WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF YOUR JOB?
The UI’s Institute of Aviation has 28 Piper and two Cessna airplanes housed at Willard Airport. The aircraft are used by more than 160 students and instructors for flight-training courses each semester. Phillip Hayden, the aircraft maintenance manager and a technician with 30 years of experience, ensures the airplanes are safe.
WHAT’S CHANGED AT THE AIRPORT SINCE YOU STARTED WORKING HERE?
When I first came here there was a mechanics school. I started out as a mechanic out on the floor. What we do here hasn’t really changed that much, except there’s a lot more regulations and paperwork.
HAVE THE STUDENTS CHANGED?
The students haven’t really changed, I’ve just gotten older. It wasn’t unusual to see students playing Frisbee around here when the weather was nice. Back when I started, I was closer to the students’ ages and we could go out and talk over a beer after work. I still have some of those friends from the early years, but now the students feel like my kids and I’m looking out for them.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE AS MANAGER?
My job is to make sure all of these airplanes are safe. We don’t see it as taking care of aircraft; we see it as taking care of those students and flight instructors. Inspection is a big part of what we do. Every 100 hours we have to perform an inspection, and every 50 hours we change the oil. There’s also an annual inspection and lots of things to do in between, just like you have to do on a car.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE AVIATION PROFESSION THAT DREW YOU TO IT?
There’s just something that’s always been attractive about it to me. There was no particular event or reason. It goes all the way back to high school. I was the kid on the block who fixed everybody’s stuff. I had a bicycle shop out on our front porch and my brothers and I would tear things apart all the time. Of course, we didn’t usually know how to put them back together.
HOW DID YOU PREPARE FOR YOUR CAREER?
I went to Rock Valley College in Rockford and graduated from air frame and power plant school in 1981. I’ve also taken classes at the UI and Parkland. The mechanical part was not a problem for me. I found it to be easy because I was interested. I’m pretty good with anything that involves numbers. I’m not so good when it comes to things involving English or writing.
DO YOU EVER LOSE SLEEP WORRYING YOU’VE MISSED SOMETHING?
All of us have at one time or another, but I think over the years I’ve gotten used to it. I have a good staff here and they do a really great job. We know we’re all in it together. The standards here are very high here because I’ve got parents and the university counting on me to do the job right. I’m the one they take it to when something doesn’t go right.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU REALIZE YOU HAVE MISSED SOMETHING?
I will ground the whole fleet if I have to. We’ll stop everything to get a situation fixed or stopped. We have a system in place for it and we don’t hesitate to call that up. We have a manual that points out the checks and balances, but despite all that, there are times if I’m uneasy I’ll want to just take a look at it myself. We double-check each other all the time. It’s redundant, but necessary in this business.
DO YOU ALSO HAVE A PILOT’S LICENSE?
I never have gotten one. I never had the means when I was younger and now that I’m older, I’ve never wanted to take the time. I just fix them and go home. I don’t even like airplanes flying over my house. Some of the mechanics here fly and some don’t.
TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR FAMILY.
I have one daughter, Tara, who recently graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in graphic design. My son, Jared, also is attending ISU and pursing studies in alternative energy. My wife, Amy, is a teacher and a principal at Unit 4 (in Champaign). Education is very important to all of us.
My father was on a squad after World War II to check bombs to see if they were still live.
HOW HAVE EMPLOYEES MET THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT THE INSTITUTE OF AVIATION COULD BE CLOSING?
It’s a challenge because you just don’t know what’s going on. It really affects people’s morale. It’s tough not knowing. It’s just harder to get things done, but it’s our job to keep getting them done. We’re never going to sacrifice safety for anything.
WHAT WOULD YOU MISS MOST ABOUT WORKING IN AVIATION?
I can’t say what I would do if I was not in aviation. This is one of the few places that really does aircraft maintenance right; that’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed as long as I have. I like working here. It’s one of the few places I’ve seen that does it the way it’s supposed to be done and doesn’t cut corners.
DO YOU HAVE A SAYING OR CREDO YOU TRY TO LIVE BY?
Safety is first and cannot be challenged.