Valero harnesses its energy

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


Assistant Chief Pilot Jeff Soder (L) and Chief Pilot Tripp Riedel aboard company G550. In 2012 an on-order G650 will give the flight department nonstop international capability to 7000 nm.

"The analysis was comprehensive and based on capacity, range, fleet commonality, reliability and product support." The Gulfstream G650/ G550/G450 eventually won out based on type rating and avionics commonality and perceived product support. A low time G550 was acquired followed by a pre-owned G450 and an on-order G450.

In Oct 2008 Valero celebrated its first G550 anniversary with utilization, over the first year, at 600 hours. A new G650 is on order. Valero deploys its all-Gulfstream fleet for everything from short haul ops to missions halfway around the world. Longest G550 flight so far was a 5956 nm stage from TAK (Takamatsu, Japan) to SAT.

First flight of Valero's G550, however, was a 223-nm SAT-BPT (Beaumont TX) stage with a planeload of refinery electricians. "Our aircraft are available to anyone in the company-they're not just for senior management," says Senior Mgr Aircraft Maintenance & Corporate Travel Dana Parnes.

"We'll fly to BPT a couple of times each week filled to capacity with employees and technicians to support refinery operations." The transition from a midsize aircraft fleet to long-haul equipment over the past year has been a welcome experience for all flight department employees says Assistant Chief Pilot Jeff Soder.

"Moving up to the G550 and G450s has been a wonderful transition for us but also a steep learning curve. Our G650 will give us nonstop capability SAT to PEK (Beijing, China) and the option to fly to LTN (Luton, London, England), LBG (le Bourget, Paris, France) and MAD (Barajas, Madrid, Spain) at Mach 0.90 rather than Mach 0.83 on the G550."

Valero's new corporate hangar-39,000 sq ft of hangar and 13,000 sq ft of offices-accommodates 3 Gulfstreams side-by-side and comes complete with a 48,000 gallon fuel farm, large passenger lounge, 3 conference rooms, an exercise room, a commercial kitchen and an ops center for pilots, schedulers, 7 company travel agents and maintenance talent.

Operating efficiency

Dir Corporate Aviation John White has flight department equipment and infrastructure right where he wants it. Today, flight department focus is more on fine-tuning procedures.

Valero is focused on safety and efficiency with an overriding goal of excellence in all flight department activities. With its fuel farm, and capability of all aircraft to fly out and back to anywhere in North America or nonstop to Europe without refueling, Valero Energy saves a couple of dollars on every gallon of fuel it burns.

Flight Coordinators Belinda Malin and Kadee Rice, together with Mgr Commercial Travel Dana LeCoq and her onsite team of 7 travel agents, are constantly on the lookout for ways to maximize corporate travel efficiency.

Aircraft commonality represents a major payoff in pilot and maintenance training as well as schedule flexibility. Valero has gone paperless in its flightdecks and constantly taps into electronic efficiencies throughout the department. Catering its own aircraft saves Valero an estimated $10,000 a month.

With a goal of going paperless, Valero's flight department has moved to Panasonic ToughBook computers (which also serve as back up EFBs) and BlackBerry wireless handheld devices. (L-R) Capt Duane Shoultz, First Officer Josh Smith, Captains Jason Hall and Ben Lewis with a G450.

Three CSCMs-Richard Vargas, Dennis Burke and Dave Davisson-serve combined rolls as cabin safety officers, flight attendants and airborne executive chefs. "We're not limited to what we can do in flight and we prepare meals from scratch," says Burke.

"We'll cater entire trips from SAT with a range of menus including blackened salmon and full hot breakfasts. This represents significant cost savings but, more importantly, it ensures food safety."

On a recent flight Davisson had left over granola on board and combined this with some apples from an FBO lobby to create an exquisite, virtually no cost, apple crumble for passengers and crew.

Fine-tuning processes

"Every flight department in America can improve its processes and do the job better," suggests White.

(L-R) Senior Capt Lake Ellis and Flight Coordinator Belinda Malin go over upcoming schedules to the west coast while Flight Coordinator Kadee Rice works on a planned trip to Kazakstan.

"We believe the most important thing a flight department can do is to become more sophisticated in doing its business-there are just so many safety and efficiency payoffs. Achieving IS-BAO and VPP certification took time but it's worth it."

A focused safety culture is embedded in everything this flight department does-right down to not reheating Styrofoam cups and not leaving lemon skins in ice tea. Pilot and personnel hiring is a task everyone takes very seriously.

"We hire the right people who believe in our principles of trust, respect and integrity," says White. "We want everyone to be successful but we also hold everyone accountable." Capt Lake Ellis joined Valero in 2005 having previously bunked in a steel container in southern Colombia and flying armor-plated Vietnam-ear North American Rockwell OV10 Broncos in a US led drug eradication program.

"Valero offers a safer job, better schedules and plenty of operating variety!" says Ellis. Capt Jason Hall joined in 2008 after 9 years in the airline world. "I enjoy corporate flying and getting to know our passengers. Schedules here are better and I enjoy the PlaneView flightdeck."

Senior Capt Ben Lewis joined after being furloughed from the airline world and says he likes, "The more personal work and being treated as a team member." Meanwhile, Capt Duane Shoultz, who left charter flying to join Valero in 2002, admires the overall professionalism of the department.

"IS-BAO and VPP is not just a certification-it's a continuous process to help us develop our organization more effectively."



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