FLIGHT DEPT OF THE YEAR
Fleet of GV, G550 and 2 Citation Xs help Deere execs do business around the world
A reconfigured fleet and new hangar contribute to agricultural giant's expanded international mission.
By Mike Potts
Pro Pilot SW Associate Editor
Members of John Deere flight department with the company's Gulfstream G550 on the ramp at MLI. The aviation unit has 28 full-time employees and 2 more on contract. (Insets L–R) Pilot Fábian Domingues Livramento (L) and First Officer Fernando Cesar da Silveira, who fly a King Air 350 based at POA (Porto Alegre RS, Brazil). Assorted John Deere products—872GP motor grader, 300D truck, 7530 tractor and XUV825i Gator. Dir Global Services Larrie Dahl, noting the long-standing Deere tradition that its tractors have yellow wheels, confirms that the airplanes do too.
When the CFO of a firm as successful as Deere & Co says the company's business aviation department plays a critical role in helping the company achieve its overall strategy, you know he considers it extremely valuable.
The aviation department achieves this goal every day, he says, by providing the tools John Deere senior executives need to reach their customers, dealers, suppliers and employees who are located all over the world.
James Field is senior vp and CFO of John Deere, and he explains it this way.
"We are primarily focused on 6 main geographies that are critical to our strategy," he says. "Those geographies are North America, the EU 27 (European Union), Russia/CIS, Brazil, India and China.
For us to effectively deploy our strategy, it's very important for us to have a deep understanding of the customer, our dealers and our employees. John Deere Aviation is critical in enabling that deep understanding of all of those very important constituents."
Deere & Company Senior VP & CFO Jim Field says the flight department plays a critical role in achieving the company's strategy and providing a good quality of life for its execs.
Then he offers it up in simpler terms: "Our flight department allows us to reach places that aren't easy to reach when you live in Moline IL," Field says, "and to do it in a very safe and efficient manner. Aviation is an integral part of fulfilling our mission."
For example, he says, Dave Everitt, one of 2 presidents in the company's Agricultural and Turf Division, recently completed a 4-week series of business trips to visit Deere facilities and customers on 4 different continents. In spite of all that traveling, he was able to spend every weekend at home in Moline with his family. "You simply could not accomplish that without business aircraft," Field says. "There's just no way."
It's understandable that Field has strong feelings about the flight department's value to the corporation—for the past 2 years the department has reported to him.
But as a financial manager, Field has also given considerable thought to how the department enhances shareholder value, and he says he's convinced it would be very difficult for Deere's executives to operate their company effectively without business aircraft.
This is nothing new for John Deere. The company has a long tradition of operating its own airplanes, going back to shortly after WWII when it first began operating a Grumman Widgeon amphibian.
Corporate lore has it that the Widgeon was initially used to take Deere executives from Moline to visit clients in Chicago, where it would land on Lake Michigan and taxi up to the shoreline to discharge passengers on North Shore Drive.
Dir Global Aviation Services Larrie Dahl flies 280–320 hrs a year in company aircraft. He describes himself as "very proud to be part of a team that understands business aircraft and how to use them."
As an agricultural company with clients mostly based in rural communities with limited airline service, the advantages of corporate aircraft were obvious.
The company established operations in a hangar at MLI (Moline IL) and was soon operating a multiple-aircraft fleet that at various times included Beech 17s, 18s and 35s, Aero Commanders, a Navion, a Fairchild PT26 and even a Douglas DC3.
In the 1960s the Deere fleet graduated to turbine equipment, initially with a Gulfstream I, followed by Cessna Citation 500s, a Lockheed JetStar and later a GII. Following decades brought a series of Citations as well as a GV and a Challenger 601-3R.
The John Deere flight department has long been recognized as a leader in the business aviation industry, and has been profiled before in Pro Pilot, most recently in Oct 2009. At that time the fleet had evolved into a 3-type operation, with 2 Citation Xs, a Citation Sovereign and a GV.
Since then the department has continued to evolve, and some recent upgrades and changes merit a fresh look.
Today John Deere operates a 2-type fleet consisting of 2 Gulfstreams—a GV and a G550—and 2 Citation Xs. The G550 was acquired last year, replacing the Sovereign in a move to accommodate a business with an increasing international footprint.
Mgr Flight Ops Jay Sears has flown trips to every continent except Antarctica during the past year. MLI–PEK (Beijing, China) takes a little over 13 hrs in a Gulfstream, he says.
Larrie Dahl is dir of aviation at Deere, a position he has held since 2002. Dahl heads a department that includes 16 pilots (he's one of them), 8 maintenance personnel, 6 schedulers and administrative personnel and a receptionist at the company's MLI headquarters, plus 2 pilots who operate a King Air 350 in Brazil.
Three of Dahl's pilots also perform management roles, including Jay Sears, who is mgr of flight ops, Tim Toal, who is mgr of flight standards, with responsibility for pilot training, and Roger Schoutteet, who is manager of safety systems. Six of the line pilots report to Sears and 6 to Toal.
Dahl describes the entire aviation team as highly engaged and "just top shelf."