WEST STAR AVIATION
Grand Junction FBO grows its maintenance capability to meet the inevitable needs of aircraft operators
By John Boyce, Contributing Editor
GRAND JUNCTION, CO — West Star Aviation at this city's Walker Field takes the approach to aviation business similar to the grocery store industry's approach to food. The grocery stores say that no matter what else happens, people have to eat. West Star says no matter what else happens, if people own and fly airplanes they have to do maintenance.
"Our core business," says West Star president Mike McClain, "is maintenance and that's what we want it to be because if times adjust, if the money is not as good as it is right now, the gravitation is always back to what you have to do and fliers have to do maintenance. They don't have to do avionics; they don't have to do paint; they don't have to do interiors. But if they fly they'll buy fuel and do maintenance."
However, if those fliers want avionics, paint, or interior work, West Star is capable of accommodating them. It is currently building a state-of-the-art, 25,000-sq. ft., three-Challenger-size bay paint hangar to replace the two-bay hangar in place now. The company recently expanded its avionics facilities, is going to build a new storage hangar, and is contemplating a new maintenance hangar. Fuel sales, which include military and commercial contracts, amount to approximately three million gallons a year. West Star has salesmen dedicated to paint, avionics, maintenance, interiors, and fuel and is looking to increase the sales staff.
"We have a philosophy that we want to have an FBO with one-stop shopping," says Louis A. Buescher, corporate vice president of West Star's parent, Buescher Family Limited Partnership (BFLP), "so the guy coming in for maintenance or avionics could also get paint and upholstery. We're built around getting that customer in here and he could get everything done in one place in less time."
West Star is a business in a state of rapid transition. It's in the process of moving from an operation that specialized in piston-engine maintenance and Cessna Conquest Dash-10 conversions to one that is broadening into strictly jet and turbine-engine maintenance with an emphasis on Lears, Citations, and Hawkers. The company recently sold its piston-engine maintenance division. The Dash-10 program — in which the original Conquest Dash-8 engine is converted to the more versatile Dash-10 — has been hugely successful. However, it's a declining business because the company has converted 75 percent of the original 360 Conquests built.
In girding itself for the inevitable day the Dash-10 program either evaporates or becomes an insignificant trickle, West Star gauges how it is doing by how much revenue it takes in above and beyond Dash-10 work.
"We've done about $30 million in each of the past two years," McClain explains, "and we are on that kind of swing again for this year. But the mix has changed. It used to be all Conquests and now it's all jet maintenance. Last year we did 29 conversions —- the most we've ever done in one year. That's a lot of dollars but a small profit percentage. This year we've done the least (conversions) we've ever done but we've done the same amount of business. That's how the mix is changing."
But while the Conquest Dash-10 program inevitably declines, West Star recently purchased Intercontinental Jet Corp. (IJC) of Tulsa, one of the nation's largest Mitsubishi MU-2 maintenance facilities which was recently awarded an STC for a Dash 10 conversion of the MU-2's Dash 5 and 6 engines. There are 460 MU-2 operators worldwide.
"It's a very logical addition to our company," Buescher says. "IJC does for the MU-2 market what we have been doing for the Conquest, Learjet, Hawker, and Citation markets for years — maintaining a high quality workforce with specialized knowledge and experience with the aircraft."
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