A Career Come Full Circle

Project Description

Juergen “Gene” Lavery

Pittsburgh Campus, PA
Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT)
Employment: Retired, Various Positions

Gene Lavery’s unpredictable 40-year career spans nearly every aspect of aircraft maintenance, inspection, and instruction — but it all started with a chance comment to his wife, Colette.

“One day, Colette and I were watching a movie called The Blue Max, about a fighter pilot in World War I,” Lavery recalls, “and afterward I said, ‘You know, I would love to work with airplanes.’ I had always loved planes as a kid. So Colette checked the Yellow Pages and said, ‘Well, there’s an aviation school right here in Pittsburgh. Maybe you should give it a try.’”

Lavery, who had recently left his role as a transport supply tech in the U.S. Army, enrolled at PIA’s Pittsburgh campus that year and graduated in 1973. “It took me three years of night school while I was married, raising a child, and holding a full-time job, but I loved those three years from day one,” says Lavery.

During graduation, Lavery and a few friends heard that Zantop International Airlines was hiring mechanics in Ypsilanti, MI. “We graduated on Friday, drove up on Saturday, and when they found out we were PIA grads, we started working at Zantop on Monday morning,” says Lavery.

His fast-moving career during the airline boom and fuel bust of the 1970s led Lavery and his family to jobs in Michigan and Wichita before settling in Denver. In each new role, Lavery learned a wide array of new skills that made him even more versatile, because every new job he took was in a slightly different sector of the aviation industry.

For example, while working as a Convair mechanic for Cessna, Lavery got an offer from Frontier Airlines to rewrite the operations manuals for their fleet of Convair 580s. “I told the interviewer, ‘Sir, I’m a mechanic. I’ve never worked in an office before,’” says Lavery. “He says, ‘I need someone who knows these planes, and who can go down on the floor to explain these maintenance programs to the mechanics. I don’t see a problem with what you haven’t done; I’m banking on your experience.’”

Lavery took that job, which helped him prepare for his future roles as the Chief Inspector for an FAA-certified repair station, additional maintenance responsibilities at Aspen Airways and Air Wisconsin, and as the Senior Power Plant Instructor at Colorado Aero Tech, where he received numerous Instructor of the Year Awards. He recently retired and now enjoys spending his time at home and in the air — he earned his pilot’s license while working at Boeing in the ‘70s.

Lavery’s biggest advice? It all comes down to people. “The aviation industry is a small world, so don’t burn bridges because one day you might end up working for them or they’ll end up working for you,” says Lavery. “But as long as you have your A&P license, and as long as people enjoy working with you, you’ll never run out of opportunities.”