Q&A with Sue Frost: Maintenance Control Manager
In honor of the 2012 Women in Aviation Conference, the XOJET Blog is running a series of profiles of some of the great women who work at XOJET. Today, we’re excited to bring you an interview with Sue Frost, Maintenance Control Manager at XOJET.
XOJET Blog: Sue, tell us a little bit about you and your role at XOJET.
Sue: I’m the Maintenance Control Manager at XOJET, which means I manage the maintenance of all of our aircraft from beginning to end. I joined XOJET in April 2006, and I’ve been a member of Women in Aviation for two years now.
XOJET Blog: How have things changed since you joined XOJET?
Sue: When I started, we had our own maintenance team and a return-to-base strategy, which meant that the jets had to be back at the base every 7 to 10 days. We would send major work out to the manufacturer, but we would do up to 100 hours of labor in house.
About 15 months ago, we started outsourcing all maintenance to a vendor where the aircraft is. So instead of having a jet drop off passengers in San Jose, and then fly another hour to Sacramento for service, we outsource the service to a team in San Jose. This dramatically reduces the number of deadhead trips and costs; it reduces the cycles on the aircraft; it reduces our hangar usage; and it increases jet and pilot availability. It also allows us to move our fleet into inspections and maintenance overnight, so the jets can fly the next morning. This way we can make sure the planes are reliable and don’t fly over a required maintenance inspection.
XOJET Blog: So what’s a typical day like for you?
Sue: Well, as of this month, we have a fleet of 42 private jets flying on a daily basis that we constantly monitor. Since inspections are due on an hourly, cycle, and calendar basis, it’s very important that we meet our inspection due dates. On top of that, every morning we make sure that a jet can fly all of its missions for the day without missing an inspection.
The pilots keep in constant communication with my team so we can troubleshoot any issues and keep the aircraft in service. Our goal is to provide maximum aircraft availability, which means that we need to work closely with our vendors. We monitor projects with them day by day. Keeping up the communications and relationships allows us to better manage each project and plane, which improves our return-to-service time.
XOJET Blog: What do you like most about your job?
Sue: The daily challenge of keeping aircraft available to meet flight demand and completing missions. Meeting every scheduled mission and flight every day is my goal and challenge. We work to minimize the maintenance recovery requirements, often dispatching a technician and giving them everything they need to get the plane ready to fly as close to the departure time as possible.
When someone’s paying tens of thousands of dollars for a flight, minimizing their delays is huge. Fortunately, we have lots of great technician relationships, so when they get the call, they run out to the jet as fast as possible. We spend a lot of time every day building our vendor relationships so that people will respond to AOGs (Aircraft on the Ground) quickly and get the jet back in the air.
The thing about aircraft is that your work is so critical. It’s not like a car. You can’t just pull over to the side of the road if something breaks down. The intensity is taken to the next level because you have to get the aircraft up and back down onto the ground safely. Aircraft are complex machines. You’re going to have mechanical issues on a jet. It’s not a case of if, but when, and how you manage through that issue. Our goal is to never let those issues interfere with the comfort and safety of our passengers.
XOJET Blog: How did you get into aviation?
Sue: When I was in high school, I used to fix cars with my dad. By the time I was 18 and out of high school, I was a machinist at a local machine shop. I signed up to go into the military, and they didn’t have any openings for machinists. So they said, “How about being an aircraft mechanic?” I got my first assignment in the Air Force as a C130 engine mechanic, and I did that for 10 years. I did three tours in the Middle East and got my bachelor’s degree from Embry Riddle in Aeronautics. I also got my A&P (Airplane and Powerplant) license to work on aircraft.
After the Air Force, I worked with Harrah’s Entertainment in their private aviation group. Then I moved to Gulfstream Aerospace in Georgia, where I managed the customer service center reps for maintenance. I maintained customer service communications and managed 50 aircraft a day as they made their way through the service center. I wanted to oversee maintenance instead of being the person turning the wrenches. It’s a very different level of satisfaction because instead of working on one aircraft, I’m overseeing many in work and 35 or more in the air. Now I’m doing many projects, so it’s very challenging and keeps me on my toes.
XOJET Blog: What do you do for fun outside of work?
Sue: My family and I love to go to and tour the wineries, which is just a short drive away. I also love to take vacations to Hawaii and enjoy family time with our dog and my grown children. My son is in the Air Force, following in my footsteps, as an aircraft refueler.
XOJET Blog: What are you most proud of at XOJET?
Sue: Winning the FAA Diamond Award of Excellence was pretty special. It took a few years of trying before we won that award and was such a team effort. Everybody who’s a company technician and holds an A&P license had to complete 12 hours of aircraft maintenance training within the year, which includes manufacturer training, in-house training, and outside training. We had all 25 technicians pass, which is tough with such a small team and such a huge daily workload. Whenever somebody was going through training, his or her workload had to shift to everybody else. So it’s a huge team effort.
Last year we won the Gold award, this year, the Diamond—XOJET’s first in six years. It’s a very prestigious award, something that every aviation repair station aspires to achieve. But it’s not just about mechanical training; it’s about aviation safety too. When you win this award, it shows that you know that your jets are maintained to the highest levels of safety in the industry.