The Friday morning all-hands call at Fiserv flight operations is always a spirited discussion. Captain Bryan Thomson may share the latest flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) data, pointing to a potential safety issue that could be mitigated as pilots gain more proficiency on the company’s newest airplane.’
After talking through different experiences with the Gulfstream G600’s avionics (the company also operates a G550), the pilots and maintenance technicians likely come up with a procedure to try, which if accepted, Captain Tom Hill will write into the operations manual.
“Each person on this team is an expert in their own right. Everybody reports on projects they’re leading.”
Don Menard Senior Vice President of Flight Operations, Fiserv
“We go around the horn and we come away with an idea and go forward as a group,” said Senior Vice President of Flight Operations Don Menard. “Each person on this team is an expert in their own right. They each report on projects they’re leading, then I impart information I receive from the Fiserv senior leadership team.”
That collaboration was especially crucial as Fiserv aviation took delivery of the G600 in June 2022, navigated COVID 19, operationally supported a merger with First Data in 2019, updated its safety audit process in 2018 and relocated bases in 2014 from Atlanta to New Jersey’s Morristown Municipal Airport (MMU).
“The people on our aviation staff are true professionals,” said Fiserv Chief Revenue Officer Chris Foskett. “They work with the leadership of the company and always figure out how to make our jobs simpler. When we travel to meet clients, I think of our aviation team as much a part of that client-facing team as the people who actually go into the meetings with me.”
“The people on our aviation staff are true professionals. They work with the leadership of the company and always figure out how to make our jobs simpler. ”
Chirs Foskett Chief Revenue Officer, Fiserv
All Pitch In
The Fiserv aviation team earned that esteem with their commitment to safety and by rising to the evolving mission profile of a financial technology (fintech) company growing internationally.
The combination of Fiserv and First Data created a global technology leader that moves money for financial institutions, businesses and consumers. With clients in over 100 countries, Fiserv enables 10,000 financial institutions and over 6 million merchant locations every year. In the U.S. alone, Fiserv solutions reach nearly 100% of households.
“All those systems that move money on digital platforms and make life convenient, we’re the power behind that,” explained Flight Operations Manager Michelle Spearman.
Fiserv leaders travel between the company’s offices in New York, Atlanta and Milwaukee, and to cities underserved by the airlines, such as Omaha, NE, and Coral Springs, FL. They also meet with clients on every continent.
The flight operation was originally based at Denver’s Centennial Airport (APA) in the 1990s and then Atlanta’s DeKalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK) in the 2000s before moving to Morristown.
Menard and Director of Maintenance Manuel Teques go back to the Peachtree days. Further back, they also share a history of flying or working on U.S. Army helicopters. Several of the other pilots and maintenance technicians are also veterans.
“Almost half of us here have a military background,” said Teques, “so we all have the same mindset. It’s about getting the job done. We all pitch in. Don’s the first guy here in the morning, he’ll come into the hangar, roll up his sleeves and ask if we need help.”
“Almost half of us here have a military background, so we all have the same mindset. It’s about getting the job done.”
Manuel Teques Director of Maintenance, Fiserv
Everyone's an Expert
In 2022, with the company’s increase in flight activity and the new G600 spooling up, Teques hired a third maintenance technician, Luis Caisaguano. The top qualification he looked for? “Work ethic,” said Teques.
The Fiserv team enjoys working together, and every member of the team is expected to take on an ancillary responsibility.
The technicians also share responsibility for early morning departures and late arrivals, another habit learned in the military. (Fellow maintenance technician Matthew Luogameno is a U.S. Air Force veteran and a reservist.)
Similarly, the pilots divide up responsibilities for specific safety tasks. Thomson oversees the operation’s FOQA program, Hill manages the safety management system, and Captain Dave Telo is responsible for the FAA Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP).
Captain Derrick Davis wrote the emergency response plan (ERP). Drawing from his background flying for the U.S. Army’s VIP Aviation squadron, Davis worked with Fireside Partners to establish clear lines of communication in the event of an aviation incident.
When the team’s newest hires, captains Mike Colavita and Jake Cowen, completed their type ratings, Menard’s first priority was giving them time to find an ancillary responsibility to “own,” such as flight standards, cabin technology and fleet planning.
The Mission Expands
Perhaps because the Fiserv aviation team has adapted to so many changes, they are always on the lookout for the next trend in aviation – to get out ahead of it and meet the passengers’ needs as safely and reliably as possible.
Earlier in his career, Menard flew for IBM, one of the first Part 91 operations to adopt an SMS, and yet he and Hill say they are not about “writing procedures just to write procedures.”
In 2018, Fiserv replaced its Bombardier Challenger 604 and one Learjet 60 with Gulfstream jets, beginning with a G450. Adding range, speed and fuel efficiency enabled the flight operation to meet the increasing demand for international travel.
While most of Fiserv’s flying is domestic, a few overseas trips are scheduled each year – to Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. For a multi-city client visit to Australia, Spearman and Operations Specialist Jackie Carrillo worked to pre-position two flight crews and a maintenance technician ahead of the G550, one crew in Sydney, Australia and another in Hawaii. “It was a three-city tour in 36 hours, no lollygagging,” said Spearman.
Domestic travel is usually simpler, especially as Fiserv employees have learned to take advantage of flights whenever they are scheduled between offices.
“We try to keep awareness of who [within the company] travels between major office hubs. When we’re going to one of our frequented locations, we’ll call the usual travelers and let them know we have open seats on the aircraft,” said Spearman. “We want to avoid deadheads and operate as efficiently as we can.”
When You Show Up
Operating efficiently was especially important during the height of COVID-19, when Fiserv maintained 80% of its average operating tempo of about 600 hours per year.
“Some months, our flying increased,” said Hill, “because we flew masks, test kits and more PPE [personal protective equipment] to distribute to our offices. We flew plastics and other manufacturing materials to and from Fiserv locations. Instead of flying Fiserv people out to meet clients, we were bringing clients to our offices; they would get tested right in the hangar before going into a meeting.”
Making all that possible takes teamwork and dedication. It has also earned the Fiserv aviation team a highly valued place in a client-facing business.
“The aviation team allows us to show a commitment to clients,” said Foskett. “People like when you show up.”
Prepared for the Future
Refreshing the fleet, relocating the base and taking on more international flying have all kept the Fiserv aviation team on their toes, and Senior VP of Flight Operations Don Menard is always looking to the next challenge to meet and turn into an opportunity.
Lately, Menard has been focused on workforce issues. This summer, his team welcomed its first intern, Georgia Tech aerospace engineering student Jack McGarity, who had just earned his pilot’s license.
“For those of us in business aviation, it’s important to get youth excited about joining us [in our industry]” said Menard. “This young man renewed my faith that we might be able to do that. He raised the energy and enthusiasm in our group to a different level.”
Over the eight-week internship, designed by Flight Operations Manager Michelle Spearman, McGarity was introduced to all the responsibilities of Fiserv’s aviation operation, from scheduling and decision-making to budgets, FAA safety reporting, safety procedures and what it takes to fly a Gulfstream.
“He just jumped into the deep end of the pool,” said Captain Tom Hill. “I had him do a flight risk assessment with me, sit in the right seat and do the startup checklist. It’s good to see the next generation learning the right way.”
It was a learning experience for the Fiserv team, too. “Discovering what this peer group wants out of a job in aviation, finding out what works for an intern program, how to get the most out of it,” said Spearman. “Even if they are not a job candidate, you can’t lose.”
Aircraft: One Gulfstream G550 and one G600
Base: Headquartered at New Jersey’s Morristown Municipal Airport (MMU)
Personnel: Seven pilots (including the SVP of flight operations), three maintenance technicians and two operations managers