June 11, 2021
Kevin Otten has a big job. Aircraft maintenance support for the United States government demands excellence, efficiency and effectiveness. Which means it’s perfect for him.
Otten serves as the Department of Energy/Office of Secure Transportation aviation program manager for King Aerospace, Inc. He joined our team in 2019 when we were named prime contractor for supply chain and aircraft support services on behalf of the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration’s Albuquerque, NM-based aircraft maintenance operations.
Our dedicated King Aerospace program team, led by Otten, provides aircraft maintenance support and logistics for DOE/NNSA’s fleet of two Boeing 737-400 passenger/cargo (Combi) aircraft. It transports nuclear weapons limited-life components and federal-agent task forces. The fleet supports NNSA’s efforts to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction, maintains the security of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing, responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad, and provides the U.S Navy with effective nuclear propulsion. So, what we do is mission critical.
Laying a Foundation
Even before we were awarded the contract, we held an open house in Albuquerque so workers could get to know King Aerospace – and develop a comfort level with us. When aircraft maintenance support contracts go up for bid, it can be a nerve-wracking time for frontline workers. As we talked to these individuals and asked if they had ideas for a general manager, Otten’s name kept coming up.
Small wonder. Otten knows this important program well. Previously, as director of flight training for USA Jet Airlines, he helped win a similar DOE/NNSA contract. He supported that program for five years. He later deepened his knowledge as a program analyst at URS Corp., supporting the DOE/NNSA. When we came calling, Otten suggested we talk to the DOE aviation policy managers in Washington, D.C., who had overseen his efforts on the DOE/NNSA contract. We did.
“Holy cow, I couldn’t get them off the phone,” says Jerry King, King Aerospace founder and chairman. “They gave glowing recommendations.”
By the time the government made its determination to award King Aerospace the contract – 18 months later – we had Otten on speed dial. “My years as a commercial pilot taught me to be patient – but to be prepared to react quickly,” says Otten. “I found the move to King Aerospace to be an easy transition, because its work ethic and values align with mine.”
Assembling and Leading a Team of Dedicated Pros
Otten embodies King Kulture. As a longtime practitioner of servant leadership, Otten does not make demands of team members. Instead, he asks them what they need to succeed. He models behavior, doesn’t micromanage and empowers others.
“You can’t demand respect,” says Otten. “You earn it.”
One way he does that is by protecting his people.
“I’ve been at companies where if someone makes a mistake, they just say, ‘Fire them,’” says Otten. “Instead, I’d fight the fight. People saw that I would fall on my sword for them. Of course that doesn’t mean I’m not tough on people or that I don’t demand excellence. I hold high standards and make expectations clear. I do fire people if they’re not doing their job, but we are all human and humans make mistakes. Good team members learn from those experiences and are even better than they were before.”
A Path Upward
Otten believes in learning by doing. His impressive career has been defined by bold moves and visionary leaps of faith. Years ago as a father of four, Otten switched careers. He left the newspaper business in Peoria, IL, earned his commercial pilot’s license and returned to college. While still completing his bachelor’s degree in aviation management, Otten bought a Cessna Skyhawk 172 and founded Commercial Quest Aviation, which conducted pipeline inspections. (Fun fact, always looking for improvements, Otten filed for and was awarded a U.S. patent for an air intake opening cover on an aircraft wing’s leading edge.)
After graduation, Otten flew a Piper Aztec for United Scanning Technologies, videotaping infrared data for detecting roof leaks. He later flew for Zantop International Airlines and USA Jet Airlines. Those experiences left him even more bullish on aviation and its possibilities. His love of aviation started much earlier, though, as a young boy. Watching planes overhead. Being fascinated by flight. Hearing his physician father talk about the helicopters that flew trauma patients into his medical center. Seeing aircraft for what they are: game changers and life changers.
In his role today, Otten recruits and mentors talent. Those in the cabin safety specialist (CSS) role serve as ride-along mechanics and perform flight-safety duties. Getting to fly missions, not just work in a hangar, helps connect them more closely with the mission. Otten ignites passion and helps others grow in their careers. He encourages dialogue with his open-door policy and belief that “bad news gets worse with age.” If there’s an issue, team members know they need to come to him. That coaching may be why recent 360-degree surveys to colleagues came back with very high ratings. And why many of his recruits are now such consummate professionals.
That dovetail fit with King Aerospace has led to powerful outcomes. The customer has noticed, too. This spring King Aerospace and the OST Aviation Operations Division were named FY2020’s best aviation organization within the Department of Energy.
We couldn’t be more proud.