Bill Pobanz Director of Quality Assurance, Weststar Aviation

By Joe Escobar


When we interview an industry professional for D.O.M. magazine’s profile story, a common question we like to start off with is, “How did you get started in aviation?” When we asked that question to William “Bill” Pobanz, director of quality assurance for East Alton, IL-based West Star Aviation, the answer was a bit unexpected. You see, it was motorcycle racing that led to Pobanz’ first introduction to aviation. “I was 16 years old and had graduated from high school,” he shares. “My father was trying to get me to quit racing motorcycles. He was afraid I was going to get hurt and came to me one day and said, ‘If you quit racing motorcycles, I’ll pay for flying lessons.’ So I took him up on it.”

Early Flying Days

Pobanz took two hours of flying lessons in an Aeronca Champ. Pobanz’ flight instructor mentioned that he had a 1946 Taylorcraft BC12D for sale, and he decided to purchase the plane. Pobanz says he learned to fly it pretty well even though he didn’t pursue a private license at the time. “I was a farm boy,” Pobanz tells D.O.M. magazine. “So I flew it in and out of everybody’s pasture that I knew around the Moline, IL area.”

Pobanz flew his Taylorcraft around the area for around a year and a half. He was a kid enjoying the thrill of flying. He would go to fly-in breakfasts and other events. “I had the typical teenage kid mentality,” says Pobanz. “I didn’t have any worries. I thought I was going to live forever and all of that stuff.”

Pobanz flew his airplane around the area until he was 18 years old. Then an uncle had a change of plans for him — Uncle Sam.

The Air Force

It was the late 60’s, and the Vietnam conflict was in full swing. Pobanz was drafted. “The military thought that they needed me more than I thought they should,” Pobanz likes to joke. “Instead of going into the Army, I enlisted in the Air Force because I wanted to be around airplanes.” 

Pobanz’ first assignment was Vietnam. He loaded and unloaded airplanes by day and walked perimeter guard at night. 

When he came back to the States, Pobanz was at a base of operations that had two Convairs. His job was to schedule the aircraft. “It was an easy job because there was no real schedule,” Pobanz tells D.O.M. magazine. 

Pobanz worked as a scheduler for around three months — until his boss came into the office day with an unusual offer.

Air Traffic Control

“If I can get you into air traffic control school, will you go?” Pobanz’ boss asked him one day. “You bet,” answered Pobanz. “Good, because I already have an appointment for you tomorrow at the hospital,” his boss quickly replied. “You need to get a medical, and that is going to take a few days. If you pass the medical, I can get you into air traffic control school.”

Pobanz passed the medical, completed school, and spent the rest of his Air Force days as an air traffic controller.


VA Pays for School

Pobanz was stationed in Kansas City when he got out of the Air Force. “I really didn’t want to be an air traffic controller at the time,” he shares. “I could do the job and was proficient at it, but I just wanted out. I didn’t want to be stuck sitting in a room all day.”

Pobanz took a job as a carpenter for a few months and ended up getting his Journeyman carpenters ticket in Kansas City. His dad was having trouble in southern Illinois, and he decided to move down to be able to help him out. 

It was at that time that he heard about a program through the Veterans Administration (VA). The program was to encourage veterans to go back to school. It would pay for tuition and books. It would also pay a stipend to help cover additional costs. Pobanz found out that getting a pilot’s certificate was also included in the program. So he enrolled in Bellville Area College for the school’s intensive one-year aviation program. “It was an aggressive curriculum,” shares Pobanz. “It was eight hours a day, five days a week for one year. After that year I had a commercial license, an instrument rating, a multi-engine rating, an A&P certificate, and an avionics license — an FCC commercial engineering license. We had to hustle and study hard. There were 31 of us that started, and only 15 of us finished the program that year.”

Time to Fly

When Pobanz graduated from school he had a pocket full of certificates, and quickly landed his first civilian aviation job. He started flying for a company in south Missouri at Rolla National Airport that had four DC-3s under contracts to fly Federal Express freight. Like Pobanz, all of the pilots that flew for the company had their A&P certificates. Pobanz says they would fly eight hours a night with no radar or autopilot. They flew in all weather conditions, loaded to max gross for every flight. “They told me when I took the job that if I made it there I would definitely learn to fly,” says Pobanz. “They were right. I learned an important lesson there that I continue to share to this day. In aviation, whether you are doing maintenance or flying, you never want to get complacent. Don’t ever believe that you have it all nailed down. You need to be on your guard all the time.”

Not only was Pobanz getting stick time, he was getting maintenance experience as well. He and the other pilots maintained the airplanes. “I did just about everything from airframe work to engine and cylinder changes,” Pobanz tells D.O.M. magazine. “I guess you say it was my DC-3 ‘factory school.’” 

After three years, he added Inspection Authorization to his resume.

The Bankruptcy DC-3s

One day Pobanz was approached by a customer asking if he knew where any DC-3s were that he could purchase. Pobanz happened to know where there were five DC-3s in a bankruptcy situation in West Memphis, AR. The customer wanted to buy them and asked Pobanz if he would assess the airplanes, fix them, and ferry them all to El Paso, TX. Pobanz agreed to do the job.

The DC-3s were not anywhere close to pristine shape. The four years they had sat there in bankruptcy court had taken their toll. The radios and instruments were gutted. The airplanes had not been tied down or tethered, and there was a lot of damage where they had banged around. “Out of ten engines, I was able to save two,” shares Pobanz. “I had a couple of other guys helping me out. One-by-one, we got them fixed up and flown to El Paso. I used the money I made from that job to start my own aviation business.”

Air Machines and Services

Pobanz would continue to fly DC-3s on occasion. He used the money he made from the bankruptcy DC-3s to finance his own startup business — Air Machines and Services

Air Machines and Services operated five Beech 18s for UPS contracts and auto freight. It was also a repair station. 

After about four years of operation, Pobanz was exhausted from the day-to-day responsibilities of running a business. He had an opportunity to sell the company, and was ready to do so. He flew for the gentleman who purchased his business for a brief time before moving on. 

Pobanz worked at a few different companies over the next several years. Because of his multiple certificates and experience (he would eventually also earn an airline transport pilot rating), he was sought out to recover airplanes from different parts of the world. His reputation spread, and he was often called upon to fly to remote locations to fix broken airplanes. He shares stories of recovering airplanes from Canada, Venezuela and other locations. He had made a name for himself in the industry and held various jobs with increasing responsibility — from chief pilot to director of maintenance. 

Another Business Startup

A chance stop at the St. Clair, MO airport led to his second business startup opportunity. The airport was on the way home to his farm and he thought he’d stop in to see what was going on. The airport manager came up to him and Pobanz introduced himself. Hearing his name, the airport manager asked, “Are you THE same Bill Pobanz that is a pilot, mechanic and IA?” “Yes,” replied Pobanz. “Would you like to open up a shop here?” 

“I eventually did start a business there,” says Pobanz. “I started off working out of my toolbox out of the back of my car.”

Working Himself Out of a Job

Eventually, Pobanz would expand the business and open up an FBO, repair station and Part 135 operation at the airport. He started overhauling engines. Word quickly spread, and over a period of five years, he overhauled around 50 engines. “When I started out I was vending out crankshafts, camshafts and cylinders,” shares Pobanz. “Eventually I got enough tools where I was doing cylinders myself. Eventually it got to the point where I had overhauled just about every engine in the area. I never lost one of them, and I was proud of that. But now everybody had good engines.”

As the business grew, Pobanz was able to hire a couple of additional mechanics. But there was a problem with the reputation he had built. Customers wanted him to be the one working on their engines. Many of them would wait for Pobanz to work on their engine instead of allowing one of his employees to do the job.

After several years of growth, business plateaued and Pobanz felt that he needed to expand to larger jet maintenance to be able to continue to thrive. He approached the city of St. Clair asking them to build a longer runway and better hangar facility at the airport. The airport needed a longer runway to allow larger jets to access the maintenance shop. But the city denied his request. Knowing that future growth was impossible, he decided to shut down the business.

The city is currently trying to shut down the airport.

Over the next several years, Pobanz continued his journey of learning. On a non-aviation note, he owned several farms (he says he is a farm boy by nature and enjoys farming to this day).  He also learned machining from an ex-McDonnell Douglas machinist foreman. He built his own machine shop on his farm with two lathes, a mill and a drill press. 

But the aviation bug would not leave him alone. He got a job flying out of Puerto Rico for a few years. He came back to the States and went to work for a Part 135 operator that needed someone to look over the maintenance. Pobanz went in and got the maintenance tracking set up for the company. The business took off, and Pobanz became the director of quality assurance for the company. Around the same time, new mandates towards operational authority were at the forefront of FAA focus, and the company eventually decided to close its doors.

West Star Aviation

Pobanz moved back to the St. Louis area, getting his Designated Airworthiness Representative out of the St. Louis FSDO. One of Pobanz’ friends from A&P school was working at West Star Aviation, and contacted him one day to ask if he would come in and do logbook research for two Falcons for the company. “I did the research and presented my reports to the company,” Pobanz tells D.O.M. magazine. “I was getting ready to go home when Sam Haycraft, the company’s vice president of maintenance, pulled me into an office and asked me if I wanted to work for the company. We made a business agreement. That was around four years ago.  I started out as manager of quality assurance for the repair station. Within two months I was the director of quality assurance for West Star Aviation at East Alton, IL. I held that position until eight months ago and am now the director of quality assurance for the complete West Star enterprise.”

An Eagerness to Learn

After sitting down to interview Pobanz, it became clear that a central theme common to the different jobs he has held in aviation, as well as his other non-aviation endeavors, is an eagerness to learn. We asked him if he thinks this eagerness to learn has been a key to his success. “I sure do,” he answered. “The reason is that it allows you to be more flexible. You can take advantage of more opportunities. Some people say, ‘We have problems.’ I see ‘problems’ as opportunities. I have had the opportunity to learn a lot of new things. I got to fly a lot of airplanes.” 

Pobanz continues to take advantage of learning opportunities at West Star. “I spend a lot of my time engineering interiors,” he shares. “Avionics is a big thing right now. A lot of people are upgrading their airplanes. I am involved with some interesting things like floorplan changes and STC work.”

We asked Pobanz if having an A&P has helped him be a better pilot and vice versa. “Definitely,” he says. “My A&P has helped me out a lot – knowing exactly what is going on with an airplane, both from the standpoint of trying to take care of someone else’s airplane as well as flying my own airplane.”


How Did You Want That Sandwich?

Pobanz shares that West Star focuses on quality and excellent customer service. He is always looking for ways to reinforce the importance of excellent customer service to his team. He tells the story of a recent luncheon where a messed up lunch order was used as an example of customer service. “Some of our management team was meeting with technicians at one of our facilities,” he shares. “We had sandwiches catered for lunch. We all had the opportunity to order our sandwich exactly the way we wanted – from the bread to the meat and the condiments. It just so happened that one of our leads got a sandwich that he hadn’t ordered. We discussed the dynamics of exactly what had happened there. We were basically all customers in that room, and one of the customers didn’t get the sandwich he ordered. Sure, it was a sandwich, and it was probably a good one, but it wasn’t the one he had ordered. He was not a satisfied customer.”

“The customer is number one with West Star,” continues Pobanz. “When a customer comes in, there is a set of expectations and it is our job to fulfill those expectations. The airplane has to leave on time, the logbooks and everything have to be done correctly and the airplane has to deliver with no squawks if we expect to realize the customer’s expectations and have him come back.”

Bill’s Management Philosophy

How would Pobanz describe his management style? He shared what he calls “Bill’s Management Philosophy.” “Every employee is different,” he says. “A good manager needs to determine each employee’s strengths and weaknesses. That manager should then place the employee in a job where they can use their strengths. If employees are then given the tools, training and mentoring they need to be successful in their jobs, the manager ends up having productive, happy employees.”

About D.O.M. Magazine

D.O.M. magazine is the premier magazine for aviation maintenance management professionals. Its management-focused editorial provides information maintenance managers need and want including business best practices, professional development, regulatory, quality management, legal issues and more. The digital version of D.O.M. magazine is available for free on all devices (iOS, Android, and Amazon Kindle).

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