraft. This year, Orion Flight Services tapped into a new program by its supplier, ChevronTexaco, that brought in 'all-stars' from across the dealer network to lend a professional hand.
Comments Tom Stephens, manager of airport compliance for ChevronTexaco, "It's the largest civilian air show in the world. Even some of the folks who worked it could not believe the scale and the magnitude of the event."
Stephens credits one of the supplier's territorial managers, Sam Jones, for coming up with the idea of an all-star program made up of top line service personnel from the Chevron Texaco network of fixed base operators. According to Stephens, the idea was so popular with its dealers that a number of general managers wanted to be the first to experience the Oshkosh line event.
"There was a lot of energy when we introduced the idea," says Stephens. "The piece we didn't immediately realize, though, was what a real networking opportunity it was for the dealers. Lisa McCabe is the president of the FBO in Ft. Collins, and she came out and worked the show and said she was sad when it was over.
"The whole interaction, that sense of community, was invaluable. It's hard to measure that kind of impact."
In all, some 17 representatives from 17 FBOs in the network were flown in by the supplier to assist Orion Flight Services.
ChevronTexaco also provided a fleet of state of the art refuelers, as well as RVs for lodging — parked on the Orion ramp — and a number of special events.
Making of an All-Star
In this the first year of the all-star program, one of the challenges was setting criteria for who should participate, according to Stephens. Initially it was seen primarily as a rewards program for line personnel, to allow them to experience one of the premier air shows in the world.
Stephens says there were five specific criteria in the selection process. "One was, against our auditing process, the facility had to have 100 percent compliance inspection," he explains.
"They had to have completed the NATA (National Air Transportation Association) Safety 1st program. They had to attend either one or our two-day regional training classes, which is our Part 139, and/or one of our three-day advanced safety training classes. And, they had to have experience in corporate aircraft and/or military aircraft and/or commercial aircraft."
In the end, what Orion got for assistance was some of the top line professionals in the industry working AirVenture, says Stephens, which he says is a significant contrast from the tradition of bringing in part-timers to assist in line operations.
Says Stephens, "If you look historically how the two FBOs here had dealt with the show, essentially they would get friends and family to help work the show. The reality was, we brought in a team of professionals who do this every day."
According to Stephens, the fuel supplier's budget for the Oshkosh all-star program was some $50,000, which included transportation expenses. ChevronTexaco leased right recreational vehicles for living quarters for the all-stars.
"The underlying current behind [renting the RVs]," says Stephens, "was now they had to sleep together, work together, and play together. It created this whole bonding opportunity and team effort."
ChevronTexaco also worked with Dukes Transport to bring in a fleet of 20 1,000-gallon Isuzu avgas refuelers. Both Dukes Transport and Veeder-Root, supplier of many of the refuelers' components, had personnel on hand to help with any problems.
"The Dukes trucks," comments Stephens, "from an environmental standpoint, have sampling systems that essentially eliminate 99 percent of the hazardous waste. They have a closed circuit sampling system; you take a sample in the visual sample jar and if it's clean and bright, you put it right back into the storage tank. If there's any contaminant material, you can drain that off into a slop tank and whatever's clean can go back in."
The trucks also provided direct wireless billing, an innovation for Oshkosh, where paper billing has been the norm. ChevronTexaco also brought in three 5,000-gallon jet-A refuelers for the event.
Stephens points out that all those billings at Oshkosh are also now in the company's database — information that can be shared with the dealer network for future marketing purposes.
Looking at 2007, Stephens says he sees bringing in even more all-stars at next year's event, and may consider taking it to other venues, such as Sun 'n Fun in Lakeland, FL.
"From the success we've had, we're going to try to ramp up the number," he says. "We're going to have a look-back session with EAA at the end of August to see what worked and what didn't.
"I really want an entire crew for the entire week to man our trucks. There's a level of professionalism that we want to promote. I don't want to hand over the keys to a $130,000 truck to a 20-year old college student who just learned about these trucks, versus handing the keys to someone who pumps 68 million gallons a year out of Anchorage, Alaska."