By S. Clayton Moore
Mountain Aviation, one of the Rocky Mountain region’s most robust charter operations, is getting even more dynamic.
With plenty of new aircraft, new deals, and big plans to celebrate, the company held an open house for Denver’s business and aviation communities on June 14 at the TAC Air facility at Centennial Airport. While its management was pleased to meet and greet CEOs and aviators alike, one of the main purposes was to show off the latest jewel in a superb fleet of aircraft.
Filling Tac Air’s main hangar was an exquisitely outfitted Cessna Citation X, the fastest corporate jet currently available. Precision Jet Management, a prestigious corporate charter service based in Syracuse, N.Y., which recently entered into a partnership with Mountain Aviation to manage the Citation X from Colorado, owns the aircraft. Three years ago, PJM bought four of the high-performance aircraft, which are capable of traveling at 525 knots.
“We’re here today to show off this aircraft and celebrate the progress we’ve made,” said Rich Bjelkevig, owner and president of Mountain Aviation.
Bjelkevig and former partner Mike Archuleta (who left the company in 2002) founded Mountain Aviation in 1993. The company started out with two significantly smaller airplanes, a Cessna 340 and a King Air 90, but soon grew enough to build a small facility at Jefferson County Airport (BJC).
In the last four years, the company’s FAA Part 135 charter operations have grown by leaps and bounds. Perhaps the most important additions have been in its fleet of aircraft. Today, the company’s aircraft selection includes three eight-passenger Cessna Citations. Those aircraft include two 650s and a 750, as well as two King Air 90s and a King Air 200. The most significant impact has come from the addition of a transcontinental Gulfstream G400 capable of transporting 13 passengers over a range of 4,700 miles at more than 500 mph.
Mountain Aviation had to complete a rigorous examination process in order to gain a flight certificate allowing them to fly 10 or more passengers per trip. Among many other requirements, the company had to fly the aircraft through proving runs across the North Atlantic in some of the world’s most restrictive airspace.
“Most charter certificates fly nine seats or less,” Bjelkevig explained. “There’s a whole different level of management actions that you have to take in terms of FAA oversight, maintenance and other operational aspects in order to fly at this level. We believe we’re the only charter service between Salt Lake City and Kansas City that has a 10 or more certificate.”
More importantly, the certificate will allow Mountain Aviation to grow by either owning bigger airplanes or managing them for other owners.
“We can add airplanes now without having to go through all the proving runs,” Bjelkevig said. “That’s helping us out and we’re looking for bigger airplanes these days.”
The Citation X owned by PJM will eventually be based at Jefferson County Airport but in the meantime will operate from Centennial, where Mountain Aviation maintains a satellite facility and charter sales office. At the open house, PJM was represented by its president, Clark H. Onstad, formerly the chief counsel for the FAA. Onstad was also a cofounder of Atlas Air Cargo and a friend to its chairman, the late Michael Chowdry, who was killed in an air crash in 2001.
“We’re really looking forward to working with Mountain Aviation to service this area,” Onstad said, from the comfort of one of the Citation X’s plush leather seats. “Because we have four Citation Xs, there’s never a question of one being down because we always have the ability to bring in another one. We can cycle them through this area at any time, so we have plenty of capacity to grow here.”
Onstad explained that because PJM is a family-owned company, its employees are deeply committed to maintaining the quality and safety of its aircraft.
“We’re able to provide a level of service that’s very difficult for a commercial operator to offer,” he said. “These airplanes are family-owned and the family members who own PJM fly on these planes often, so no expense is spared.”
For Mountain Aviation, this new partnership with PJM is exactly the kind of relationship they’re trying to build with companies that own their own aircraft.
“We’re out here today to help market this airplane for them,” Bjelkevig said. “They chose to base an aircraft out there and they wanted to charter it and we’re glad they came to us to help them with that process. PJM actually has its own charter certificate, but we think this is a good partnership.”
In addition to adding new services such as charter transport to the Caribbean and the North Atlantic, Mountain Aviation’s 10-plus certificate also allows the company to develop far faster than it could previously.
“We’re really looking to manage corporate airplanes on our own charter certificate,” Bjelkevig said. “This certificate allows us to bill ourselves as a charter management company and that’s one niche that we want to fill in the Rocky Mountain Region. That’s our goal now that we have this ability to add large cabin aircraft to our certificate.”
In other news, Mountain Aviation also plans to expand its facilities at both Centennial Airport and Jefferson County Airport. At Centennial, where Kerry McPherson, marketing manager, is based, the company is taking on more office and storage space, and will rent more hangar space at the TAC Air facility. But the most significant changes will come at Jeffco.
“We’re building a completely new hangar and office complex at Jefferson County Airport,” Bjelkevig confirmed. “It will include a 20,000-square-foot hangar and 6,000 square feet of office space. We’ll be able to do our own heavy maintenance on aircraft as large as this Gulfstream and our Citations. We’ll also have more sales and marketing capabilities and other infrastructure. That should help us expand our business a little bit faster.”
Bjelkevig expects the new complex to be completed during the first quarter of 2007. In the meantime, he and his team will continue to welcome aviation and business professionals into the warm glow of Mountain Aviation.
“We genuinely appreciate our partnership with Centennial Airport and Jefferson County Airport,” Bjelkevig said. “We definitely look forward to developing a long-term relationship with the Denver business community.”
For more information about Mountain Aviation, visit [http://www.mountainaviation.com].