IT Systems Manager Recalls Playing for the Kansas City Royals

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You would expect a baseball player who made it to the big leagues to have grown up on the game, the star of their Little League and high school teams.  But that wasn’t the case with IT Systems Manager Eric Walls, who played for the Kansas City Royals from 1992-1996.

Eric didn’t even play baseball in high school, focusing instead on wrestling, cross country and track.  In fact, prior to college, his only experience with baseball was playing for the t-ball team that his dad coached when he was a kid.

While attending Greenville College, Eric’s roommate suggested that he try out for the baseball team, in spite of his lack of experience.  But Eric was fast, and what he lacked in experience he made up for with speed.  “As it turns out,” he recalls, “I made a perfect pinch hitter.  When I tried out, my 60 yard dash time was faster than average by several seconds.”

It wasn’t long until Eric was offered a full baseball scholarship to Kaskaskia College. While there, Eric received pre-draft camp invitations from the Chicago White Sox, the Cincinnati Reds, the Chicago Cubs and the Kansas City Royals. “The next thing I knew,” he recalls, “people started congratulating me on being drafted to play for Kansas City.”  It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and he took it, even though it meant delaying the completion of his education.

“It really wasn’t until I was playing for the majors that I truly fell in love with baseball,” Eric admits.  From 1992 to 1996, Eric was a pinch hitter and outfielder for the Royals and Royals-affiliated minor league teams, including the Rockford Royals.  During his best season, he hit .320, led the team in triples, and was one of the team’s top performers in doubles, overall hits, RBIs and stolen bases.

Eric hit his first home run towards the end of his first season with the Royals.  During a game against the Florida Marlins, Eric remembers hitting the ball as hard as he could before taking off to first base.  When he rounded second, thinking that he had hit a double, he noticed his entire dugout was cracking up. “That’s when I realized I had hit my first ever home run, and I just started celebrating and show-boating on my way back to home plate.”

When Eric’s manager reminded him that it was against etiquette to show up the pitcher, he admitted that he didn’t really care because he was so excited. “Then, at my next at bat,” he continues, “the pitcher threw at me.  As I took first base, I made sure to tip my helmet to him, letting him know I understood.”

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Trans States Airlines IT Systems Manager and former Kansas City Royals player Eric Walls.

Another memorable moment was the time that a pitch knocked him out cold.  “I was the second at-bat, and the first pitch was inside and out-of-the-way.” Eric thought he was ready for the second pitch, but it bounced off of his jaw and bruised his arm.  He was out for nearly seven minutes.  “When I came to,” he recalls, “I thought I had only been out for a few seconds. I was ready to take first base, but my teammates grabbed me and told me that I had to sit out.” It wasn’t until after Eric returned to the dugout that one of his teammates told him that he’d forgotten to mention that that particular pitcher was known for his aggressive pitches.

Eventually, Eric wanted to move forward with his personal and professional life, and left baseball to finish his academic career. “My agent and family may have been a little upset, but since I didn’t grow up on the game, I felt ready to move on.  To this day, I don’t have any hangups about walking away.”

Twenty years later, Eric is an IT professional with a family.  “My son is typical video game-loving teenager now,” he says, “but I made sure to start him off with baseball, and he played until he was 15.”  Eric also has a daughter who is a gymnast. “She is very competitive, and recently placed 15th in her national competition.”

Trans States Mechanics Form Local Floor Hockey Team

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The type of hockey that most of us are familiar with has few non-negotiable requirements.  Ice, for one, and skates.  And knowing how to skate is usually pretty helpful.  However, a group of Trans States mechanics has discovered that you don’t have to know how to skate, or even own a pair of ice skates, to play hockey.  They play floor hockey as part of a local St. Louis floor hockey league.

While floor hockey players use sticks to get a puck into a net guarded by a goalie, that’s where the similarity to ice hockey ends.  There’s no ice in sight in floor hockey – teams typically play in gymnasiums – and floor hockey players simply wear shoes and run around, rather than using ice skates.

Heavy Check Supervisor Mark Hicks got the idea to start the team after seeing a video for St. Louis Floor Hockey on the internet.  Our maintenance hangar is in St. Louis, home of the Blues professional hockey team, and Mark knew that a lot of mechanics were interested in hockey, even if they’d never played before.  Mark first pitched the idea of a team to Line Lead Mechanic Levi Mcquery, who initially thought that he was too old for floor hockey.  However, once he watched the video, which explained that most of the teams were comprised of college students or co-workers, and that some of the players had never even played hockey before, he was sold.  Before long, Mark had rounded up a team of 10 mechanics, all from the St. Louis hangar.

Half of the team had never even touched a hockey stick before, let alone played on a team. “One mechanic had never played hockey before in his life,” says Mark, “and he still tried it out, and loved it.”  But even with so many hockey newbies, Line  Inspector Bill Reese is confident that their team is making progress, remarking, “I think we get better every game!”

“I would never bet on us, though,” chimes in Levi, laughing, “and I’m always making stupid bets on professional ice hockey, like having to shave ‘Red Wings’ in the back of my head.”

The league’s no checking rules means that floor hockey isn’t nearly as physical as ice hockey, which Mark points out is great for people who have day jobs.  “We can’t exactly get too physical at a night game when we all have work the next day.”

The team has already experienced some memorable plays. “I got us our first ever penalty,” laughs Bill, “and I still don’t agree with it.

Other mechanics from the hangar don’t play, but still come out to watch.  And if they want to try it for themselves before committing to a team, league rules make it easy for them to give it a shot and see how they like it  – anyone can play a single game as a substitute for only $10.

Feel up to the challenge?  Check out the St. Louis Floor Hockey website to get started.

Retiring Accounts Payable Supervisor Looks Back at her Years with Trans States

If a group of people was asked, “What jobs are most important to airline operations?”, the top three responses would probably include pilots, mechanics and flight attendants.  However, there’s a lot more to airline operations than what you see at the airport or on a flight.  Most people don’t realize that our planes wouldn’t fly without the efforts of another important department – Accounting.

Accounting pays the bills, for everything ranging from building utilities and aircraft parts, to fuel expenses and uniforms.  After 26 years on the job, retiring Accounts Payable Supervisor Terry Boswell knows the importance of ensuring that vendors are paid in a timely manner.  For example, if fuel invoices go unpaid, fuelers could refuse to service our aircraft, which could lead to a delay or even a cancellation.  Unpaid bills could delay shipments of important aircraft parts, which could lead to cancelled flights.

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Retiring Accounts Payable Supervisor Terry Boswell

“Without making sure that bills are paid on time, the process of keeping the airline running on time, let alone at all, could be hindered,” Terry explains.  “You can’t delay in making sure that you bring in needed aircraft parts or engine rents.”

Controller Bob Varwig agrees.  “To run an efficient airline, you have to ensure the quick flow of parts and services.  Terry understands that Accounts Payable has to maintain good relationships with our vendors to make that happen.”

Change is the only constant in the airline industry, and Terry has seen a lot of changes in her 25+ years with the company, including our transition from turbo prop aircraft to an all jet fleet in the 1990s, as well as a period of tremendous growth from 2014 t0 2016 that added 52 additional aircraft to our fleet.  With change comes new challenges for our accountants – new aircraft types mean new vendors, and an expanded fleet means more bills to pay – but Terry says that change is easy with the right team.

“I’ve had lots of fun with my coworkers, and we’ve shared many good times, even when tackling new challenges.  Adapting to something new can be stressful, but it’s much easier when you enjoy the company of those around you.”

Terry says that her 25 years at Trans States have flown by, remarking, “I have always enjoyed working here.  Time really goes fast when you’re in a good environment surrounded by great people.”

With retirement on the horizon, Terry is looking forward to traveling around the country and visiting all the National Parks with her husband.  We are grateful for her years of service, and wish her all the best!

Trans States VP of Safety Marks 70th Birthday by Flying 70th Aircraft Type

Trans States Airlines Vice President of Safety Craig Tompkins recently accomplished a pretty lofty goal that he’d set for himself in 2014 – to fly 70 different aircraft before his 70th birthday.  Craig reached his milestone right on time, flying aircraft type #70, a Cessna 170 on floats, just before his 70th birthday in October.

Craig’s love of aviation started over 50 years ago, when he was still in high school and already a fixture at his local airport.  “I had my private pilot’s license,” he remarks, “but my parents wouldn’t let me get my driver’s license until I graduated high school. So I could fly planes, but I had to bum a ride from somebody else to get to the airport.”  After graduating from high school, Craig enlisted in the Army and became an air traffic controller, and later spent 15 years flying charters and air taxis, as well as flight instructing.

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Trans States Airlines Vice President of Safety Craig Tompkins, in the cockpit of a Cessna 170 seaplane

Craig’s commercial airline career began in 1977, when he was hired by Command Airways, one of the very first regional airlines.  Command Airways is historically significant because it was one of the first three American Connection carriers and was the first airline in the United States to fly the ATR 42. Before bringing the ATR to market, Command sent a group of pilots, including Craig, to Toulouse, France, to train at the actual ATR factory, making Craig one of the first pilots in the U.S. to fly the aircraft.

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Craig spent 11 years at Command, eventually becoming the Director of Flight Training and running its entire ATR operation.  In 1988, Resort Air (now Trans States Airlines) purchased the ATR portion of Command’s operation, and Craig has been with Trans States family of airlines ever since, holding positions including Director of Flight Ops, Director of Safety, and Vice President of Safety.

In 2013, Craig was a recipient of the prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, which recognizes pilots “who have exhibited professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise for at least 50 years.”  Prior to receiving the award, Craig had to figure out just how many different aircraft he had flown, and realized that he was 67 years old and had flown 67 different aircraft.  It was then that his goal of flying 70 different aircraft in 70 years was born.  “When I saw that, I just wanted to make the numbers match up – 70 in 70,” he explains.

Here are just a few of the planes that Craig has flown over the years:

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To most people, flying 70 different aircraft types before your 70th birthday would be a pretty big deal, but Craig is nonchalant about it, remarking, “My stepbrother has probably flown over 100 aircraft types at this point.”  Of all the planes he has flown, Craig’s favorites are the DC-3 and the Twin Otter.  Craig says that he doesn’t have any immediate plans to top his recent feat of 70 in 70 but there are several seaplanes that he’d like to fly, so he’s not ruling it out.  “My wife tells me that I should shoot for flying 80 planes by the time I’m 80, but maybe I’ll start with flying 75 aircraft by the time that I’m 75 years old.”

Anyone who knows Craig has no doubt that he’ll do both.

Maintenance Controllers Critical Component of Operational Success

At any given moment, there are hundreds of Trans States Airlines employees working behind the scenes to ensure the safe operation of our airline. Unlike more visible front-line employees, like pilots or flight attendants, our passengers will never meet these employees or have the opportunity to thank them for their efforts.  But every day, these un-sung heroes are working tirelessly to make sure that our passengers get to their destinations safely.  One of these individuals is Maintenance Control Supervisor Chris Hoover.

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Maintenance Control Supervisor Chris Hoover

Maintenance Controllers are licensed A & P mechanics who troubleshoot aircraft mechanical issues for pilots flying the line and mechanics at out stations.  If a pilot encounters a mechanical issue with an aircraft, their first call is to Maintenance Control. Often, Maintenance Control can walk the pilot through the issue over the phone, which frees up out-station mechanics for more involved repairs.  If it’s a more complicated problem, Maintenance Control will diagnose the likely source of the problem and recommended a course of action to local mechanics.

“Maintenance Controllers are critical to on-time performance, ” said Trans States Airlines Director of Maintenance, Matt Wright.  “In addition to assisting and providing detailed information to our technicians in the field, the Maintenance Control group is responsible for all deferred maintenance activity, scheduling short-term preventative maintenance, monitoring and repair of repeat maintenance activity, troubleshooting and repair of outstation aircraft, and a host of other less visible maintenance activities. The decisions made by this group don’t just affect a single aircraft but the entire fleet.”

Unlike our hangar and line mechanics, who are outside fixing aircraft in the snow, the heat, and everything in between, our Maintenance Controllers are part of Systems Operations Control (SOC) in our St. Louis headquarters building.  That’s because the other departments in the SOC, including Crew  Scheduling and Dispatch, rely on information from Maintenance Control to make important decisions that affect the operation. For example, if a flight is delayed due to a maintenance issue, Maintenance Control communicates the estimated back in service time to Crew Scheduling and Dispatch so that the departure can be re-scheduled and re-crewed, if necessary.

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Chris started working for Trans States as a licensed A & P mechanic right out of college, and spent his first three years with the company working in the St. Louis hangar facility.  He then spent two years as a mechanic on the flight line before making the move to Maintenance Control.  He says that a few different factors, including pay and the opportunity to work indoors, led him to made the move to Maintenance Control.

“I thought about staying on the line, but I was ready for a change, and there was a pay increase with the Maintenance Controller position,” Chris remarked.  “Plus, I get to do the same work as a mechanic in the field, but I’m away from the elements, which is nice.” Chris takes a lot of pride in his position and says that the Trans States Maintenance Control group is, “top-notch and knowledgeable, and has a real understanding of the Embraer 145 aircraft.”

Vice President of Tech Ops, Rob Truax, agrees.  “Our Maintenance Control team represents some of our very best maintenance talent.  You really have to be at the top of your game, professionally, to work in Maintenance Control.”

If you’re a licensed and experienced A & P mechanic and are looking for a new challenge, there’s never been a better time to explore career opportunities in Maintenance Control.  In fact, Trans States is currently offering a $12,000 retention bonus to all current and new hire Maintenance Controllers.  To learn more or apply online, please click here.