JFK mechanic celebrates 75 years on job

Al Blackman started working at American Airlines 75 years ago.

"Airplanes were very crude in those days," he said.

As a 16-year-old apprentice in the company's sheet metal shop, Blackman earned 50 cents an hour.

"Can you imagine working all those years and not liking what you do?" he asked. "The misery?"

Now American's Aviation Maintenance Technician Crew Chief at JFK (presumably making more than 50 cents an hour), Blackman gathered with dozens of others in Maintenance Hanger 10, Tuesday, to celebrate not Blackman's retirement but just another of his record-setting anniversaries with the company.

"There's not too many of the old-timers left that I started with," Blackman said.

The Guinness Book of World Records recognized Blackman for continuing the planet's longest career as an airline mechanic, coworkers past and present applauded his skill and work ethic and American Airlines leaders presented the man they call "Blackie" with various knickknacks and a Boeing 777-200 with his signature on the side.

"Seventy-five years of anything is an accomplishment," American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said, "but I'd venture to guess we're never going to see anything like this again in our lifetime.

"If you give him the metal, he'll build you an airplane," coworker of 26 years Jeff Scelzi said. "The guy is amazing with his hands,"

While many in attendance spoke of Blackman's three quarters of a century with one company as the completion of his achievement, Blackman continued to look to the future.

"As long as I can get up and go to work," he said, "I'll keep doing this."

At 91, Blackman vows he doesn't think about retirement. With increasingly sophisticated aircraft requiring constant learning to maintain, a kind of work he says he's always loved, a company that apparently loves him and coworkers who value his mentorship and expertise, Blackman planned to show up to work Wednesday morning and every day morning that until he no longer physically can.

"I hope I have many more years at the company, but that's not up to me," he said. "That's up to the man upstairs. The very first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is say: 'Thank you for another day.'"