Aircraft Maintenance Leadership: An Interview with DOM Joe Loccisano

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When it comes to aircraft maintenance—or all of business aviation for that matter—there’s a lot on the plate of our leaders. I recently sat down with Joe Loccisano, one of our industry’s preeminent directors of maintenance (DOMs), to discuss his insights and recommendations for developing tomorrow’s leaders, and what it takes to lead people at flight departments large and small.


Joe Loccisano - Director of MaintenanceBy Jim Lara (with Joe Loccisano, pictured)


Jim: When did you know that aircraft maintenance would turn into a life-long career?

Joe Loccisano: I was about 27 when I realized I would be doing this my entire life. I got my A&P license earlier, right after I left the Air Force, when I was 22. I wanted to be a fighter pilot more than anything, but I took too long to finish college, so that dream never materialized.

I always admired the complexities of aircraft and their systems. I was amazed watching it all work together on the platform. I wanted to learn as much as possible so I could become an “expert” one day.

I always thought that when you decide what you want to be in life, it should be something you love doing, not something you feel like you have to do or settle for.


Jim: True enough. What do you think is the most rewarding part of your job as director of maintenance?

Joe: When my boss notices, appreciates, and comments on what my team has accomplished, I’m very gratified. I have that sense of accomplishment when I know we have tackled something very special or difficult. Or when a mission like the sale, delivery, modifications or inspection of an aircraft is completed exactly as planned.

When I see that the Maintenance crew’s morale and productivity are both at a high level, I know that the gears are greased and turning smoothly. Seeing it all come together as you planned, that’s the most rewarding.       


Jim: Very well-said, Joe. But let me ask what you feel is the most challenging aspect of your leadership position?

Joe: I have some self-imposed targets that I need to hit. Those targets continue to evolve and get refined as time goes on.

The bottom line is that a DOM has many fronts on which to do battle. Safety is paramount, but there’s also fiscal responsibility, maintenance scheduling, regulatory concerns, crisis management and decision-making, irrational requests, technician morale and productivity, and continuous improvement, to name just a few.

Taken one at a time, each is digestible but when your goal is to address them all at a high level, it can be very difficult to do concurrently.

If I had to pick one area of significant challenge, I would say that it’s when I’m asked to accomplish something and not given the appropriate tools, time or funds to get it done by conventional means. That’s when you need to get creative and think outside the box. Those events for me have historically been make-or-break scenarios. 


Jim: Everybody I talk to in our industry seems to have a quotation on leadership that guides them and seems to define their leadership style; what’s yours, Joe?

Joe:  I’m glad you asked! Back in 2005, I had a professor named Jim Clawson at Darden University, and he told us ‘We teach what we tolerate.’ I think about that statement often.

Your crew, boss and peers all learn because YOU teach them, by example, how you handle situations. I don’t believe in extremes in general, but I do believe that your crew needs to be aware that you are fully capable and willing to be creative to meet the arising situation, however difficult it will be.

In general, I consider myself to be a steady, semi-democratic-style leader, who’s not over-reactive. I listen to the concerns from all involved and, after digesting it, I prioritize and then make the call. What better way to get ALL the facts and make the most educated decisions?


Jim:  That’s great advice and insight. What are your thoughts on mentoring and being mentored?

Joe: Most everyone you work with in your career will have at least one redeeming quality. When you work side-by-side with them, over time, you’d be smart to make that particular quality a component of your own skill set.

I read somewhere that a good leader makes leaders of the people he leads, and I believe that. I try to share my thoughts with each member of my crew.

Explaining my thought process helps everyone understand why I chose to make the decision I made. So the answer to part of your question is that I think my own standard of operation is more informal than formal. But there has to be some consistency in the process. It should be daily and ongoing if you truly intend to make each member of your Maintenance crew a leader in his or her own right. Over time, it pays significant dividends, in that your crew can carry out the operation without you being directly involved.

“Trust but verify” becomes your “MO” over time, if you’re successful. Everyone shares in the successes and the failures, which is how a true team should function.


Jim: Joe, I’m curious what issues in aircraft maintenance—or in all of business aviation for that matter—are important to you and your peers?

Joe: The philosophy in system engineering is similar to that of your home PC now, where many components in the radio racks are generic hardware and it only knows what to do after you load the software into them, so the need to use computer programs is an increasing skill set.

Along with that comes all of the home PC issues, like something taking too long to load or just not loading correctly. Navigation data and chart uploading can take hours and still may not load correctly. Most troubleshooting is done with a laptop, and you need to be familiar with all of those individual programs. Then the data needs to be sent over the Internet to a help desk.

Cabin voice/data communications is one of the largest passenger complaints these days. Customer expectations are high, because they expect the voice quality and connectivity of a ground-based system. Data upload times are still in the stone-age, while satellite-based systems and ground-based systems, although much faster, are limited to domestic operation, for the most part.


Jim: Switching topics, what has your experience been like volunteering with the Long Island Business Aviation Association? And please explain your role if you will.

Joe: For me, volunteering is a way of building up our industry at a local level. It’s my way of giving back to an industry that has been very good to me, and it’s fun to do it with friends I’ve worked with over the years.

We are the collective voice for business aviation on Long Island and, as they say, there’s strength in numbers. In fact, it recently paid dividends. In 2015, our longtime lobbying efforts in Albany (with partner NYAMA) proved successful, with the passage of the New York State Aviation Sales Tax Exemption.

Now Long Island is on the same playing field as our neighboring states. So, what does that mean? It means that hangars are being built here at Republic Airport, and companies that were based in neighboring states for the tax shelter are now moving back here. Bottom line is more jobs for us here. I enjoyed being part of the “bigger picture” that made these changes possible.


Jim: I do want to ask you about your relationship with our company, and what you make of it. What are the two or three top things you’ve learned as a result of working with our team at Gray Stone?

Joe: I’ve learned that a flight department cannot be considered by its staff as “a simple flying club.” It needs to be managed as a very sophisticated business endeavor, the sole purpose of which is to grow the business and boost the productivity of its executive leadership.

Corporate executives expect you to know the financials and make the best and safest decisions with those costs in mind.

The GSA team has helped us understand that we need to appear, and truly be, the best at operating our executives’ aircraft, or they will look for someone that will do it better for them. So, for sustainability, the department needs to listen to their requests and meet those goals when possible.  


Jim:  Finally, Joe, let me ask you how you think someone in a flight department might benefit from GSA leadership coaching (whatever their position may be).

Joe: Jim, your team is composed of seasoned vets. They have lived the issues and remain on the leading edge of the problems and the solutions of this industry by helping so many operators each year. Their knowledge spans all units of a flight department. They know and share all of the best and proven practices, and will guide a struggling department in the right direction.

Having worked with the Gray Stone consulting team in the past, it’s my opinion that this is more than just a business to them. I feel that they truly care about the people, both at the hangar and downtown. They know how to build that all-important working connection between them.


Your Turn

It’s clear from many of Joe’s responses why he’s regarded as one of the true leaders in the aviation industry. His unswerving vision for how he approaches his work extends much further than aircraft maintenance, which happens to be his primary focus. If you have any questions for Joe about any aspect of aviation, I’m sure he’d be happy to respond. Please leave a comment below and Joe will be happy to respond.


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