FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE

Valero harnesses its energy

North America's largest refiner maximizes global ops efficiency with Gulfstream G550 and 2 G450s.

By Grant McLaren
Editor-at-Large


Valero's 36-member aviation team at SAT. The new corporate hangar easily accommodates the flight department's all-Gulfstream fleet.

Valero Energy, North America's biggest refiner with 22,000 employees and annual sales of $100 billion, has successfully adapted and fine-tuned corporate flight operations over the past 2 years to serve predominantly large-cabin long-range missions.

Transitioning from a domestic focus-with 2 Bombardier Learjet 60s and 2 Cessna Citation Xs-the company now operates a Gulfstream G550 and 2 G450s on global schedules with a 36-member flight department based out of a new 52,000 sq ft SAT (Intl, San Antonio TX) corporate hangar.

"Corporate aviation has been a tremendous advantage for us [allowing] us global access and [letting us] be anywhere in the world with relatively short notice," says VP Human Resources Mike Crownover.

"We're happy with the operating flexibility of current G550/G450 fleet. We can send an evaluation team halfway around the world to look at new refinery technology and provide efficient transportation for groups of company employees traveling within North America.

We have a truly excellent flight department team that takes pride in everything they do." Today, with the flight department optimized for the mission mix, Valero's focus is on creating processes, a safety culture and new levels of technology and operating efficiencies.

"Last year was a landmark for us as we switched gears from acquiring aircraft, equipment and a new hangar to fine tuning processes and the way we run our flight department," says Dir Corporate Aviation John White.

Valero operates 18 refineries across North America as well as 5800 retail outlets under various brand names.

"There was nothing we needed this year in terms of aircraft and infrastructure. All of our proposals to senior company management had to do with creating processes to help us to serve the company better."

Valero achieved IS-BAO certification in 2007 and, in Aug 2008, the culmination of a 2-year certification process, the flight department earned voluntary protection program (VPP) certification-a safety program sponsored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Valero is one of only 2 flight departments in the nation to hold both IS-BAO and VPP certification. "We prefer to go well beyond routine requirements," adds White. "The end result of a commitment to best practices and excellence is improved safety and better internal communication."

Valero's Gulfstream fleet operates 100% paperless in flight and is equipped with enhanced vision systems (EVS), head-up display (HUD), electronic charts with triple redundancy and synthetic vision systems (SVS).

Currently on order is a Gulfstream G650 for 2012 delivery, to improve long-range capabilities. Unlike many corporate flight departments, Valero caters its flights round-trip to even the most remote regions of the world.

The primary objective is safety but cost savings are also significant. "We recently completed a 6 day 39 flight hour and 6 flight leg trip to SUB (Surabaya, Indonesia) with an augmented crew of 3 pilots," says Ops Mgr Capt Tripp Riedel. "All 77 crew and passenger meals were prepared in advance at SAT. We'll also prepare all meals in advance for a G550 flight to Kazakstan followed, the next day, by a 10 day mission from SAT to South Korea, China and Japan."

Valero's new passenger lobby. Senior Capt Ben Lewis uses exercise room during break. The hangar's 39,000 sq ft expanse accommodates up to 5 Gulfstream-size aircraft.

Senior Cabin Safety Crew Member Richard Vargas and his team of CSCMs, working out of a full commercial kitchen at the corporate hangar, crew and cater all flights. Pilot ranks here include 12 professionals who are hired more for attitude, team focus and safety culture than for flight hours.

"We're dead serious about hiring the right people and we'll go to great lengths to find that person," says White. While Valero's pilot hiring process is rigorous, typically involving 5-6 months of interviews and a simulator check, opportunities here for the right candidate are real.

"I joined the flight department 2 years ago with about 1000 flight hours and less than 100 hours multiengine time in a Piper Navajo," says First Officer Josh Smith. "I had the opportunity to complete my G550 type rating even before I had my ATP.

Our focus here is on being the best we can be." Professional opportunity exists throughout the department. Over the past 2 years, as just one example, Maintenance Associate Lorenzo Galan earned his A&P license in-house from scratch with the help of everyone in the maintenance department.

Building a business and selecting aircraft

Valero, named after San Antonio's most famous landmark-the Mission San Antonio de Valero-was formed in 1980. Today, Valero is the largest refiner in North America with 16 refineries in the US, Canada and Aruba, throughput capacity of 3.1 million barrels per day and a pipeline network stretching from Canada and the US east coast to the Gulf and the west coast.

Valero CEO, Pres & Chairman Bill Klesse is taking the company on a more global course, increasing needs for long-range aircraft ops.

In addition, Valero owns and operates 5800 retail locations in 44 US states, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean. Under current CEO Bill Klesse, who took over in 2006, Valero has a more global focus in its activities and travel requirements.

Valero's first corporate aircraft was a Cessna 421 followed by a Beechcraft King Air 200. When White joined the flight department 4 years ago the fleet had progressed to 2 Learjet 60s and a Citation X.

"We'd fly the Learjet 60s all over North America and to Western Europe, while the Citation X would handle longer international trips," says White. "But range and cabin size of the Citation X was really beating up passengers and crew on long overseas missions."

In Mar 2007 Valero began an evaluation process with a goal to upgrade to larger capacity aircraft and nonstop capability to Europe. "We set up 3 evaluation teams with participation of everyone in the flight department," recalls White.

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