March 5, 2012

Presented annually since the 1960s, the General Aviation (GA) Awards are a joint effort between the FAA and the industry to recognize aviation professionals for their outstanding contributions to education and flight safety. Every year, national awards are presented to one individual in each of four critical fields: flight instruction, maintenance, avionics and safety officer.

This year, the National Avionics Technician of the Year is Rick Ochs, a member of NBAA’s Maintenance Committee since 2006. A widely respected leader in the avionics community, Ochs is the founder and president of Spirit Avionics, an FAA-certified repair station on Ohio’s Port Columbus International Airport (CMH).

“It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized at the national level, and even more humbling knowing the many people that make our aviation system the world standard,” said Ochs. “The GA Awards are a great recognition of the people that go unsung in our industry.”
Ochs began his career in the U.S. Navy, as an avionics troubleshooter on an aircraft carrier. After leaving the service, he worked for several aviation companies before founding Spirit Avionics in 2000. It started as a one-man shop and today employs 10 people, servicing GA and military airplanes.

Since he joined the NBAA Maintenance Committee, Ochs has become more involved in enhancing the professionalism and safety of those in the avionics field. As the co-chair of the Advanced Education and Training Subcommittee, he steers Project Bootstrap, an initiative to provide a more robust career path for aircraft technicians. “If we can provide the resources for a technician to do his job better, that makes the entire flight operation safer,” said Ochs.
His fellow recipients of the 2012 GA Awards include:

  • Marvin Hornbostel, 2012 National Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year. With more than 50 years of experience as an A&P technician, Hornbostel owns and operates Raven Aero Service, a classic-aircraft restoration business in Junction City, KS. Receiving his aviation maintenance training in the U.S. Army, Hornbostel worked for a military maintenance contractor for 32 years before founding Raven. Today, Hornbostel provides mentoring programs for Army maintenance technicians and summer jobs to students from Kansas State University’s aviation school.
  • Hobart “Hobie” Tomlinson, 2012 National Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) of the Year. Tomlinson is an instructor and safety director for Heritage Aviation in Burlington, VT who has earned the FAA’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award and has 35,000 flight hours. After graduating from college, Tomlinson served with the Vermont National Guard and flew for TWA for 33 years. At Heritage, Tomlinson teaches safety management systems (SMS) to employees. He also serves as an FAA Safety Team lead representative, presents safety seminars and writes a monthly safety newsletter.
  • Jeanné Willerth, 2012 National FAA Safety Team Representative of the Year. A volunteer FAA aviation safety counselor and CFI, Willerth instructs for Air Associates at two airports near Kansas City, where she specializes in getting dormant pilots back in the air. She had a career in computer marketing and was a homemaker for 14 years before she started flying again by entering an air race with her mother and teenage daughter, both of whom are pilots. Today, Willerth presents safety seminars nationwide and helps organize the annual Bombardier Safety Standdown.

Like his fellow recipients, Ochs is dedicated to furthering professional education in his field. He’s currently working with the National Center for Aerospace and Transportation Technologies to develop a professional credential for avionics technicians, as well as an accrediting program for avionics education.

“If you’re a pilot, you start with VFR training; if you’re a mechanic, you start with an A&P certificate; for avionics, there’s no ‘Step 1,’” said Ochs. “Avionics maintenance is not a well-defined trade, but it’s critical to flying safe. While aircraft engines and airframes have evolved over the years, electronics is a field that is continually revolutionized. That requires a high level of professional skill.”
Learn more about the GA Awards and this year’s recipients.