This is a story that is hard not to like

June 8, 2004

Inside the Fence

This is a story that is hard not to like ...

By John F. Infanger

June 2004

Steve Townes is the president of Keystone Helicopters, based outside of Philadelphia. When I met him, we were FBO magazine and he was a vice president at the Stevens Aviation flagship operation at Greenville-Spartanburg (NC) Airport. He subsequently went on to be president of SabreTech in Phoenix and later fronted a venture capitalist enterprise, Ranger Aerospace, that bought Aircraft Service International Group. He then sold that to Signature, and Ranger bought Keystone.

John Goglia is the outgoing member of the NTSB, as political winds see his two terms on the board come to a close. In that time he has earned a reputation of candor and respect. He was actually the first A&P technician to be an official NTSB board member.

Fate first brought the two men together in 1996, following the crash of a Valujet airliner into the Florida Everglades. The DC-9's fuselage was on fire and full of smoke and hit the marsh so hard it disappeared. The cause: mishandled oxygen generators.

Goglia was made lead investigator and concluded, in public, that outsourcing of the handling — or mishandling — of the generators was to blame. The firm at the focus of the investigation: SabreTech.

Many in industry were defensive; FAA was initially adamant that it had not been lax in its adherence to maintenance standards when dealing with Valujet. One man investigated his own company's procedures and concluded — publicly — that, yes, his company was to blame. The man, of course, was Steve Townes, president of SabreTech.

Goglia was in our offices recently, and talked of that time and of an award he had just received. He related that in the horror of that moment that was Valujet, there was one light that shone: Townes. The award Goglia received was Overhaul & Maintenance magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award. He explained that the person who nominated him and who passionately campaigned for him was Townes.

As John related the story you could see tears welling up. Yeah, he was honored to be so honored; yet, this was about much more. It truly is about one man in a tough job trying to do the right thing — find out the cause of a trajedy and of another taking responsibility.

Get to know John Goglia and you come to appreciate that this is a person who wants to do the right thing for his industry, which is as much a part of his life as breath itself. He liked being appreciated, but probably likes more the fact that it came from someone he once put under the microscope.

Thanks for reading