Airline Economics was saddened to hear of the passing of Mike Sanders, a veteran of the aviation industry. Here, Mark Shaw, Vice President Regional Marketing – EMEA, Contrail Aviation Support, has penned a tribute to Mike in his own words. 

As many of you may already know, our dear friend and colleague, Mike Sanders, passed away on 2nd April, 2021 and was laid to rest on 9th April, directly under the flight path on final approach to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport. Significantly, that date also marked the 52nd anniversary of Concorde’s maiden flight.

Mike’s final resting place is, in itself, a fitting tribute to a man who lived and breathed aviation and devoted his life to an incredible 60-year career in our industry. Building friendships and long-term business relationships was engrained in Mike’s DNA. Tirelessly imparting his knowledge and experience in support of his customers, Mike was latterly a trusted industry advisor to so many – the team at Freebird Airlines in Turkey considered him a “big brother” – and respected throughout the world for his “can-do” attitude, his “win-win” ethos and his strong reputation as a gentleman in the true sense of the word.

Mike was also the strong patriarch of a wonderful family, one which willingly took the “aviation journey” with him in their stride – the many weeks away from home, the long and unsociable hours, the highs and lows of life in commercial aviation.

Born on 16th December, 1943 in Chipping Sodbury, England, Mike attended Filton Technical College and went on to join British Aerospace in 1963 where he stayed until 1979. This period saw Mike rise to the role of lead flight test engineer on the Concorde project, spending countless hours on board with pilot and good friend, Brian Trubshaw. Embarking on long months of route-proving around the world, his wife Sheila and children Paul and Julie would revel in the excitement of receiving postcards from Dad’s travels to far flung places they could then only relate to in an atlas.

Seconded by BAe to Airbus in Toulouse in 1979, Mike moved his family to France, driving from the UK on their adventure in Mike’s newly-acquired Citroen. After becoming a direct employee of Airbus, Mike spent months in the US and across Europe promoting the A320 aircraft family and ultimately sold the first A320 aircraft to any US lessor, this being GATX. Whether it was to avoid having Mike on the “other side of the table” or cajoling him to back the courage of his convictions about the airplane, GATX then hired Mike to help them lease out those early A320 aircraft.

Industry veteran, Glenn Hickerson, was fortunate to have known Mike for 28 years and commented on how Mike always appreciated aviation and the people he worked with and was “energetic, persevering, conscientious, thoughtful and a family man”.

Mike managed GATX’s office in Toulouse from 1987, recruiting Colin Bole along the way. Always looking for new and creative ways to do business and take care of his customers, Mike decided that corporate ski trips had become too routine and took several airline customers on a return trip on the Orient Express – a mark of the class and innovative nature of the man.

Colin remembers Mike as “the ultimate salesperson; relentless, passionate, and ever so committed to his customers”. He witnessed many occasions where Mike would get personally involved with his customers, advocating for them in good and bad times and “looking after them as family”. He had “enormous enthusiasm for the industry, and helping others, even when he could have sat back for a quieter life”.

As a colleague who always “passionately shared news and stories about his extended family in the office”, Colin says “for me, Mike was always a great sounding board, a fabulous generator of wild and crazy ideas (many of which actually did result in opportunities) and a model example of just getting on with things and getting them done.  There are so many airlines out there which ended up with a particular fleet (which they sometimes had never dreamed of) all because of Mike and his perseverance”. And then there were Sheila’s wonderful birthday cakes, many social gatherings and often a “sing-song” during the evening.

Following the sale of GATX to Macquarie, Mike spent about a year in the Dublin office (not everyone had one of those back then !) and could never quite get used to his noisy neighbour – a certain upstart called Bono from U2.

In 2007, Mike joined Kuwaiti-lessor, ALAFCO, still based in Toulouse and continued to teach the leasing business to anyone who wanted to learn. His son, Paul, and son-in-law Sasha Babis, were truly blessed and certainly beneficiaries of Dad’s knowledge and experience – how cool must that have been?

Adel A. Albanwan, CEO of ALAFCO commented “We at ALAFCO were fortunate to have Mike work with us for over thirteen years.  Mike was very passionate about his job and the aviation industry.   He was a humble man and a good teacher who eagerly shared his vast and rich aviation experience with his junior colleagues and was well liked and respected by everyone who worked with him.  Mike was also well received by our airline customers and industry peers with whom he built long lasting relationships.  In short, Mike was an encyclopedia of aviation. We will miss him personally and professionally.  May his soul rest in peace.”

Latterly in his career, Mike consulted for several parties, including UK leisure airline, Executive Chairman, Philip Meeson, spent a lot of time with Mike discussing the industry and fleet plans and recalls that “Mike was incredibly experienced and very wise. He helped us in many negotiations, including with both Airbus and Boeing and was always calm under pressure and very good company. His contribution was always significant and still very much appreciated”.

Sergeii Grytsenko from Ukraine International remembers Mike as “a great counterpart and friend to the airline” whilst Donal O’Doherty and Ken Lee of KG Rotables, who knew Mike for over 20 years, recall him “a true gentleman who really enjoyed his work” and who “always arranged fantastic AGMs in some wonderful cities”.

Peter Curbelo of Gryphon Aviation Leasing said he was very happy to have met Mike and “looked up to him” as a friend and professional.

Due to the advent of COVID, Mike’s last business trip was to the ISTAT conference in Austin, Texas – not even a man of Mike’s vision and experience could have predicted events since then. It was during this trip that his son, Paul, enjoyed what would turn out to be his last one-on-one dinner with Dad at Perry’s Steak House.

Take some time to ponder the devotion of a man who enjoyed a long and successful career in commercial aviation, with that success being measured as much or more by the immense respect he commanded as a professional, friend and gentleman rather than his own personal gain or recognition. Play “Hey Jude”, Mike’s personal karaoke favourite and remember that he’d forgotten more than many of us could ever hope to learn. Mike will remain much loved and missed by everyone he came across and remembered as one of the industry’s truly “good guys”.