Business Aviation Insider nameplate

Kern Award Winner Garry Melia: Safety Is a Collaborative Give and Take

Jan. 9, 2024

When it comes to safety, “never stop learning because you don’t know what you don’t know,” said Garry Melia, safety manager and helicopter captain at MassMutual who received NBAA ‘s 2023 Dr. Tony Kern Professionalism in Aviation Award. “Join a good peer group. It is a two-way street where you help the group, and the group helps you.”

The pandemic provided a succinct example, said Melia, a member of the Northeast Safety Roundtable since his first day on the job.

“When faced with a new safety challenge, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel because someone has most likely already done it,” he said. “Our operation had to address COVID. Instead of starting from scratch, I reached out to the roundtable and one of its members willingly shared his good plan that I adapted to our program.” He was able to give back by helping others with their rotor-wing flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) programs.

Melia – a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who flew helicopters on active duty and the Massachusetts National Guard – learned early that leaders must “read the room and craft their message so people receive it, even if you have to compose variations of it to connect with your audience, “Figure out what resonates, but balance that with the reality that you might have to tell them things they might not want to hear.”

Safety managers touch every aspect of the flight department – dispatch, maintenance, ground transportation and flight operations – so never forget to use everyone’s expertise to your advantage, he advised. But regardless the audience, “give them time to process and respond before hard charging with safety programs and initiatives,” Melia said.

Melia has been flying for MassMutual for 24 years, ever since he met its chief pilot while flying with the National Guard. “I’ve never looked back,” Melia said, and he was a founding member of the MassMutual safety committee, established almost 20 years ago. “I’ve been a member ever since, and when they needed a new safety manager six years ago, I raised my hand.”

Reiterating that safety is a team effort that embodies all who work for the company, not just the members of the flight department, Melia noted that all levels of management at MassMutual positively embrace the spirit of the safety program and do not second-guess the judgment of the flight department regarding safety concerns, even when flights are cancelled.

“I’ve been successful because the people who preceded me were successful,” Melia said. “I’ve been able to build on their solid programs and take them to the next level where new programs and technologies have allowed.”

At the end of 2023, Melia stepped down as safety manager and is mentoring his successor – “reinforcing the tools and mindset to sustain our cohesive, comprehensive safety culture where everyone is a contributing member of the team,” he said.

Moving forward, Melia plans to keep flying, while diving deeper into MassMutual’s FOQA programs. He also will continue serving as a member of the board of directors for the Massachusetts Business Aviation Association.

Dr. Tony Kern Professionalism in Aviation Award

Nine individuals were selected to receive the NBAA Tony Kern Professionalism in Aviation Award in 2023. Established in 2015 to honor its namesake, the peer-nominated award recognizes individual pilots, maintenance technicians, flight attendants, dispatchers and other aviation professionals who excel in leadership in the areas of professional ethics, vocational excellence, continuous improvement, professional engagement, professional image and selflessness.

Learn more about the NBAA Tony Kern Professionalism in Aviation Award.

April 8, 2024

NBAA’s Updated Management Guide: The Flight Plan for Today’s Workplace Leaders

NBAA announced its newly updated Management Guide, the industry’s preeminent source for aviation team leadership, now available exclusively to association members online. 
Read More

March/April 2024

Family-Friendly Policies in Business Aviation

Amid an increasingly tough workforce environment, a business aviation executive, a base manager and a top recruiter discuss the value of offering employees family-friendly time-off policies and what it means for the future of the industry.
Read More

March/April 2024

A Stabilized Approach to Sustainable Pilot Salaries

As pilot salaries go up, up and up, experts explain what’s driving this trend and how some operators are finding that compensation is often about more than just money.
Read More

Jan/Feb 2024

Kern Award Recipient Built a Legacy of Sharing Pilot Safety Skills

With each of his many assignments, retired Air Force Col. Lee “Monty” Hall has gained valuable inflight safety knowledge that he has shared with countless students over the years.
Read More