BREAKING NEWS: West Star Aviation plans expansion

Phil Castle, The Business Times

An aviation company plans to substantially expand Grand Junction operations that already attract customers from around the world.

The expansion includes construction of a 45,500 square foot hangar to accommodate even larger aircraft for the inspection, maintenance and painting services West Star Aviation provides at the Grand Junction Regional Airport.

The expansion has ramifications for not only West Star Aviation and the airport, but also a community and even a state that’s expected to derive direct and indirect economic benefits from additional jobs, purchases and tax revenues. By one estimate, the expansion will generate

$76 million in economic benefits to Grand Junction, $279 million in benefits to Mesa County and $273 million in benefits to Colorado.

“It’s pretty staggering,” said Kelly Flenniken, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

The Grand Junction Airport Authority Board of Directors approved a deal that beat out competing offers at other airports at which West Star operates facilities.

“It took a very competitive package to win this bid,” West Star Chief Executive Officer Bob Rasberry stated in a news release from the Grand Junction Airport Authority.

Dave Krogman, general manager of the West Star operation in Grand Junction,  didn’t return telephone calls to the Business Times before press deadline.

Rex Tippetts, director of aviation at the Grand Junction Regional Airport, said the Grand Junction Airport Authority will issue $8 million in revenue bonds to finance construction of the hangar and use lease payments from West Star Aviation to pay back the bonds. Once the bonds are paid, the authority will own the hangar.

Denny Granum, chairman of the airport authority board, said West Star executives began considering an expansion at one of its operations at six airports across the United States, initiating a bidding process.

The deal was the result of nine months of work.

The new hangar will be constructed near other West Star Aviation facilities at the airport and is expected to be completed next spring, Granum said.

In addition to the new hangar, West Star Aviation will lease nearly 49,000 square feet of other space at the airport.

With the new hangar in operation, West Star Aviation is expected to potentially add 150 new positions over the next five years to a staff that already numbers about 300, making the company one of the largest employers in the Grand Valley.

About 40 new jobs will be added in the first year alone, paying an average annual salary of $52,000.

Flenniken said the expansion and associated purchases, wages and tax revenues will generate significant economic benefits during construction of the new hangar and its subsequent use.

According to figures calculated by GJEP, direct and indirect economic benefits over a five-year period will total $76 million for Grand Junction, $279 million for Mesa County and $273 million for Colorado.

There are additional benefits, Flenniken said, in that West Star Aviation brings company executives and well-heeled individuals to Grand Junction for services on their aircraft and introduces them to the area in the process. Several prospects for business relocations have been developed that way, she said.

West Star Aviation is what’s known in the aviation industry as a fixed base operator and has offered services in Grand Junction for more than 60 years.

Aircraft maintenance accounts for the bulk of business at West Star Aviation, followed by fuel sales, instrument upgrades, interior renovations and painting. Nearly all of that business comes  from outside the Grand Valley and even outside Colorado.

In fact, the company attracts customers from around the world, including corporations as well as individuals, with a reputation for its aircraft maintenance and renovation work.

Over the years, West Star Aviation has expanded the makes and sizes of aircraft the company services to take advantage of the proportional relationship between the size of the airplane and the revenues generated from maintenance and renovation work.

While the financial package convinced West Star to expand in Grand Junction, Rasberry said other factors also were involved in the decision.

“Western Colorado’s robust work force, temperate climate and recreational offerings helped us determine that Grand Junction was the ideal location,” Rasberry stated in the airport news release. “But the warm and welcoming people of the Grand Valley and our staff here have been big factors as well.

“We can be technically savvy, but delivering an exceptional experience takes a genuine spirit of hospitality and pride of ownership that feels natural to the people here.”