Rudy Yates: 2022 Lifetime Achievement

May 19, 2022
The founder of Ground Support Specialist has dedicated himself to problem-solving and collaborating with others to improve the GSE industry.
Rudy Yates founded Ground Support Specialist with his brother Fred in 1995.
Rudy Yates founded Ground Support Specialist with his brother Fred in 1995.

Rudy Yates likes a challenge.

“So I created one,” he says with a smile, reflecting back on his decision to form his own ground support equipment company.

After gaining significant experience by engineering ground support equipment for FedEx, Yates founded Ground Support Specialist with his brother Fred in 1995. Yates grew the company from a small remanufacturing operation to a producer of a full line of deicers and other equipment. All the while, he promoted the industry in a number of ways, including serving on multiple committees aimed at making GSE safer and advancing the latest technology.

For his dedication and his contributions to the GSE industry, Yates has been recognized with Ground Support Worldwide’s Lifetime Achievement award.


From FedEx to GSS

Yate’s aviation career began in 1980 when he took a job as a draftsman at Federal Express. He became an engineer and from 1984 to 1995, he served as senior manager of GSE engineering of worldwide operations at FedEx.

“FedEx was a tremendous growth opportunity and learning experience for me as I was given the freedom to do whatever was necessary to excel the company forward with regards to ground support equipment,” he says, noting he had a team of 17 people supporting everything from technical manuals to custom-built equipment to troubleshooting equipment in need of repair.

“FedEx was an outstanding partner as they encouraged being the leader in advancing technology and staying on the leading edge,” Yates continues. “This is what attracted me to a lifelong career in aviation and ground support equipment.”

FedEx’s Memphis hub was an exciting place to work, Yates says. And his team was responsible for all equipment that serviced or touched a plane when it was on the ground.

“At that time, people weren’t typically trying to turn cargo airplanes as fast as we were. So, speed was of the essence, and we were tasked with coming up with equipment that would enhance that, which we did,” he recalls. “My group wrote the specifications. We worked with SAE to ensure we were in compliance with everything. It was important for us to make sure that FedEx was on the leading edge of all the technology.”

Yates recalls a specific example of working with ULD manufacturers to design containers that could better utilize the space available in order to load more freight.

“We actually came up with two or three ULDs that allowed us to maximize the cube and fly more cube – less dense, but more weight – to be able to load the airplanes down and get more packages from A to B,” Yates says.

“Everywhere you turned –  if you could do stuff like that, we did it.”

In 1995, Yates retired from service with FedEx and set out to form his own company, Ground Support Specialist (GSS). Yates’ brother Fred was a pilot with FedEx and agreed to help with the new venture.

“He helped by controlling the finance side of the business, which allowed me the freedom to control the manufacturing/engineering/working side of the business,” Yates says. “It made for a really good fit.”

As the chief manager of GSS, Yates built the company slowly. In the beginning, the company remanufactured equipment and provided some custom manufacturing for smaller products within in the industry.

“By the late ’90s, GSS was manufacturing aircraft deicers for small FBO-type operators,” Yates says. “Then in the early 2000s, GSS was approached by two major carriers in North America and the GSS line of custom-built deicers was born with the design and development of the GS700. Soon after, the GS800 was developed and international sales began.”

The company continued to grow and today, GSS has a full line of custom-built, single-engine aircraft deicers, ranging from a 300-gallon trailer unit to a 2,100-gallon full-sized unit.

“GSS also builds a multitude of various GSE products including passenger trams, custom chassis, belt-loaders, brake coolers and more,” Yates says.

Yates appreciates his time with FedEx and the knowledge he gained there. But he says he’s the kind of person that needs a challenge, so starting his own company was appealing. Starting conservatively by remanufacturing allowed him to overcome the initial challenges of running his own business.

“Probably within 12 months, we became our own biggest customer because I was buying used equipment, remanufacturing it and selling it,” Yates recalls. “The proceeds from that provided the funds to design and develop the new products. That’s where the GS320 and the GS700 and the GS500 – all of those – came from.

“Of course, I was very familiar with deicers from my past.”


Collaboration and Contributions

In addition to the work he put into growing GSS, Yates made significant contributions to the ground support industry as a whole, regularly collaborating with other thought leaders in the market.

“The aviation industry, although massive in size, is in reality, a small industry controlled by a core alliance of professionals around the world,” Yates says. “No matter where you go, the people in our industry are always working together to create a better and safer environment for both the handlers, operators and the public.

“No one gives out competitive information yet we all find a way to help each other.”

He points to GSE industry professionals working with and helping George Prill start GSE Today, now Ground Support Worldwide. GSS was a charter member when the International Airport Equipment Manufacturers Association (IAEMA) was formed, which Yates says was an important step for the GSE manufacturers.

Yates was also involved in the formation of the SAE G-12 committee, which is designed to govern the SAE documents relating to deicing equipment, deicing fluids and other related materials.

“Before G-12, AGE-2 was all we had for GSE,” Yates says. “The AGE-2 group realized the necessity for an additional group and we worked closely with SAE to form the G-12 group. Today G-12 has itself grown into a huge organization.

“Also during the late ’80s I had the opportunity to be the chairman of the ISO committee with regards to aircraft deicing,” Yates adds.

He credits his counterparts in the industry for helping him improve and develop his engineering and manufacturing skills, noting he acquired a wealth of information from other members of SAE, IAEMA and the ground support industry.

Being willing to learn has been crucial to Yates’ success, as he points to significant evolutions like advancements in deicing fluids.

While with FedEx, Yates and his engineering group worked with Dr. Renee Salvador to bring Type II deicing fluid – which has since been superseded by Type IV fluids – to the United States.

“We were the very first airline to bring it in,” Yates recalls. “My vice president came to me and said, ‘We will spray Type II fluid this winter.’ We will? He said, ‘Yes, we will.’ So, we did.

“When we introduced that back in the ’80s, we were trying to figure out what pumps to use and how to do it. You had to use positive displacement pumps, and you couldn’t sheer it and you couldn’t use a pump that you use for Type I fluid – a centrifugal pump – because it would tear it up,” Yates continues. “It was quite a challenge.”

“When we got to talking to Rudy, he brought a lot of years of experience of the special equipment that's needed on the GSE side,” says Mark Kreutzfeldt, who along with Paul Treuthardt purchased GSS from Yates in 2021.

Kreutzfeldt describes Yates as the “grand poo-bah of GSE.”

“If you go to a meeting or convention, everybody knows him,” Kreutzfeldt says. “Everybody's worked with him or collaborated with him.

“In the airport industry, both the airfield side and GSE side, there's a group of guys that constantly want to get better and that's just a fun place to work when your customers, your end users, the vendors are all working together and trying come up with better solutions,” he continues. “And that's what Rudy has been part of for years, as the SAE Group and those guys have worked together to come out with better solutions over the years.”

Having handed over the keys to the company last spring, Yates continues to assist GSS wherever he is needed

“Mark and Paul are very familiar with equipment design and like equipment because they came from deicing – but it’s runway deicing,” Yates says. “They’re learning the ropes with the aircraft deicing, and I assist them with that.”

Yates is happy to stay involved as long as he is needed, but intends to officially retire in a couple of years.


Recess for Grown-ups

Reflecting on his time in the GSE industry, Yates says it has been extremely gratifying to work with other professionals toward a common goal.

“I feel my time spent around GSE has provided me with a unique perspective of aviation as I have a clear understanding of what it takes to make flights happen on schedule, and why sometimes there are delays that most of the general public cannot begin to understand,” he says.

Yates recalls working together with others in the industry to solve challenges and combatting the phrase “We've always done it that way.”

“That's when you really have to pay attention and work together to ensure any changes are best for all concerned,” he says. “In the long run, it is most gratifying and rewarding when all concerns have been addressed. In order to accomplish this, sometimes tests may need to be performed to actually determine which way is best.

“That is one of the great things about this industry,” he continues. “The people want to do what's best, so they willingly go the extra mile to make sure.”

“The people that don't know him well or the new folks or whatever probably wouldn't have the appreciation for all the blood, sweat and tears of the development of products over the years that he's contributed to,” says Kreutzfeldt.

When he looks back on his career in the aviation industry, Yates knows he couldn’t have chosen a better group to have spent his time with.

“Simply put, the people of the GSE world are awesome,” Yates says. “It has been a tremendous opportunity and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of such a group. My time in the aviation industry has been as enjoyable as being at adult recess.”