Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Occidental Petroleum

When you live in a large metropolitan area like Los Angeles, it is not uncommon to see many large companies that have their own corporate helicopters.  Usually the pilots that flew these helicopters as viewed by some, had the better and more prestigious positions.
The companies that owned these helicopters, could well afford the very demanding cost of operation.  You worked for a single company and often flew the same people.  Flights were usually in and around the greater Los Angeles and Orange county areas. The pilots were very well compensated and your job security was certain.  I had always considered the position of a corporate pilot, to be one of my career goals.  I could go to work each day dressed in a three piece suit and have a well established work week schedule.  I considered myself very lucky to get this job and was anxious to get started.  One of the things I asked for when I was first being interviewed, was to go to the Bell Helicopter factory in Dallas, Texas and take the one week ground school and also a checkout with a  factory flight instructor.  I was off to Texas and a week later, I was starting out again on a new job.
Some things just fell into place.  It was decided that the helicopter would be hangared and maintained at Southland Helicopters at the Long Beach, CA airport.  Also a flight office was provided for me and I was then pretty much set.  Occidental Petroleum had a Research center located in Irvine, CA and this would be my primary contact with the company.  I had a secretary at the Occidental Research facility assigned to me and she would receive all the request from the company for the helicopter flight activity.  Most of my flights would be from Irvine to Westwood, CA to the heliport that was located on the roof of the corporate office.  I most often flew, board of directors, CEO's, presidents, Ph. D's and many military and political people.  On occasion I would fly Dr. Armand Hammer, the founder of the company.
Oxy's helicopter on a rooftop heliport in Los Angeles click to enlarge
Most of my flight activity would be in coastal regions and sometimes in the early mornings and late evenings, you could  expect fog along with low ceilings and visibilities.  I'm finding out very early now that these people are very time and task sensitive. I couldn't just go to work in the morning and call in to say, "it's to foggy this morning, we can't fly". No this would not work,  Many nights I would go to bed and worry about the weather conditions for the next day.  Often through the night I would call a Flight Service station and check current and forecasted weather, hoping that the conditions would remain the same and be okay.  On one particular flight, the weather conditions changed unexpectedly.  I went to the airport early, positioned the helicopter on the flight line after preflighting the aircraft.  I then went into my office to wait until it was time for me to depart to Irvine and pickup the president for the research center.  When I came in the building it was crystal clear outside and you could see the stars in the sky.  About an hour later I looked out the window of my office and the airport was totally engulfed in very dense fog.  I got on the phone and called the president, Mr. Martin Berger at his home, to tell him of the weather conditions.  Needless to say he was not happy and the next day I was called on the carpet to receive a royal ass chewing.  I'm finding out real soon that these people at the top level often expect the impossible and would lead you to believe that I could personally guarantee the weather would be perfect for every flight.  Even a prayer to god, would not always give you the desired results.  It was then decided that when their was a possibility of uncertain weather, the company provided me with a station wagon to drive these people when the conditions were forecasted not to be good.  Now I am the corporate pilot who more often than not, is the company chauffeur.  This created a timeline for a very early schedule sometimes.
A dream job come true, corporate helicopter pilot! click to enlarge
I am okay with this arrangement, but the person I am flying the most often, is also the most hated man in the company.  Martin Berger, president of Occidental Research Center.
He transferred there from New York and had that Eastern personality.  I would think he would have had a much different attitude, towards the person he trusted his life with everyday?. . . . .  Not Mr. Berger, in the five years I worked for Oxy, he never once shook my hand or ever thanked or complemented me.  Never any small talk or even discussions of families.  His one ace in the hole was his wife, she took up the slack and was always very nice and thanked me often.  So maybe this corporate deal is not so good?  I worked at Oxy for almost five years and then one day I was asked to meet with the company Personnel Manager.  I was advised that the helicopter was going to be sold and that I should give notice to the other pilot, he would be laid off in two weeks.  I was kept on for a while longer to finish up some loose ends and to take care of the helicopter until it was sold.  I am now back amongst the unemployed with no ideas for the future.  This came as a total surprise and I was okay for the time being as Occidental gave me a reasonable severance pay.  So where to next?, more in the next post. . . . . .

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