It's one of historic Felts Fields' little secrets, an undiscovered "find" that seaplane pilots like to keep to themselves. But if the fervent team at Western Aviation has its way, the five-star online reviews will soon be piling up for their seaplane services – just like they have for its avionics, NATA Safety 1st-certified line service, Part 145 maintenance, pilot's shop…and its Skyway Café. That's right, its café.
"We have a phenomenal café in the terminal," explains Michael Brown, Western Aviation's Line Service Manager. "We get customers landing here that will literally say 'we just stopped in to have lunch.' My office is 10 feet from their door and it's hard not to eat there every day."
Western Aviation is one of the newest FBOs in the Northwest. It also happens to be the oldest FAA-approved avionics repair station serving the Inland Northwest.
The Phillips 66® Aviation-branded dealer built its reputation as Western Avionics, which began in 1974. "We have world class avionics service," says Brown, "and people fly from all over specifically to have avionics done here."
The team at Western believed if it could deliver acclaimed avionics service, it could do likewise for aircraft maintenance. And certified-Part 145 repair work became a staple at the shop. The leap to full-service FBO – now featuring aircraft storage, fuel services and a thriving pilot's shop – seemed logical, and Western Aviation was "born."
At Felts Field, which began in 1913, aviation's legacy thrives, propelled in part by Western Aviation. Declared a municipal airfield in 1920, Felts Field is a designated Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
Western uses the same late-1920's terminal that once filled up with commercial passengers, before the city moved that traffic to Spokane International Airport. The control tower is no longer upstairs. But looking out onto the airfield, you can almost see the Spokane Sun-God, Nicholas Bernard Mamer, taking off in his 1929 record-setting, cross-country endurance flight. Mamer and copilot Art Walker flew continuously over 7,200 miles and 120 hours, refueling in flight.
The oldest Boeing 40 in the world is hangared at Felts, along with a fleet of Stearman biplanes and several other vintage aircraft.
Building community affinity
Western Aviation showcases that remarkable legacy during events designed to give the local community a full-throttle aviation experience.
"We want the community around the field to know that we appreciate them," Brown says. "We give them a broad idea of what's on the field, try to get them involved in aviation. We project more and more attendees at Neighbor Days each year."
Its June Neighbor Days drew 13,000 people last year. Some flew with generous pilots who gave flights in their Felts Field Stearman biplanes. Others caught rides in a classic Boeing B25 that Western Aviation brought in. There were even free helicopter tours of Spokane's Inland region.
Up to 70 vintage aircraft, including experimental biplanes, fill Western's ramps during its annual July biplane fly-in. And the oldest flying Douglas DC-3 excited a crowd with its gleaming stainless steel skin and throaty 1937 Curtis-Wright radial engines last September. That's when Flagship Detroit, the DC-3's restorer, made a Felts Field tour stop because, according to the foundation, Spokane is home to a number of historic aircraft fans.
"It was a big event and I actually got to fly the DC-3 for 25 minutes," exclaimed Brown. "I fly helicopters, I don't fly planes, and that was first time in my life I've flown a fixed wing."
How to get pilots smiling
"Western Aviation has an exciting story," says Ed Croymans, Aviation Manager for CityServiceValcon, which provides fuel for the FBO as one of Phillips' 66 largest marketers, serving FBOs across a dozen Western states. "A glance at the customer feedback online reveals they're doing things right."
Brown explains it's all about the pilots.
"Our motto as an FBO is that we are here for the pilots," says Brown. "That is why we are here on this field. I tell pilots all the time, that if you fly into our field and leave with a smile, than we feel we've done our job.
"Looking at the online reviews we've had, we stand out as an FBO because we will provide super customer service to anybody who lands on the field. Whether you buy stuff from us or not, whether you are a general aviation pilot or a corporate pilot, you get red carpet treatment when you land on this field."
Take Western Aviation's seaplane service. Many seaplane facilities rely on self-serve fuel at the docks. But Western Aviation will drive down to its three transient docks, pick up the pilot and passengers for a ride to the terminal or a waiting rental car, make hotel reservations at a discounted rate and tie up their aircraft overnight.
"We will dispense fuel and do the whole transaction right at the water," Brown explains. "Any service that we provide on the field, we will also provide on the water. It's the biggest secret on the field."
The FBOs also prides itself on a full Part 145 maintenance shop that works on anything from a small to large airframe, run by manager with a BA in Airframe & Powerplant maintenance.
"Our mechanics and avionics technicians receive regular recurrent training," says Brown. "We continually audit and modify our technical quality control system. We put a lot of time, money and energy into maintaining the best, certified practices for avionics, mechanical work and safety. We consider it worth the hurdles you have to jump through to be Part 145-certified."
For avionics, the longtime FAA-approved repair station is an authorized dealer for just about any system available today, including Garmin, Aspen, S-Tech, Honeywell, Cobham, Aircell, Sandel, Icom, Chelton, Century and PS Engineering.
Charting success at a pilot's shop
At an FBO like Western – with its avionics expertise, full-service offerings and a field rife with history – a pilot's shop might not stand out.
But the one at Western Aviation not only flourishes, it's sought-after. In fact, Western's shop has been an authorized FAA chart retailer for almost 30 years, with a rich, almost library-like selection.
The rest of the Pilot's Shop is far from an afterthought. Filled with gadgets, tablet accessories like touch-screen compatible gloves, GPS devices, transceivers, safety and survival equipment, study guides and headsets, the FBO works to keep the selection fresh and enticing.
"We like to have a laser-like focus on the pilot, whether it's providing customer service or the latest accessories," Brown explains.
Outside the historic Western Aviation terminal, there's a unique windsock that sort of exemplifies the FBO and its plans to grow.
A small experimental airplane, mounted on a bearing systems with a prop fueled by the wind, overlooks the airfield. The plane was flown by one of Felts Field's respected homebuilt pilots. When he died, his wife donated the aircraft as an homage to her husband's affection for the airfield and all its stands for. It was turned into a wind sock, a moving symbol that reminds visitors of aviation's explorers and pioneers, while facing winds yet to come.
For a new FBO like Western Aviation, it's a sign of the future, with roots planted firmly in the past.
For more information, visit www.westernaviation.net.