Michelin air shuttles staff members to 10 plant cities

Pair of Hawker 850XPs provide primary lift, Learjet 45 and Citation Excel are supplemental when needed.

By Mike Potts
Contributing Writer

Shown at GSP with a Hawker 850XP are Michelin Pilots Kirk Phillips, Stu Swanson and David Chilman, Scheduler Elaine Loucks, Maintenance Mgr Heath McDaniel, Maintenance Tech Adam Deaton, Dir of Aviation Dick Schliesman, Chief Pilot Belton O’Neall and Pilot Lynn Fleming.

It’s not your typical corporate flight operation. Michelin Av Dept Mgr Dick Schliesman describes his flight department—which serves the North American operations of one of the world’s largest tire makers—as “more like an airline.” He explains, “We operate on a predictable schedule.

We provide shuttle service to 10 plant locations, covering them all in a 2-week cycle that repeats throughout the year, and our average load factor is 86%.” Like a well-run airline, Michelin operates a single-type fleet, with 2 Hawker 850XPs which differ only in their N-numbers.

Each is equipped with identical Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suites. Both were delivered new in Jan 2006, replacing 2 identical Hawker 800s which Michelin had operated since they were new in 1993.

Michelin’s flight department is based at GSP (Greer SC) in a 12,000 sq ft hangar facility it leases from Stevens Aviation. The flight department is a short drive from Michelin North America’s headquarters facility in Greenville SC. Michelin North America is part of the Michelin Group, based at Clermont-Ferrand in France.

Michelin Group manufactures and sells tires for all kinds of vehicles, publishes maps and travel guides, and operates various digital services in more than 170 countries. Today’s Michelin Group was started in 1889 by brothers André and Edouard Michelin, who began making products for the transportation industry, including bicycle tires.

It was an easy evolution into automobile tires, and then airplane tires. In 1946 Michelin developed the radial tire, which by the late 1950s had become the standard for almost every European auto builder.

As the US imported growing numbers of European cars during this period, Michelin radials came with them, introducing America to this new higher performance tire design. In 1971, with the growing popularity of radials, Michelin began building tires for the North American market at a new plant in Halifax NS, Canada. In 1975, it opened a plant in Greenville.

These operations prospered and expanded over the years, and in 1986 it was decided to consolidate many of the administrative functions of both operations in Greenville, which had been designated Michelin North America’s headquarters.

Michelin products (clockwise from top L) Pilot Sport PS2 ZP tire, Michelin Man “Bibendum Runner” of 1925, farm tractor tire, offroad tire, lunar wheel field-testing on Scarab Rover for NASA in Hawaii, aircraft tires, ViaMichelin X980T high-end GPS device and Michelin Guide for touring.

It wasn’t easy to get from Green­ville to Halifax on the airlines in 1986—indeed, it still isn’t—and Michelin executives concluded they needed a flight department in North America. Group Michelin had operated corporate shuttles in Europe for many years and knew the benefits of aircraft ownership—increased productivity, time savings and flexibility.

The new flight department began operations in Nov 1986 with a mandate to provide safe, efficient air transportation for all traveling employees. “When pilots have an opportunity to develop a flight department, it’s magical,” Schliesman says.

“We were able to set the standards and create the shuttle program from the beginning. From an operations, safety and procedures standpoint, you can do everything the right way. That’s reflected in our results.

Over the past 22 years we’ve flown 33,000 hours without a mishap.” Schliesman earned his single-engine private license in 1968. He learned to fly helicopters in the Army, spending the 1970–71 timeframe in Vietnam.

After returning to civilian life he decided to pursue an aviation career, financing his training on the GI bill. “I worked my way up from Bonanzas to King Airs,” he says. In 1982 he became a corporate pilot for Trane, the air conditioning company, in LaCrosse WI, and was flying their airplanes when he was invited to help build a new flight department at Michelin. Schliesman quickly accepted.

Immediate advantages

The new Michelin flight department started out with a Cessna Citation III. The advantages of corporate aviation for Michelin’s operation became evident so quickly that a second Citation III was added within a few months, along with 3 more pilots.

When the time came to replace the department’s Citation IIIs in 1993, Michelin performed a careful study to select the right aircraft for their somewhat unusual mission. Schliesman recalls evaluating the Dassault Falcon 50, Citation VII and Hawker 800.

They settled on the Hawker based on its combination of range and cabin size. A custom interior was designed for the Hawker by what was then the British Aerospace completion center at LIT (Little Rock AR).

Michelin North America Pres & CEO Dick Wilkerson is a strong supporter of business aviation.

The Michelin-specified interior featured seating for 10 passengers, using a combination of standard executive chairs and side-facing couches, including a belted lavatory. Space for the extra seating in what was normally an 8-passenger cabin was carved out by reducing the size of the galley.

To save weight, no cabin entertainment system was installed. “These aircraft are used strictly for business,” Schliesman notes. In 2005 it was time to replace the Hawker 800s. A move to larger airplanes was considered briefly but rejected.

“The mission hadn’t changed,” Schliesman recalled. “With a goal of maximizing efficiency, we didn’t want to have more airplane than we need.” Michelin still had the engineering drawings for the interiors installed in the 800s, and these were used to outfit the 2 new matching Hawker 850s after delivery.

Service to 10 plants

Today Michelin’s flight department has 10 employees—6 pilots, 3 maintenance technicians and a scheduler. It provides shuttle services to 10 Michelin plants—3 in Nova Scotia, one each in Ardmore OK, Dothan AL, Fort Wayne IN, Louisville KY, Opelika AL, Tuscaloosa AL and Queretaro, Mexico.

None of the plant locations are served by major hub airports, so the efficiencies achieved with corporate aviation are significant. For example, using scheduled airlines a trip from Michelin’s Greenville headquarters to the Ardmore plant takes 2 travel days and 1 work day.


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