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A Legacy of Expertise

Safe, clean and reliable just might be in Craig Helmore's DNA

Author A. AVERYL RE

TECHNICIAN CRAIG HELMORE practically inherited his profession: His father worked in the U.S. as a business-jet mechanic for British Aerospace, and Helmore spent countless hours in maintenance hangars with his dad while growing up.

“Going to work with him and seeing what he did—it went from there,” Helmore recalls. “I’ve been around airplanes my whole life. Being an aviation mechanic seemed a natural fit.”

So natural, in fact, that he never really considered doing anything else. Helmore went from high school to Houston’s Rice Aviation, where he earned his airframe and powerplant (A&P) license, then moved directly on to Continental Airlines. That was 25 years ago; today, he works for the new United.

Though customers will probably never meet Helmore face-to-face—the mechanics they’re more likely to encounter are the line technicians who handle day-to-day maintenance and repair—his expertise surrounds them every time they step onto one of United’s 757 aircraft. Helmore specializes in interior work on the aircraft at United’s heavy-check base at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Heavy checks, also known as “C” checks, are among a series of inspections and overhaul stages that an aircraft goes through during its life at United.

“We have several different levels of checks, from fairly light, where we don’t take much apart, to heavy checks, where the airplane gets stripped and everything gets checked,” Helmore explains. “We replace what needs to be replaced, but we also check for other discrepancies and fix what is needed.”

Helmore says United is one of the few airlines that still do in-house component testing, which is scheduled according to the number of cycles or flight hours that an aircraft has flown. To conduct a “C” check, Helmore and the other interior mechanics work with A&P, sheet metal and avionics teams to take the 757s completely apart. They submit each component to airworthiness tests using a variety of instruments, including borescopes, X-ray machines, ultrasonic equipment and high- and low-frequency eddy currents. A full “C” check usually lasts about 30 days, Helmore says, depending upon what needs to be done.

The FAA mandates the inspections and maintenance that airlines must perform in order to operate safely. But Helmore notes that airlines can hold themselves to even stricter standards—and United does exactly that by requiring more stringent checks and procedures. And the obsession with safety doesn’t stop there.

“Throughout my career, we held to the standard that it needs to be the best that it can be,” Helmore says. “I’ve never heard of anyone wanting to take a shortcut or do less than the best. My co-workers are well skilled at what they do. Collectively, we have a lot of experience, and we have developed a mentality and an approach over the years that it has to be right. Nobody settles for the bare minimum.”

Helmore says the thoroughness of the checks United performs, along with the quality he and his co-workers adhere to, is aimed at gaining and keeping passenger confidence.

“If I were to bring someone in there on a very heavy check, they would be impressed at how detailed it gets,” he says. “I will not put a plane back into service that I wouldn’t want my mom, my family or anybody else flying on. It’s all about having a great product, one that we are proud to have our families and our customers riding on.”

Helmore’s family includes wife Tina, daughter Alicia and son Bradley (plus English bulldogs Chelsea and Bentley). And as for the next generation will follow in Dad’s and Granddad’s footsteps, Helmore says it’s too early to tell.

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