Interview: Peter Wheatley
Excellence as Standard: Jon Adams spoke with Peter Wheatley, Vice President and General Manager, Helicopters, with StandardAero, about his influences, experiences and working principles
How did engineering inspire you?
My mom was a driving influence. She graduated as an industrial engineer from the University of Toronto as one of two women in her class. After working for both Levi’s and General Electric, she settled in as a teacher, then Dean of a local college’s engineering faculty. Engineering provides such an amazing foundation of logical problem solving that is helpful in many different types of job roles.
What made you choose StandardAero to begin your career as a student?
StandardAero has an amazing reputation in Winnipeg as a family oriented, people-first organization that you can build a lifelong career with. Part-way through my first year of engineering at the University of Manitoba, I was lucky enough to have tutored someone whose father worked at StandardAero. He was well-regarded and ensured my resume got to the right people. After interviewing me, I must have impressed them enough that they justified a new Summer Student position in the Central Materials area. After two summers there, I moved over to an engineering Co-op position as part of my final year of studies. Exposure to StandardAero in an area other than engineering ignited my passion for the company early on. I’ve always enjoyed how the functions interconnect and support each other.
Would it be fair to say you are a living case study of how StandardAero looks after its employees?
Take care of the people, they will take care of the rest. We have multiple generations of families, providing the environment and work-life balance that gives it a supportive feel. The old adage ‘work hard, play hard’ rings true, where we have fun with our open-concept offices and shop floor. We have an incredibly strong Summer Student and Co-op Program, with many of our leaders having come from such roles. In fact, our outgoing CFO (Mike Scott), who is retiring after 33 years with the organization, began his career in the Summer Student program. The program has actually transformed over the years; today it takes place at various times throughout the year for the indirect roles. For direct ones, we have launched the Gas Turbine Repair and Overhaul (GTRO) Program, which is a joint effort with the local college here in Winnipeg – it provides six weeks of intensive training to our direct technicians, preparing them for going on the job. At StandardAero as an organization, we really like to reinvest in the community, engage with students and continue to build for the future.
We really like to reinvest in the community, engage with students and continue to build for the future
What does your work look like in your position as Vice President and General Manager of the helicopters division?
My day-to-day responsibilities include managing five different engine maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) lines, a dynamic component MRO line, and an airframe MRO facility; all while balancing the requirements of our customers, six different original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), regulatory bodies, the organization and, most importantly, our employees. I am big on ownership, responsibility and empowerment with teams, so a lot of focus goes into developing and supporting my people. Positive momentum help us win as a team and deliver for our customers. There are, of course, a lot of meetings and decisions to be made on a daily basis, but I’ve really tried to establish environments that enable our teams to work together and thrive together.
From an engineering background, do you have a favourite helicopter that grabs your attention?
I would have to say the H125/AS350. As an organization, we offer tip-to-tail service that includes engines, dynamic components, airframes and avionics for this platform. We also provide safety-focused supplemental type certificates (STCs) on the H125/AS350, including a crash-resistant fuel tank (CRFT) and the cutting edge 4-axis autopilot. Furthermore, we own an H125/AS350 helicopter that we use as a demonstrator and engineering platform.
You oversaw the transition of StandardAero’s Rolls-Royce M250/ RR300 engine lines, helping to establish the company’s Helicopter Engine MRO Center of Excellence (CoE). Describe the challenges that this presented.
It coincided with the onset of Covid-19, which no one had ever experienced before, while at the same time competing with the ‘normal’ transition issues. Fortunately, we tend to thrive on change, channelling previous success from supporting the transition of our Turboprop products (PT6A & PW100) from Winnipeg to our Prince Edward Island Center of Excellence (CoE). Personally, I’ve also built a strong understanding of how StandardAero’s ERP systems work through previous projects, such as our electronic Shop Order system implementation a decade ago. This, along with various leadership roles, provided me with a foundation to lead our multifunctional transition team to finish ahead of schedule and under budget. Team structuring was crucial, having task-based, multifunctional units that we empowered with sub-leaders to ensure that the project moved forward. Our Business Unit as a whole is very apt and able, demonstrating that they can handle and thrive through the change. Our goal was to not just move a 55-year-old Rolls- Royce engine line from one building to another, but also improve interconnectivity and performance when combined with the other newly established helicopter lines (Safran, Arriel, and P&WC PT6T).
I fully believe in the CoE concept that StandardAero has pioneered
I can wholeheartedly say that I fully believe in the CoE concept that StandardAero has pioneered – it works. The ebbs and flows of the separate businesses make the sum of the parts stronger. Our people are empowered to cross-train across the lines and continue to grow and challenge themselves. The importance of communication throughout a transition goes without saying – not only amongst our team, but also to our customers, OEMs and regulatory authorities. We set up a weekly steering committee call to report progress and got buy-in from our executive leadership. We followed this up with a weekly flow-down to our people on the shop floor, while meeting with OEMs at key milestones throughout.
What other advancements that StandardAero have pioneered have you worked on or are forthcoming?
When we created our Turboprop CoE in Prince Edward Island, I became Director of Sales Operations for our Airlines and Fleets Division. During that time, I was able to merge two different instances of Salesforce, which is our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. Over a year and a bit, I pioneered a variety of improvements on using this tool within our MRO business model. This included how we enable proper Sales, Inventory and Operations Planning (SI&OP), which supports how we level load our various facilities, order parts to lead, and ensure a seamless hand-off from opportunity to induction. We refer to this as ‘Cycle 0’. The methodology of these improvements was to provide a healthy interface for how sales ties in and supports the business and vice versa.
StandardAero has built a strong brand on our engineering prowess and uncompromising quality
As a global company, how do you address the variable requirements that different international markets present?
Our focus on the customer experience is fundamental, whereby we concentrate on response time and being flexible to the specific needs of both large and small operators. StandardAero has built a strong brand on our engineering prowess and uncompromising quality, so this acts as the foundation for everything. Safety is primary, both for employees and customers. Globally, we ensure we have a local presence, backed by the strength and savvy of our CoEs. Some international customers have very specific requirements, yet this is no different from when we consistently balance OEMs and regulatory requirements. It’s just another variable that we work into our model for success.
StandardAero places a strong emphasis on teamwork to deliver an MRO service that exceeds client expectations. What does teamwork mean to you and how do you lead teams to achieve this goal?
Teamwork is everything. We’ve focused on establishing a certain level of honest vulnerability amongst our leaders to allow for a strong foundation of trust. In turn, our leaders are empowered to do the same with their teams. Interestingly, I’ve found that this allows office friendships to develop, encouraging healthy conflict to lead to better solutions. We aren’t afraid to challenge each other and, at the same time, congratulate each other. There are many parallels to sport – in my case, hockey. It comes down to complementing skillsets, and how every role brings something important to the success of the team, but we must trust each other first. In addition, we’ve established proximity seating in our workplace. There are no individual offices; we all sit together in an open environment with low walls. This helps us breed cohesiveness and collaboration, which in turn allows us to be stronger as a whole. In hockey, the players put their equipment on in the same room and sit on the same bench with the coaches. We thrive to have a hierarchically flat and agile business.
StandardAero has just joined The Solent Cluster partnership, dedicating to environmental protection, sustainability and low carbon emissions in the UK. What processes are you adopting to help achieve this locally and internationally?
CoEs are inherently environmentally conscious
Within StandardAero, we have adopted what we call our ‘GreenERmro™’ initiative. We’ve implemented continuous improvement strategies and projects that have to hit certain internal targets. CoEs are inherently environmentally conscious, as you can get better operability and turn times, all while using less energy and waste. In MRO terms, repairing is often a better option than replacing, which speaks to the three infamous Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. A small example that stands out to me is a lighting project here in Winnipeg. We replaced all the lights with high-strength, low-usage LEDs that are linked to timers, to shut-off automatically at set times.
As StandardAero continues to grow and develop, what changes are ahead?
Our focus is on system integration, best practice sharing, talent acquisition and coming out of the pandemic strong. Despite the size of our organization, we are nimble. With the success of our CoE approach, we plan to continue leveraging this concept and allowing our sites to be as successful as possible. At HAI Heli-Expo 2023, we are officially announcing that we’re transitioning our P&WC PW200 line from DFW to our Winnipeg Heli CoE. This grows the Winnipeg Helicopter CoE to four engine lines, allowing us to use the space and workforce at our DFW Turbofan CoE for those thriving businesses.
Is there anything I haven’t covered that you would like to tell our readers about?
Whatever challenge comes your way, attack it to the best of your ability, working with those around you. Try to have a positive impact on as many people’s lives as you can, and good things will come.