A Tribute to Ray Valeika: 1942-2021

Ray Valeika

The aviation industry lost an amazing leader when Ray Valeika died on July 10. 

When he retired as senior vice president of technical operations for Delta Air Lines in 2004, after 40 years in commercial aviation and the last 10 at Delta, Aviation Week editor Frank Jackman said he was “one of the most accomplished and respected executives in the MRO world.” 

He received an Airlines for America Nuts and Bolts award in 1996 and an Aviation Week Outstanding Achievement in MRO award in 2005.

Ray pioneered maintenance human factors at Continental and then Delta Air Lines—and he was always at the forefront of maintenance process improvements. 

At Delta, he streamlined the maintenance operation, increased productivity and insourced work, which helped reduce millions of dollars from the airline’s budget. Ray also “pioneered the third-party maintenance business, today known as the Delta TechOps Services Group (DTSG). He brought in the first third-party customers to Delta TechOps, many of them partners in the SkyTeam Alliance and some still customers today,” says a company source. 

In addition, he led Delta’s effort to achieve Star status in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Voluntary Protection Program, which is designed to decrease on-the-job health risks. Ray was very proud of that accomplishment and always strove to improve workers’ environments—from safety measures to heated hangars.

Even after his retirement, he followed the industry daily and advised airlines, OEMs, private equity firms and lessors—as well as many colleagues and friends, including me. He was such a thought leader. 

He’d send me an email after reading a digital article and say, “You are on the right track focusing on this subject, but I wonder….” Or, “I fully agree about the MRO angle, but the significance of what is happening goes well beyond just MRO, mainly because….” One of his favorite subjects was data analytics—and what should happen to allow airline operations to be more efficient. After reading this article on digital analytics in 2017, he emailed: “Good stuff!  I have been preaching this, as you know. Clearly, airlines will no longer or should not depend on their own discrete experience, but on a broader range of standardized info. The real issue is that the analytical bandwidth at airlines is not sufficient, thus a dependence on other sources will keep increasing such as OEMs….”

Conversations or communication with him were always interesting and insightful. He wrote several Viewpoints for Inside MRO, the links of which appear at the bottom.*

Ray was a strong leader—known for his intelligence and integrity—and a gentleman. I respected him unconditionally, and appreciate his sagacious insight and friendship over the years.

Many others agree. Here is a sampling: 

“I knew Ray Valeika for many years before he recruited me to Delta Air Lines in 1996. Ray was a knowledgeable professional who led maintenance divisions in the biggest and some of  the most successful airlines in our country. I learned a lot from him through the years, and he definitely prepared me well for the next steps in my career; for that, I will always be grateful. Ray, you are leaving a profound legacy with the people you touched and the industry at large that is not engraved in stone monuments but a legacy that inspired others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. I confess, I am one of your disciples. Rest In Peace my friend.” --Tony Charaf, Delta TechOps (retired)

“Ray was a leader for everyone.  He was certainly a leader in my eyes. I learned from him how he handled a technical issue and how he won over 10,000 employees with ease and composure and that special wit he had. Did not matter what city, state or country you lived in—you could always call Ray’s office—and believe me, people did! It was something to witness how he could defuse a situation and offer emotional support when warranted. When I attended Ray’s meetings within the Delta TechOps organization, it was evident how comfortable and confident he was. Ray will be missed for his insightful wisdom and unbelievable knowledge. I was Ray’s assistant for 10 years and it was an amazing journey with an amazing man. Rest in peace boss, you deserve it.” —Lorrie Wix, Delta Air Lines (retired)

“Ray was a strong supporter of industry and FAA ‘working together.’ His contributions made it possible for us to achieve this unprecedented safety in the industry. He is a giant on whose shoulders we stand.” --Nick Sabatini, FAA Associate Administrator for Safety (retired)

“Everybody who knew Ray is saddened to hear of his passing. I enjoyed sitting with Ray for lunch at our last Nuts and Bolts luncheon; Ray was full of energy, open-minded, sharp as ever and looking towards the future with great optimism and enthusiasm. I will miss him greatly. Ray’s dedication and talent was key in helping our industry attain its outstanding record of safety and efficiency. Ray leaves a great legacy, and we’re grateful for his decades of leadership, friendship and mentorship.” --Eric Mendelson, co-president of HEICO

“Like so many others, I am truly saddened to learn of Ray's passing, one of our maintenance and engineering greats. It was my honor and privilege to work with Ray, not just through ATA/A4A venues, but also on an airline-to-airline basis. He was a true professional, straight shooter and a personable colleague. His knowledge and experience helped to advance our industry, and he will be missed.” --Joe Pergola, United Airlines

“Ray skewered my boss during the first EMMC dinner that I attended over the absence of ‘the Feds.’ New to the industry, I wondered if he was roaring about the Federales. But I was quick to learn that it was the FAA … and found that I could learn a lot more, fast, by watching Ray. He was my introduction to the airline VPs of engineering & maintenance when I joined the industry (i.e., ATA) in 1996. He immediately stood out to me as the well-respected ‘leader of the pack.’ He knew every facet of the E&M industry and nearly all of the players, and everybody knew him. He knew what the industry needed and bowled over obstacles. He was outspoken, indomitable and quick with penetrating humor and insight. Ray kept in close touch with the industry after he retired from Delta. I understand he continued to apprise the EMMC of industry developments and opportunities from his highly valued perspective, motivating members to adapt rather than become ‘luddites.’ Always a true captain of the industry.” –Joe White, A4A (retired)    

 “Ray was distinguished by several superb traits: He thought outside the box and was a very intense person with a great sense of humor. These combined to make him very effective in working with regulators, manufacturers and all of the other organizations with whom we work. His abilities resulted in many better solutions than would have been achieved without his counsel.
I have missed his company both within the industry and on occasion outside the industry over the past few years, and now I will miss it even more. He was indeed a giant in our industry.” --Bruce Aubin, Air Canada, USAirways (retired)

“Ray Valeika was a giant in the industry. He had a unique and in-depth perspective on how the industry operated, and knew all the players in the airlines, manufacturers and suppliers. Ray had an outsized and engaging personality, full of energy and creative ideas. I am indebted for all I learned from him.” —Lou Mancini, Boeing, United Airlines (retired)

“Ray had a true calling—to make the industry safe and to keep Delta great. We at Boeing learned so much from Ray about the important things on which to focus. He set the example for others in the industry to follow. He will be missed.” --John Banbury, Boeing (retired)

“He represented true leadership among all of us dedicated to aircraft maintenance and safety. We will miss his voice for our community.” --says Robin Wohsigl, Airbus North America, Air Canada Technical Services, US Airways and Northwest Airlines (retired)

“Both he and I attended the same university, although we were a few years apart. We were in the same sector of our industry, were on the EMMC, Nuts and Bolts and a number of SAE standards committees. We spent many hours and days working the same issues.” --Dave Ramage, Air Canada and JetBlue Airways (retired)

“I worked with Ray for a few months when he had retired and was working as a consultant for the FAA. We were working together on the AD Compliance Review Team after the MD80 wiring ‘event.’ Ray was great to work with and had lots of great stories. He kept a keen eye on changes in the industry and had a broad view that was very insightful. He was a great guy, and we’ll miss him in our business.” —Dec Lee, American Airlines (retired)

“While I only knew Ray from the early 2000s after I moved to D.C., he helped with a few specific issues and was there to discuss questions and concerns. It was always a pleasure to visit with him on the phone or at industry meetings. A true humble giant and a class act. My sincere condolences to his family.” --Carol Giles, president/CEO, The Giles Group

“Our industry will miss one of the greatest!!!!” --Ron Wickens, FedEx (retired) 

*Some Inside MRO Viewpoints that Ray wrote: 

Where The Aftermarket Is Going

Standardization: Simple Answer To Complex Challenge

New Technology Can Improve MRO, But Is Aviation Keeping Up?

Big Data Analytics Raise Questions For Airlines

Getting Airlines To Promises Of Big Data

Big Data From Aircraft? Great. But For What?

Data As A Maintenance Driver

Lee Ann Shay

As executive editor of MRO and business aviation, Lee Ann Shay directs Aviation Week's coverage of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), including Inside MRO, and business aviation, including BCA.