Mountain Aviation celebrated 20 years of service to the Denver and Rocky Mountain region community. Along the way it has picked up a trophy cabinet of awards for safety and best-practice. From small beginnings it has grown to become a mature, ARGUS Platinum safety -certified air charter and aircraft management business, with a managed fleet of 19 airplanes, over 100 employees and 43,000 hours of safe flying logged in its books.
Mountain Aviation is the creature of Rich Bjelkevig, who remains its CEO to this day. In 1993, Bjelkevig and colleague, both pilots, were out of a job, along with a distressing number of his fellow Americans. The economy was in a recession, and he had a family to feed. But Bjelkevig saw opportunity in the failures of others. “I had worked for several operators who had gone out of business,” he says. “I was confident enough to think that I could see why they were failing, and to think that I could do better. So I decided to try it on my own. My first office was aspare bedroom in my colleagues house.” Mountain Aviation has come a long way since then, and so has the industry in which it operates. In the 90s, aircraft ownership plans were pretty simple. Commercial fleets were owned by those who operated them, and private owners had little opportunity to market their airplanes for charter, and defray the costs of ownership. Fractional ownership was on the scene, but in its infancy. As a result, commercial operators found it very difficult to sustain the ownership of late-model airplanes, and ownership of private airplanes was confined either to the very rich, or to those with a need for private transport so great that they could not bare the entire cost of ownership. The outcome was a bunch of aging fleets providing third-tier lift, and a very small fleet of privately-owned machines, with no commercial connection between them.
Bjelkevig saw that the needs of private owners could in many cases be reconciled with those of the ad hoc charter market, provided the management plan was crafted with sufficient care. He set about building Mountain Aviation around this proposition. The Mountain Aviation value proposition is a business model that allows private airplanes to sit comfortably within the fleet as a whole, providing volume purchasing power and earning money for their owners when their owners don’t use them, and providing ad hoc, third-party users with the comfort and safety of a low-hour, late model ride.
Starting the fleet with a King Air C90, the milestones began totting up:
• 1995 – MA’s first light jet – a Citation II. Entry into service required extended proving runs with FAA observers.
• 1997 – first midsize jet – a Citation 650, based at FT Collins. More FAA proving runs. The 650 brought stand-up cabin room and true east coast nonstop range.
• I999 MA moved into its own hangar facility and offices at the BJC, Broomfield Airport.
• 2004 – MA’s first large cabin airplane – a Gulfstream G400. This entailed amending MA’s operating certificate to cover aircraft with 10 or more seats, and worldwide operating authority. This required extensive revision and rewriting of the company’s manuals.
• 2005 – MA added a Citation 650 to the Boise, ID flight-line.
• 2007 – MA opened a business development office and base at the Centennial Airport, with a King Air 90. There are now 7 airplanes based there in a leased hangar.
• 2008 MA built its current facility – a new 26,000ft2 hangar and office. The original 12,000ft2 hangar was kept as a maintenance base.
• 2010 – added a Gulfstream G150 in Eagle, CO.
What are the keys to this impressive record? Bjelkevig is quick to say: – “Safety, safety, safety first!” He adds, though, that it takes a corporate culture of hard work, long hours and then more hard work, and more long hours. There’s more, too. “Complete honesty and integrity with our clients, whether they are owners or users. Recognising our mistakes, when we make them, and fixing them. And recognizing the value of our employees, their commitment to our vision and mission, and their integrity. We probably have the lowest employee turnover rate in the country for a company of our size, and myself and our management staff can be very proud of that.”
Bjelkevig still loves the air, although currently he’s not flying. He sees MA’s future as very much a continuation of the present trajectory. “While we continually appraise opportunities to diversify the services we offer, an opportunity has to be a very good fit with our core business values for us to seriously consider it, and not many qualify. So I guess you’ll find us doing more, and better, of what we already do – developing good people and providing expanding opportunities. Entrepreneurship has to be cultivated, and developing the culture of enterprise in the group of people we have is paramount to expansion and success.
We’ll be expanding our line of managed airplanes and our maintenance capabilities, and we plan to open other bases around the country.”
Asked what he sees as his guiding business principle, Bjelkevig says “Stay true to our values, and thank God we’re still here, and able to serve our aircraft owners and guests.”