Fred Murphy of FEAM: “To be kind to one another”

Domestically, the federal government will look to play a larger role in regulating air travel both in terms of measures that the airlines must take, as well as measures the passengers must take in order to fly. These measures will likely mandate mask wearing for the foreseeable future and possibly include requirements to be vaccinated […]

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Domestically, the federal government will look to play a larger role in regulating air travel both in terms of measures that the airlines must take, as well as measures the passengers must take in order to fly. These measures will likely mandate mask wearing for the foreseeable future and possibly include requirements to be vaccinated in order to fly. We will see these mandates being enforced internationally as well.


As part of our series about “The Future Of Air Travel”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fred Murphy.

Fred Murphy holds the position of Founder & President for FEAM Maintenance/Engineering. Prior to joining FEAM, Fred held various positions in maintenance and engineering departments at American Airlines, US Airways, FedEx and Trans World Airlines. Fred served in the US Air Force as a noncommissioned officer and holds an Associate Degree for Aircraft Maintenance Management, a Federal Aviation Administration airframe and power plant license, Federal Communications Commission restricted radio operators license and a Federal Aviation Administration private pilot/ instrument rating.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was growing up, I had an uncle that worked for an airline called Western Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport. When I was about 10 years old, he took me to work with him one day and I was blown away from being around all the airplanes and the airport activity going on around them. I think that day is when I fell in love with aviation. Later, when I graduated high school, I joined the U.S. Air Force and my love for aircraft continued to grow. I somehow knew at that young age and seeing those airplanes up close at LAX airport, that I wanted to be part of that industry as I got older. I have been very fortunate to turn that early passion into a business.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There are so many stories over the 37 years that have happened, but probably the most profound moment in realizing our industry and our country’s resilience came after 9/11. I remember standing out on the flight line at Miami International Airport the next day and probably for the first time in my career, both in the military and in commercial aviation, I was realizing that the absence of noise was actually quite deafening. There were no aircrafts flying. The American airspace was essentially shut down. I had a thriving and growing business doing flight line maintenance, as well as heavy aircraft maintenance being performed inside an aircraft hangar. I had hundreds of employees counting on FEAM to support their families, and the absence of this noise was significant as to how it related to our business, our employees, their families, and of course, the country at large. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, no such event had ever devastated this industry more than 9/11. Like many companies in this industry at the time, our company suffered. We had to downsize the company, furlough employees, and shut down our hangar operation. It took a long time to recover, but we did indeed recover. To witness that horrible event and see a period of days with no commercial aircrafts flying and then see our industry crawl back from that crippling day was truly inspiring and why I am confident that the aviation industry will rise again as we move past this pandemic.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I made early in my career, was bidding on a contract so low that we couldn’t afford to pay anyone to assist us. We wanted to break into the market so badly that we bid at a price that we really could not do. The lesson learned was that my partner and I had to perform the work ourselves. Our word was our bond, and we were not going to disappoint the customer that entrusted his aircraft to us. We handled that flight for three years before we were able to renegotiate a better contract.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

My recommendation would be to create a real work/life balance. I have learned along the way that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Work smarter and not harder. Establish priorities and goals that need to be accomplished for each day, then go home and enjoy life. In all probability you will pick up the next day where you left off. As for a recommendation on how to accomplish this, I would say that it’s crucial to build a strong support team that can support each other and essentially cover for each other when someone needs downtime. One of my first realizations of this was many years ago, while I was still very hands on with the actual wrench-turning part of the business, I was going through a particularly rough stretch trying to run the business, fix aircrafts, and be responsive to my customers’ needs. I had reached such a critical point of being burnt out that I simply had to ask for help from my staff. I called my Director of Maintenance at the time and simply said, “take me out coach.” I had to count on my team to take care of the operation, while I spent a couple of days decompressing. It was a big lesson for me in making sure I have a capable support structure around me as we grew the organization, so that not only I could get the downtime I need from time to time, but so my team could as well.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I was just starting out in business and still holding down a full-time job, it was a struggle to say the least. My partner and I had one truck to work out of and it was basically him and I, with our one truck, trying to convince airlines how we could provide better service to them than they were currently experiencing. In hindsight, I’m not sure I would have been sold if I was the airline sitting across the desk from my partner and I. Luckily for us, we were able to secure that first customer. My boss at my full-time job at the time, Ron Porter, who is like a father to me, told me that he understood what I was trying to do in balancing both of these situations but if I was to truly succeed, I could not serve two masters. I went home that evening and told my wife of my intent to leave this very lucrative job to pursue my dream. It was an uncomfortable conversation to say the least, but a life altering decision. Ron continued to support me in the years to follow as a mentor and friend, eventually joining FEAM to help me expand our services. Without a doubt, he is someone I will forever be grateful to for giving me that initial nudge and then supporting me in the years to follow.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My biggest focus is to carry forward what has been given to me. We are big believers in education and provide scholarships to students studying aviation. We are also quite active in our local church and help sponsor the K-6 school that has over 300 students attending. Probably one of the most important areas of concern for me is providing opportunities for our veterans. Being a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, I understand the anxiety that comes from separation from active-duty military to the civilian job market. We have a sizable group of employees that are military veterans. We work with recruiting companies whose sole focus is providing opportunities for recently separated veterans. One particular success story we had involved a recently separated U.S. Marine. I noticed his profile on LinkedIn and that he was actively looking for a company in Texas willing to give him a chance. I asked my team to reach out to him, and we were able to bring him onboard to train for a management role. He is just one example of a success story for us when it comes to military veterans.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Aviation and Air Travel industries?

We are working on new training methods for today and tomorrow’s aviation technicians. What was traditionally a classroom and book method of training is now focused on computer-based training for the theoretical portion and virtual for the practical element of the training. Like many companies have had to do during this pandemic, we’ve had to find innovative ways to deliver training content vs traditional classroom training. The use of tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom are becoming the new norm for both training as well as holding effective meetings in lieu of face to face meetings. We are also actively working on initiatives with augmented reality and virtual reality as tools to be used in training and other applications. Most recently, we have worked with a large aircraft manufacturer on the use of the Microsoft HoloLens, a mixed reality device that can be used as an aid to remote troubleshooting aircraft systems.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing these innovations?

In terms of training, our industry faces critical shortages in these highly skilled positions, and we seek to shorten the learning curve by enhancing the training methods. When it comes to remote troubleshooting, our goal is rather simple in that we want to maximize the collaborative effort of our team across our network to rescue our customers’ aircraft when they are grounded due to maintenance issues.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

I believe leveraging technology is the only way forward. Traditional methods of training are somewhat obsolete. Rather than try to teach someone how to do a task through classroom and book study, we are using technology to create an interface through which an experienced qualified individual can mentor and assist the technician in correctly performing the task in a hands-on environment where the mentor can visualize everything happening and direct the individual correctly. This is the same ideology for remote troubleshooting.

Are there exciting new technologies that are coming out in the next few years that will improve the Air Travel experience? We’d love to learn about what you have heard.

Passenger safety and comfort will be the forefront of this discussion as we move out of the pandemic. We are already seeing innovations in aircraft passenger compartment cleaning and sanitizing with methods that include electrostatic spraying to ultraviolet light cleaning devices. Innovations are happening with the aircraft ventilation systems that include high grade HEPA filters, as well as the introduction of ultraviolet lighting within the ventilation ducting systems. Seat back monitors are giving way to inflight content being delivered over personal devices to reduce touch points within the aircraft. Touchless technology is also being developed for use throughout the aircraft cabin and lavatories. All of these emerging innovations will help ensure customer confidence as we move out of the pandemic.

As you know, the Pandemic changed the world as we know it. For the benefit of our readers, can you help spell out a few examples of how the Pandemic has specifically impacted Air Travel?

People are afraid of traveling and again, much of that fear comes down to safety and a sense of well-being. It has caused a record drop in passenger counts for an unprecedented period of time; however, it has been a boom for air cargo operators as e-commerce has become the new norm. I expect as we see the vaccine return life to more normal, passenger air travel will also pick up particularly with domestic travel first. Unlike the major air carriers, with massive aircraft fleets across a wide spectrum of aircraft models, the low lost carriers and domestic regional air carriers we’re really in better positions to react to this pandemic than the majors. These carriers typically only operate one aircraft type and usually it is a narrow body aircraft that is most suitable to operate domestically with small load factors, which is how we are emerging out of this crisis. These operators have also always operated in lower budget spectrum than their major air carrier counterparts, so tightening their belt per se due to the pandemic was nothing new. So, between the freighter market, and the regional/low-cost carrier markets, this is where we are seeing the biggest impacts in terms of recovery.

Can you share five examples of how the Air Travel experience might change over the next few years to address the new realities brought by the Pandemic? If you can, please give an example for each.

As stated earlier, I think consumer confidence that the airlines can provide safe travel will be paramount as we come out of the pandemic. Passengers will want to know what measures an airline is taking to keep them safe. The airlines are already making these assurances a big part of the marketing campaigns.

Domestically, the federal government will look to play a larger role in regulating air travel both in terms of measures that the airlines must take, as well as measures the passengers must take in order to fly. These measures will likely mandate mask wearing for the foreseeable future and possibly include requirements to be vaccinated in order to fly. We will see these mandates being enforced internationally as well.

Airports will then have their own mandates related to the health, safety, and well-being of passengers transiting through their terminals. Again, this will include measures such mask wearing, sanitation, and touchless contact points.

I believe the traditional market that caters to the business traveler will take a long time to recover as companies have learned to continue their business remotely and virtually, negating the need to jump back into sending their employees on the road with the frequency they might have prior to the pandemic. There will also be a portion of those business travels who opt to use business aviation models for their travel vs the traditional airlines. So, I think the airlines will face a challenge over the next few years on how to attract that lucrative segment of the industry back to filling those business class seats on their aircraft.

Lastly, I think the pandemic was a wakeup call to an industry that had experienced record year after record year of profits for the last several years. There will be a need to operate going forward that keeps the next pandemic in mind. This will undoubtedly mean smaller aircraft fleets, less variety in aircraft fleet types, and overall will need to have cost control measures in place. I think you will see more outsourcing to reputable suppliers that offer scalable options to the airlines as a means to control their own fixed costs and staffing.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

To be kind to one another. It is very disheartening to see the division in our country. I believe that we should be able to speak freely to one another and exchange ideas. We may not always agree, but it is alright that we agree to disagree with one another and yet remain respectful. I found it quite profound that the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke so eloquently in describing her friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Although they were opposed in most of their views, they had a deep respect and admiration for the others’ passion. We need that type of behavior very badly at all levels of society.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Keep up with FEAM online by following us on LinkedIn and Instagram.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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