World’s Largest Independent Refiner Relies on Aviation to Conduct Business Around the World
By Chris Sasser
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
It’s hard to pinpoint what is more impressive about Valero Flight Services—their commitment to safety and best practices, their experienced and dedicated 36-member aviation team, or their new facility with its large climate-controlled hangar, commercial kitchen and workout facility. Whatever the reason, the Valero Flight Department is a great example of how business aviation should serve its company.
Upgrading the Fleet and Facilities
Several years ago, Valero Flight Services began transitioning from a domestic focus with two Learjet 60s and two Cessna Citation Xs to their current fleet of three Gulfstream G550s. According to Vice President of Aviation John White, the move toward a larger intercontinental fleet allows them to better serve Valero, the world’s largest independent refiner of transportation fuels, with the ability to fly their personnel to its 16 refineries and 10 ethanol plants across North America and around the world.
“We gain all the efficiencies of dealing with only one type of aircraft,” noted White. That really makes everything from training to operations to maintenance more efficient.”
Valero’s Gulfstream fleet operates 100 percent paperless in flight and is equipped with enhanced vision systems, head-up display, electronic charts with triple redundancy and synthetic vision systems.
“Also, the 550 is an extremely capable tool,” said White. “It’s able to fly short trips, operate from high elevations and from shorter runways as well or better than many smaller airplanes. Add to that the capability of carrying up to 15 passengers and flying 6,700 nautical miles non-stop, and it’s obvious that it’s a very versatile and capable business tool.”
While the fleet has been upgraded, so has the headquarters of Valero Flight Services. Several years ago, the aviation team moved into a new 52,000 square-foot facility at San Antonio International Airport. The facility features a spacious passenger lobby, exercise room and 39,000 square-foot hangar that easily accommodates the Valero fleet of Gulfstreams.
The facility also has a full commercial kitchen in which the cabin safety crew member (CSCMs) prepare all the meals from scratch for flights; a practice that not only saves money but ensures food safety. How impressive are the executive chef CSCMs at catering for the flight crew and passengers?
“A few years ago we went on a 6-day, 39-flight hour and 6-flight leg trip to Indonesia with a crew of three pilots,” said Valero Director of Aviation Tripp Riedel. “All 77 meals for crew and passengers were prepared by our CSCMs in advance at our facility.”
Valero’s aviation headquarters also has an operations center for pilots, schedulers and company travel agents, who are available to book travel for any employee of Valero.
Making Safety a Priority
Valero achieved International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) certification in 2007. 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.
Valero is one of only two flight departments in the nation to hold both IS-BAO and VPP certification. When asked about his department’s commitment to best practices and safety, White explained that his group has a demanding standard to live up to.
“I was recently at a company-wide management meeting to review year 2013 and look forward into year 2014. Our company is in the refining business. That means that we cook crude oil in order to turn it into something useful. It’s inherently a dangerous business. Valero is very focused on safety but even so, from time to time there is an accident. Valero’s accident record ranks very well within the industry. It occurred to me as I listened that that portion of the program that in my job, ranking well in the industry would be failure. A perfect safety record is a requirement.
“Knowing that we must live up to such a demanding standard causes us to be laser focused on safety every second of every day. IS-BAO, VPP along with a good safety management system (SMS) are tools we use to help us know that we are doing all we can do.”
Valero is focused on safety and efficiency with an overriding goal of excellence in all flight department activities. With its fuel farm and the capability of their fleet of Gulfstream 550s to fly out and back on the same day to anywhere in North America or nonstop to Europe without refueling, Valero Energy saves money on every gallon of fuel it burns. The staffs of onsite flight coordinators and travel agents are constantly looking for ways to maximize corporate travel efficiency.
“Valero’s corporate fleet is available to any employee with a business travel need,” explained White. “Since the Valero commercial travel department is part of the aviation department, part of our job is to make a determination as to which mode of transportation to deploy to serve the company best. We simply make a call based on not only cost but also efficiency. More often than not, the passengers on the Valero airplanes will be mid-level business professionals such as engineers, attorneys, accountants or refinery personnel.”
Clearing the Air Regarding Business Aviation
After spending an afternoon touring Valero Flight Services with John White, Tripp Riedel and Manager of Aviation Safety Scott Miller, it’s impossible not to be impressed with the department’s facilities and commitment to best practices. But White is also passionate about educating the general public about business aviation and how it can be an asset to any company and community.
“The public, to a large extent, believes that general/business aviation is a bunch of ‘fat cats’ flying around in private jets,” said White. “And, no doubt, there are a few of those; however, the vast majority of general/business aviation is flown in furtherance of business and commerce. In fact, business aviation contributes more than 180 billion dollars to the American economy and is responsible for supporting 1.2 million jobs. General aviation is a beautiful American story, one that everyone ought to hear.”
San Antonio International Airport General Aviation Taskforce
On the north end of San Antonio International Airport lies a bustling hub of commerce led by corporate aviation giants Valero, HEB, Zachry Construction and a relative newcomer, Skyplace Center. The businesses form what is known as the San Antonio International Airport General Aviation Taskforce, whose goal is to share resources (such as training programs) to help other small flight departments succeed.
Zachry employees about 15,000 people companywide, with approximately 2,000 in San Antonio. Their headquarters is in San Antonio, with engineering centers across the United States in Denver, Amarillo, Omaha, Minneapolis and a Nuclear Engineering Center in Stonington, Conn.
Texas grocery giant HEB has 350 stores (50 of which are located in Mexico), over 78,000 employees and is the 12th largest privately owned company in the United States. According to Director of Aviation Mark Miller, their flight services department is an integral part of the organization’s success.
“We can fly anywhere in Texas or Mexico and return to San Antonio in the same day,” said Miller. “Obviously that allows us to streamline our operations by planning multiple visits in a day, thus maximizing our time.”
The newcomer to the group is Skyplace Center, a new general aviation development and fixed based operator that services both U.S. and Mexican aircraft. Skyplace offers services such as fuel, ramp-side vehicle access, ground transportation, a Part 145 repair station, a flight planning center and a renovated terminal building with many amenities. A federal inspection station is also planned for construction adjacent to the facility. For more information, please visit http://skyplacecenter.com/ .