Just a few weeks from his 67th birthday, John White reflected on the life-changing realization that he came to just a year earlier. After a career of piloting corporate aircraft, White stopped flying professionally in 2010.
The decision was monumental. After all, piloting corporate aircraft was the biggest part of his life for nearly 50 years. Even though his choice had nothing to do with music, it had a lot to do with the words of a musician.
“I heard a famous pianist say something once that always stuck with me,” White says of his decision. “Van Cliburn said, ‘If I don’t practice for a day, I can tell it. If I don’t practice for three days, others can tell it.’ I decided to get out before others noticed what I had already noticed.”
In addition to his duties as Director of Corporate Aviation for Valero Energy Corporation, White often flew his company’s jets. But, as he was getting older, the planes were becoming more and more sophisticated. “And I was not as sharp as I once was,” he admitted. “But I do miss the flying, especially when I fly for the company…in a passenger seat.”
White has another Van Cliburn connection. The pianist began practicing when he was just three years old. It’s the same age White was when his father came home from World War II, serving his country as a B-24 navigator. “That’s when my interest in flying began. As I got older, I would hang out at what once was Russell Field near my home in Ft. Worth. I would trade odd jobs around the airfield for time in the air.”
One thing led to another and White would go on to solo in 1964— which began his decades-long aviation career. Four years later, he became a pilot for a Dallas oil and gas company. His corporate flying duties also included jobs with Union Pacific and HEB.
For the last seven years as Corporate Aviation Director, White oversees 35 employees. He effectively changed the department as Valero took on more of an international presence and needed to fly faster and farther.
He sits on the board of directors for the National Business Aviation Association and for the Partnership for Corporate Aviation Training. He previously served on the City Aviation Director Selection committee and the Mayor’s Committee for Vision 2050. He became the newest member of the Aviation Advisory Committee in June of 2011.
“Aviation has been a big part of my life and it’s been very good to me,” White says of his successful career. “I will always be a pilot at heart. I just don’t think you can get it out of me.” In fact, White is planning one day to return to the cockpit.
“When I retire, I will rent small airplanes and go for short trips. It’s how it all started, and it seems fitting to complete my life that way.”
Wingtips: What was it about aviation that interested you?
White: I was very impressionable when my father returned home from the war. I remember the stories and the photographs of his flying adventures. Also, Ft. Worth had a bomber factory and an airbase near our home. I guess you could say aviation was my destiny.
Wingtips: What was your motivation in accepting the appointment on the Texas Aviation Advisory Commission?
White: First, I have an enormous respect for Dave Fulton, the aviation division director for the Texas Department of Transportation. Also, I know that general aviation is faced with a lot of serious challenges. I am at a point in my career that I can devote more of my time to those problems.
Wingtips: Even though you are new to the advisory committee, are there any specific goals you would like to accomplish?
White: I would love to see the formation of a general aviation caucus in the Texas State Legislature. As you mentioned, I have some committee experience. I think we should all work together to make this happen. I believe a general aviation caucus could be a big part of our success going forward.
Wingtips: What are the biggest challenges for general aviation?
White: Politically speaking, the constant attacks from Washington on the use of corporate jets. I am also against using general aviation user fees to help fund the Federal Aviation Administration. General aviation already contributes our fair share with a significant fuel tax and avgas and jet fuel. Finally, I do not believe the BARR (Block Aircraft Registration Request) program should be eliminated. (NOTE: In June 2011, the FAA issued a notice detailing its plan to virtually eliminate the valuable BARR program.)
Wingtips: What would you like the public to know about general aviation in Texas and why non-pilots should care about it?
White: Business aviation is a big part of our economy with 1.2 billion jobs in America, pumping $150 billion into our economy. Most people don’t realize that the vast majority of general aviation airplanes are made in our country. They are made in America, by Americans. For that reason alone, and there are numerous others, we need to do all we can to make sure all aspects of general aviation is successful.