On a wide plateau near the roiling Missouri River waterfalls that once proved inhospitable to explorers Lewis and Clark, there's a general aviation dealer waiting with open arms, prepared to treat all comers with a hearty welcome, be they deplaning from a massive Lockheed C-5 or a diminutive Cessna C-150.
At Holman Aviation – a Phillips 66® Aviation-branded dealer serving Great Falls International Airport (GTF) – the ramps are heavy enough to handle the world's largest aircraft. But its customer service has a heart big enough to help even the most stoic military veteran or weekend piston warrior feel as significant as a globe-trotting corporate pilot.
"From private to military, our philosophy is the same," explains Dwight Holman, president of this 63-year-old, family-run fixed base operator.
"A lot of military pilots say they really like the customer service, but it is the same thing we strive to do for all our clients," says Holman. "All that service we are so focused on for our private and corporate fliers we just do likewise for the military guys, and they think that's pretty sharp. It's something they're not used to."
Customer-focused management has worked so well that the airlines servicing Great Falls often turn to Holman Aviation for everything from fueling, ticketing and baggage, to push-backs, to winter deicing. "We can handle the whole ball of wax," says Holman. "We try to carve out a niche serving the airlines. We do a lot more than fuel, providing all sorts of ground services the airlines might need."
A warm welcome for North Pole arrivals
Now in its second generation of family ownership, Holman Aviation has put Great Falls, a city of 59,000 souls, on the map for world travelers seeking an efficient, intercontinental, transient stop. They come in from jet stream-propelled routes above the Arctic Circle on their way to Los Angeles or San Francisco seeking a quick turn from Holman's NATA Safety 1st-certified line crew and a fast point-of-entry from the airport's 24-hour available customs agents.
"Our location is accessible from a global flight routing perspective," Holman explains. "We see quite a few flights coming from Europe over the North Pole to land here, clear customs and take on some fuel. From a customs viewpoint, a pilot or corporate flight department can provide a one-hour notice, seven days a week. It makes for a convenient United States point-of-entry."
Case in point: One of the world's largest online brands recently flew its Boeing 767 into Holman on the way to Silicon Valley, saving 30 staffers onboard valuable time in the process. The alternative was to enter customs at a busy San Francisco airport, then make a congested commute to their headquarters.
"We work to make quick-turns hassle-free," Holman says. "Everything here is geared to simplify a charter's turn. Our heavy ramp is designed to handle virtually any aircraft. Our facility is right off the main runway. And the airspace over Great Falls International Airport is wide open."
With Canada 120 miles north, Holman Aviation also sees its share of north-south business travel. "We're in an interesting area," explains Holman. "East of us is the Bakken oil field; north of us lies the tar sands in Edmonton, Canada. The interstate to Calgary goes right through Great Falls."
The Montana FBO further entices corporate fliers by offering WingPoints®, the Phillips 66 Aviation program that rewards customers for aviation fuel purchases at participating FBOs, with points that are immediately redeemable online for gift or debit cards.
Fueling national defense
The heart of Great Falls beats with a military precision. It is home to the Malmstrom Air Force Base, where the 341st Missile Wing of the Air Force Global Strike Command keeps 150 Minutemen III intercontinental ballistic missiles armed and ready to defend America.
"We're built to handle anything the military can throw at us," Holman says. "We support the base, be it flights for VIPs, cargo or engineering squads."
The ability to handle humongous C-5 jets, prop-propelled C-130 Hercules transporters and F-16 fighter jets keeps the military coming back to Holman Aviation.
"We've taken care of three C-5s at one time while handling our corporate, general aviation and airline customers," says Holman. One month, Holman Aviation took care of 19 of the behemoth cargo planes.
Once, a C-5 pilot asked Holman's crew to top off his tank. And they did, to the tune of 40,600 gallons – the single largest volume of jet fuel the FBO had ever pumped into an aircraft. Holman says the pilot wanted enough fuel to make it nonstop to Bolivia. It was just enough, says Holman.
And then there is the 120th Fighter Wing of the Montana Air National Guard stationed nearby. With the bases' "tight ramp," as Holman describes it, the FBO gets its fair share of National Guard activity.
"We do things the military way, using procedures shared by the experts at the Air National Guard," Holman says.
The FBO offers "follow-me" vehicles to escort aircraft to ramp parking. Video surveillance security systems monitor all of Holman
Aviation's ramps, something that also appeals to corporate travelers making a stay in Great Falls.
As if all the experience serving military aircraft weren't enough, Holman Aviation also leases hangars and office space to Homeland Security. Great Falls is one of five northern border air and marine branches watching the border with Canada.
A safety first family
"One of the advantages we have as a military city, if you will, is that we seem to attract retirees out of the Air Force, giving us opportunities to hire former military crew chiefs," Holman explains. "They come to us with experience on the military flight line and they know how to handle military flights and procedures."
Running a tight ship on the line is important to Holman and his 22 employees. "We are Safety 1st-certified and we work very hard at it," he says.
Homer Holman started the business in 1950. "It's one of those classic stories, with dad coming back from the Marines," Holman explains. "He just started off doing flight instruction and kept taking up opportunities. He kind of developed the company around flying, offering charter, instruction, crop dusting – all different twists of operating aircraft."
Soon it all evolved into an FBO, one that's been in the same location for six decades. "Even the Great Falls airline terminal hasn't been in one location that long," notes Holman.
Aviation seems to fuel the Holman family, even pitting brother against brother in friendly competition. Dwight's brother once owned an FBO in Kalispell, Montana. "It was kind of fun when we had two locations in the state," laughs Holman.
Kalispell also happens to be home to CityServiceValcon, the marketer that provides Phillips 66 Aviation fuel to Holman Aviation, as well as FBOs across 12 states, including Montana, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
"CityServiceValcon is good at communications, which I think is important," says Holman. "They are responsive to the needs of FBOs."
These days Holman's daughter is in the family business, wearing as many different hats as she can – handling payroll, shipping and receiving processing, customer service, and accounting for the aircraft maintenance shop. "But I can't seem to get her outside to pump fuel, for some reason," Holman jokes.
For more information about Holman Aviation, visit www.holmanaviation.com.