Jet Star offers diversified services while specializing in aviation products
Jul 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Mary Davis
ALTHOUGH Jet Star Inc of Indianapolis, Indiana, primarily serves airports with aviation fuel, it's not unusual to find the company's tanker rigs making their way up Virginia mountains to fill tanks for powered hang gliders. Or, when forest fires rage in the Northwest, Jet Star sees that helicopters and C-130 air transports used in the firefighting stay refueled.
“There are a lot of unique things that we are doing,” says Darryl Guiducci, president and owner of the company.
Once a year Jet Star rigs make their way into the mountains where they provide fuel for the hang-gliding aficionados. In some of the steep mountain roads in Virginia, a wrecker has to pull the tractor-trailer unit through the switchbacks because tires lose traction.
But it's the public, private, and military airports that make up 75 percent of the Jet Star operation. Guiducci's connection to airports began in the early 1970s when he signed on at the Indianapolis airport as a licensed aircraft mechanic. Eventually, he became an airport operations director.
“What caused me to see the opportunities for a transporter was the limited amount of fuel storage capacity at the airports,” he says. “Airports were growing across the country, and as they grew, they needed more volume. It's important to understand how the airlines operate. It's very time-sensitive.”
After making the decision in 1982 to start the trucking company, Guiducci marketed his services as a dedicated carrier, specifically to supply fuel to airports. Soon, major oil companies were shutting down their private fleets and switching to for-hire carriers, a trend that was a boon for Jet Star. Today, Jet Star customers may be the airlines, or the fuel orders may come from oil companies for deliveries to airports.
At the company startup in Indianapolis, Jet Star supplied local aviation facilities and then branched out to Memphis, Tennessee, and then to Detroit, Michigan. Later, the carrier moved into Ohio and then California.
“California was where we really learned our lesson,” he adds. “We had to handle waits from long lines at terminal loading racks. It was just too costly to operate.”
Although service was ended in California, the Northwest proved profitable, prompting Jet Star to open terminals in Portland, Oregon, and Blaine, Washington. Today, in addition to its headquarters terminal in Indianapolis, Jet Star operates terminals in: South Bend, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; Fort Myers, Sanford, Tampa, Jacksonville, and West Palm Beach, Florida; Toledo and Lebanon, Ohio.
Guiducci says that Jet Star has become a just-in-time operation, which makes it very important to be able to track orders and vehicles.
Staying on top of delivery demands requires the carrier to adapt where necessary. For example, many airports are undergoing extensive construction projects, which slows traffic. Often, alternative routes have to be found in order to meet schedules.
In addition, stepped-up security has led to various facilities requiring each driver to have the individual facility's identification card, which means that drivers have to carry several IDs, and present the proper one at the proper location. At some ports in Florida, the driver's photo is taken every time a load is delivered.
Delays at loading and unloading facilities continue to plague Jet Star, just as it does to many carriers. New hours-of-service regulations make the delays even more of a problem, he says.
Security measures also are alive and well in Washington state where the Blaine terminal dispatches trucks crossing into Canada. With the new security measures in effect, the operation is tenuous as border delays grow longer and longer. “That's probably our biggest challenge,” Guiducci says. “We can lose as much as $50,000 per month in revenue as a result of the overall security measures that have been put in place in the United States.
“Having the Qualcomm system on all our tractors since 1996, and utilizing TMW Systems trucking software, really helps us out in these situations, because we can demonstrate to our customers exactly where the load is and why it is being delayed, We also know where our driver stands with hours of service.”
Jet Star terminal sites are chosen by their nearness to storage facilities or pipelines. When a new terminal is opened, Guiducci sends a team of veteran employees to organized the operation. They hire drivers and other employees, and see that the service is up and running before they leave. It's not unusual for Guiducci to join the team, including driving the trucks, if necessary.
Although the company grew successfully through the years, the events of September 11, 2001, hit the carrier hard. After the terrorist attacks on the United States, all aviation except the military was shut down for three days. Since Jet Star's primary operation delivers aviation fuel to airports, the carrier's bottom line got a hard smack.
“We parked everything — most of the trailers were loaded — and started trying to call customers,” he says. “The phone lines were tied up, but eventually we got through.”
Guiducci estimates he took a major hit by the trucks being parked for three days. And, he adds, it didn't help that the fleet was too big at the time.
“We just grew too fast, too soon,” he adds. “The only thing that saved us after September 11 was the military. They paid us immediately after we delivered the fuel. We went from 10 loads per day to 30 loads per day with one phone call.
“It took us until this year to recover — to make a profit,” Guiducci says. “We sold 30 tank trailers and 25 tractors, but we did not have to lose any employees.”
Growing fuel demand
Back on track with aviation fuel demand growing, and with the economy looking promising, Jet Star is a leaner and better organized company that takes advantage of technology and other immediate ways to track the operation, Guiducci says.
Now a revenue analysis is conducted each day that shows data for every load delivered the prior day. “It's the most important thing we do,” says Guiducci. “And our Qualcomm and TMW systems make it possible.”
When paper documents have to be shipped overnight to shippers, or when driver payroll and expense records are required immediately at corporate, the carrier uses TripPak Express designed for trucking companies and available in truck stops.
All of this backs up the carrier's emphasis on service. Typical of aviation fuel providers, Jet Star has to emphasize product purity and has dedicated trailers for jet fuel.
Because of the pure-product requirements, the operation requires specialized drivers that have completed extensive training, Guiducci says. The carrier requires driver applicants to have clean driving records and have three years experience driving, two of those over the road. They must be at least 25 years old.
“That's pretty hard to find right now,” he admits.
In addition to typical driver training for hazmat and other Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements, Jet Star drivers learn the procedures for checking fuel for purity for small aircraft, using Parker Hannifin Corp dry-disconnect fittings. They also receive training and certification from each shipper.
It's not unusual for Jet Star's training program to be audited several times a year by shippers. The carrier also provides fuel hydrant testing for new storage tanks, which require up to 10 trained drivers and trucks.
To enhance the company training, Guiducci designed a custom-built trailer where instruction is conducted. Guiducci's son, Brian, oversees driver training, including transporting the van to terminal locations where instruction is typically provided.
The Featherlite Trailer is equipped with a classroom, lounge, and kitchen. The classroom has Qualcomm keyboards linked into computers, audio-video equipment, projection screen for PowerPoint presentations, scanner, telephones, and fax machine.
“We can have 10 trainees doing 10 different things,” Guiducci says. “We offer one-on-one training for the driver. Everything we need is in the trailer, and we can set it up just about anywhere.”
Once training is completed, drivers usually are dedicated to specific services. Dispatchers are on duty 24/7 coordinating driver schedules and responding to customer demands. Across the company, about 325 loads are delivered per day, which adds up to about 2.6 million gallons.
With time being so critical, and the need for the software programs to always be online, Jet Star has generators in place in the event there is a power outage.
Jet Star runs 137 tank trailers, the newest being DOT406s from Polar Tank Trailer Inc. Those dedicated to aviation product have 9,400-gallon capacity with single compartments and sloped bottoms. However, Jet Star limits hauling capacity to 8,000 gallons in order to meet weight restrictions. The carrier also has a few trailers for hauling gasoline.
Jet Star aluminum tank trailers are typically equipped with Civacon vapor recovery systems. Components also include Knappco valves, Determan sight glasses, EBW API bottom-loading adaptors, and Scully Intellicheck overfill protection system.
Running gear includes Reyco suspensions, Meritor axles, and MeritorWabco antilocking brake systems. Knappco supplies domelids and Jost provides landing gear. TruckLite supplies lighting and wiring systems. Betts swivel spotlights are installed at the loading area and near the cabinet.
For tractors, Guiducci specifies Peterbilt power units purchased through Utility Peterbilt in Indianapolis. The tractors have 330-horsepower Cummins engines and Eaton 10-speed transmissions.
Keeping the vehicles on the road and in good running order is essential for the just-in-time service to function. “We can't have a tractor or trailer down,” says Guiducci. “We don't have the extra vehicles to fill in.”
As a qualified aircraft mechanic and with tank trailer experience in hand, Guiducci handles all training for the shops in Indianapolis, Fort Myers, Blaine, Sanford, and South Bend.
One way the carrier is working toward reducing equipment downtime is changing brake linings instead of brake shoes, using the Express Brake International brake shoe. The feature allows a brake change on a vehicle in less than 30 minutes without having to remove the wheel.
“We can save time by taking 30 minutes for the procedure instead of four hours,” says Bob Bailey, Indianapolis shop director.
Typical maintenance and repair at the shops are on suspensions, brakes, lights, etc, on tractors and trailers. Mechanics perform all maintenance on the tank trailers except for vessel welding.
Trailers are inspected every 30 days. The preventive maintenance schedule for tractors is at 8,000 miles, 15,000, and 100,000. Tractors are usually traded at about one million miles.
TMW software keeps track of the work being done on the tractors and trailers. Mechanics use paper forms to list the procedures they have completed on the vehicles, and Bailey enters the information into the system.
With this use of computer programs, other technology firmly established to enhance the operation, and a workforce of dedicated and well-trained personnel, Guiducci says he feels confident the company is poised for growth at a steady rate.
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