Q&A with Sue Frost, XOJET’s Director of Fleet Availability
In honor of the 24th Annual International Women in Aviation Conference, the XOJET Blog is re-posting some popular profiles from last year’s series celebrating the great women who work at XOJET. Today, we’re excited to bring you an interview with Sue Frost, Director of Fleet Availability at XOJET. Sue has been promoted since we published the original post in March 2012, so we’ve updated this Q&A to reflect her new role.
XOJET Blog: Sue, tell us a little bit about you and your role at XOJET.
Sue: I’m the Director of Fleet Availability, which means I manage the Crew Resources team and work to maximize our fleet availability. We support the Revenue Management team—the group that quotes trip requests. I joined XOJET in April 2006, and I’ve been a member of Women in Aviation for three years now.
XOJET Blog: How have things changed since you joined XOJET?
Sue: I joined XOJET as Maintenance Control Manager and oversaw our internal maintenance team, which handled most of our aircraft maintenance. We would perform up to 100 hours of labor in-house, and send major work out to the manufacturer. At the time we had a return-to-base strategy, which meant that the jets had to be back at the base every 7 to 10 days.
A little more than two years ago, we started performing maintenance on the aircraft where it is, rather than bringing it to a central location. 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.
Last summer, I was promoted to Director of Fleet Availability, which carries many of the same responsibilities, but from a crew resources and trip scheduling perspective. I work with the current Maintenance Control Manager to get our aircraft out of maintenance quickly and back in the air, but I also consider where those aircraft are located in relation to the rest of the fleet. This ensures we have coverage across the country in order to optimize our trip schedule and fleet assets.
XOJET Blog: So what’s a typical day like for you?
Sue: In the morning, my team and I review each aircraft’s location and destination. We also look at weather conditions and anything else that might delay a trip. Throughout the day, we constantly monitor where our jets are—and where they’re going—so that we have aircraft ready for today’s trips as well as tomorrow’s. If we have too many aircraft moving cross country, creating an imbalance on the fleet for the following day’s schedule, we’ll look to see how we can move other planes back towards the opposite coast while minimizing deadhead.
We keep an eye on crew duty days to make sure that we follow Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR). According to the FAA, a crew cannot fly more than 10 hours during a 24-hour period, so we need to account for that in the schedule. Furthermore, we schedule crews so that there’s always a balanced pair of a captain and a co-pilot. Additionally, if a client has a special request such as having a Wyvern crew—a crew that has a minimum of 6,000 flight hours—we need to accommodate that into the crew and trip schedules as well.
XOJET Blog: What do you like most about your job?
Sue: I love the daily challenge of keeping aircraft available to meet flight demand and complete missions on schedule. We work to minimize the maintenance recovery requirements, staying ahead of our trip schedule by planning and moving aircraft and preventing delays. When someone’s paying tens of thousands of dollars for a flight, minimizing their delays is huge. Fortunately, we have a phenomenal group of people working together, both in the field doing maintenance on the aircraft as well as behind the scenes in the Sacramento Operations Center orchestrating each mission.
Jets 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. Weather conditions and other delays will always happen as well. 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 Las Vegas and later to their facility in Savannah, 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 dogs and my grown children. I have a daughter working in the banking industry and starting college. My oldest son is in the Air Force, following in my footsteps, as an aircraft refueler. My youngest son is pitching in Junior Little League and I spend a lot of time watching him grow into a great athlete.
XOJET Blog: What are you most proud of at XOJET?
Sue: Winning the FAA Diamond Award of Excellence for two consecutive years was pretty special. In my previous role as Maintenance Control Manager, I oversaw the training that led to us first win the award in 2011. As I transitioned to my new role last year, I worked closely with the maintenance team to maintain the training requirements that helped us receive that prestigious award again. It 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.
However, my proudest moment at XOJET happened last year after I settled fully into my new role. XOJET broke records in the second half of the year in terms of flight hours, but for me what was most fulfilling was planning during December’s peak season. On December 22 in particular, we flew—on-fleet, in a single day—nearly double the amount we typically fly. There were a few issues, but the maintenance and operations teams worked together seamlessly to get them resolved immediately and keep the trip schedule intact. There were no delays, and we didn’t miss a single trip.