Rich Boily: 2018 Lifetime Achievement

May 23, 2018
Once poised to be an aircraft mechanic, Boily has had a decorated career with both Pan-American Airways and Fortbrand Services.

If people want to discuss the achievements of Rich Boily’s career, they need to be specific.

Boily spent decades in the airline industry, making a positive impact while working in numerous roles for Pan-Am. Then, after the airline ceased operations, Boily brought his experience to the GSE industry and found additional success at Fortbrand Services, Inc.

“Rich is very knowledgeable and a straight-shooter,” says Peter Stearn, senior vice president at Fortbrand. “Having been in the customers’ shoes, as an airline guy and being on the line with the equipment and servicing aircraft, he knows what kind of pressure the customer is under and does his best when issues arise with equipment to resolve them as quickly as possible.”

Boily’s accomplishments in multiple areas of aviation uniquely qualify him to be recognized as Ground Support Worldwide’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement honoree.

Introduction to Aviation

Boily entered aviation by way of the military. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy Air Reserve in 1963, spending six months in aviation technical school and then more than seven years in active reserves, serving one weekend a month during that span as a crew chief on P2V and S2F aircraft.

“Actually, aviation was really not my first choice,” Boily recalls.

After graduating high school, he took a machinist course and worked in the field for about a year, before his father pushed him toward the Navy. During his time with the military, Boily repaired and serviced aircraft.

“We’d do the daily checks and pre-checks, and repair anything that was necessary,” he says.

Boily used the 19 weeks of aircraft maintenance training he received in the military to find work as a civilian.

“I enjoyed working around the airplanes in the Navy,” Boily says. “So I applied to American Airlines and I applied to Pan-American Airways. The first one that called me was Pan-Am, and I didn’t wait for American. I just needed a job, and I took it.”

Opportunities Provided by Pan-Am

Boily sought to be an aircraft mechanic, but the union contract required all new hires to begin their employment as an aircraft serviceman.

“Everybody starts as a cleaner,” Boily explains. “They told me I would be cleaning for about six to eight months, and it turned out to be a couple of years because they had put a hiring freeze on.”

Having developed “dish pan hands,” Boily sought a change, but the only job that opened up as a mechanic was in the GSE shop. He applied and got the position.

“I took the job, and it sent my career in a whole different direction,” Boily says. “I never worked on a Pan-Am plane in my 28 years of service, and have no regrets about it.”

Working on ground support equipment came naturally to Boily. Growing up, his family always had used cars, and Boily would help his father, Bill, work on them. In fact, his first car was a Model A Ford that he had completely rebuilt and used throughout high school.

“I enjoyed the automotive part more than I did the aviation part,” he says. “So it was kind of a natural transition.”

While the work was intuitive, the schedule and demands of the job wore on Boily. His wife, Marie, heard his complaints and enrolled him in night school. For the next six years, Boily worked a full-time job and went to college at nights, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration.

“With that degree, I had a chance to get into some different management roles, and actually work days and get weekends off,” Boily says, crediting his wife for giving him the push needed to enroll. “But with that came a lot of travel. It was a different change, but it was worthwhile.”

The first new role he took on was in Pan-Am’s employee suggestion program, where employees were able to recommend potential improvements. He was part of the group that reviewed these suggestions.

“That was kind of interesting, because it got me through all phases of what’s going on at the airline. The suggestions weren’t just limited to airplanes. It was administrative stuff, too,” he explained.

From there, Boily went on to hold positions in industrial engineering, ground support engineering and line station maintenance. He says his time with line station maintenance gave him the most experience in regards to airline operations.

“That put me out on the road a lot,” he recalls. “It was very interesting because we were setting up stations, new airplanes were coming in.

“It was tough, but it was an interesting job.”

In 1975, Boily took on the role of GSE coordinator and was tasked with phasing in the Boeing 747 Freighter for the airline. The 747 passenger aircraft had already been introduced, so Boily says some of the equipment was already in place. But in order to load cargo, he and his team had to be creative.

“The big challenge here was that some stations were not going to get their MDLs on time, so we rigged up a two-step system,” Boily says. “We built an 8-foot high platform, put a lower deck loader on top, and fed it with another LDL at ground level. It was slow, but it got the job done.”

Boily’s next challenge came in 1986, when he was charged with provisioning the GSE for Pan-Am’s shuttle operating out of the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport (LGA). The airline had committed to a 60-day startup, so Boily had to reach out to others at Pan-Am for assistance in order to meet the deadline.

“We had to scramble around to find the necessary equipment,” Boily says. “They had equipment on order, but the deliveries were way out. Some of it was coming, but a lot of it wasn’t. So we borrowed stuff from the airline.”

He also tapped an acquaintance of his, Henry Foster at Fortbrand Services, to help meet the airline’s GSE needs.

Boily enjoyed the challenges that came with the job, especially during a time when aircraft were changing and new models were being put into service.

When Pan-Am shut down operations on Dec. 4, 1991, Boily says it was devasting.

“It was 28 years, I had my life in it. At one point, we were like 45,000 people strong, and at the bitter end, we were down to like 7,500,” he recalls. “It was tough. There were a lot of tears, a lot of sadness.”

Boily was one of the last people standing at Pan-Am, and was required to maintain the airline’s vacant buildings. He was hired by Johnson Controls to secure the buildings.

“Our responsibility was to keep the buildings in good operational condition so that they eventually could be leased out again,” Boily says, adding some of those buildings are still empty to this day.

While it was sad to leave, Boily says the airline provided many opportunities for him, his wife and three daughters to travel.

“The people I met and the friends I have were a result of that job,” he adds. “How lucky can one guy get?”

A New Start with Fortbrand

With Pan-Am out of business, Boily was contemplating his next career move.

He had stayed in touch with Fortbrand’s Foster over the years. In fact, Boily had rented equipment from Foster – even while with Johnson Controls.

Foster and his partner Alan Stearn were in need of someone after a salesman resigned. So Foster called Boily to gauge any interested in joining the company.

“I just said, ‘Oh, why not?’” Boily remembers.

Boily met with Foster and Stearn the next day, worked out a deal, turned in his two weeks’ notice at Johnson Controls and never left. That was 20 years ago.

The sales role was new to Boily, but he was familiar with the equipment, and he also knew a lot of people at the airports from his time at Pan-Am.

“That knowledge helped the sales piece,” Boily says. “And when Henry hired me, he dragged me around all over the place, introducing me to people that he knew. So I got the idea how to do this.”

Foster never doubted Boily could do the job.

“He’s been a salesman all his life,” Foster says with a laugh.

“As the airlines grew, and we started in our business, having Rich come aboard with that background made us better,” he continues. “We had a better appreciation for what was required.”

On the administrative side, Alan Stearn helped Boily understand other parts of the job, like drawing up contracts and leases.

“I guess I did OK, because a couple of years later, I became the Vice President of Sales,” Boily says.

“Prior to joining Fortbrand, he had no sales experience,” says Peter Stearn, Alan’s son. “The knowledge of the equipment combined with his personality was a great combination, allowing Rich to step into the position seamlessly.”

In his current role, Boily also manages Fortbrand's maintenance shop. There, he employs Tom D’Andrea and Tom Herda – former airline employees at TWA that Boily knew from his earlier career.

“They’ve been loyal supporters of what we do here for a long time. And a lot of times, the guys in back don’t get a lot of credit, and they do a hell of a lot of work,” Boily says. “It’s tough to find guys who are really qualified.”

Those who know Boily are also quick to point out his trademark sense of humor.

“Internally, everybody loves him. He has a great attitude and always keeps everybody laughing,” Stearn says. “But at the same time, he’s serious about the job. He’s just easy going and easy to get along with.”

“I just got a weird sense of humor,” Boily explains. “I take life and I twist it around a tad.”

Help from Others

Boily credits a number of people for helping him reach this point in his career.

He says he would not have been able to manage the challenges over the years without surrounding himself with knowledgeable people that were willing to make difficult decisions under pressure.

“Early on, I was very fortunate to have had really great supervisors and managers, who took time out to mentor me,” he says. “I learned early on, that if you apply yourself and really take an interest in whatever task you get assigned, people notice and will go that extra mile to help you.”

Eugene Luciani was Boily’s first supervisor in Pan-Am’s automotive shop. The two would go out, often in bad weather, to jump dead batteries and refuel vehicles around the airport, among other tasks.

“Eugene was probably the first guy that I met who really cared,” Boily says.

Bob McCrory also had an influence while working with Boily in Pan-Am’s line station maintenance group.

“He knew the airline business. He had been in the aircraft maintenance business for a long time,” Boily says.

Boily also pointed to D’Andrea and Herda in his shop for their loyalty.

However, the person he admires most is Foster.

“Henry is the guy who brought me in here,” Boily says. “He’s probably one of the biggest influences in my life, other than maybe my father.

“I’ve been working for him 20 years with no regrets.”

“It's one thing to make money. It's another thing to have lunch with someone, and watch them raise their kids,” Foster agrees, reflecting on his time working with Boily. “When you can work with someone for a good part of your life, and not only enjoy the work, but the industry and camaraderie, it’s just terrific.

“I have nothing except the utmost respect for him,” Foster adds.

Boily also credits part of his professional success to helping others. In return, others have been willing to come to his aid.

“It happens here every day with guys that I’ve met over the years. You call them up and, you say, ‘I need a favor,’” Boily explains. “If they can help, they will.”

Reflecting on his career, Boily says there are too many good memories to name. He is thankful for that because he wasn’t particularly studious or focused on the big picture as a teenager.

“I was destined for trouble, and my father yanked me out of that and threw me into the Navy. The rest is history,” he says. “I’m glad he did that.

“It’s been a good ride. I have no complaints.”

About the Author

Josh Smith | Editor