When the line crew at Northstar Jet brags about going big in Big Sky Country, they really mean it.
Like some other fixed base operators, this Western Montana FBO fuels big aircraft – and plenty of them, handling executive jets, commuter airlines, military flights and college sport team charters.
But during the winter, when some 300 inches of feathery powder falls from the sky, "going big" for Northstar Jet's visitors means skiing deep bowls lined with soaring Ponderosa Pines and fast, expert runs waiting 20 miles north of the FBO. As the weather warms, "going big" is about casting for 25-inch trophies in Missoula's Bitterroot, Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers, where the waters run clear and cold and the trout population is dense and hungry.
It's a wonder, then, why this Phillips 66® Aviation-branded dealer at Missoula International Airport (MSO) is so adept at quick turns.
"You can fly in and be skiing the glades of Montana Snowbowl within 30 minutes of landing," says Kynan Spethman, Northstar Jet's General Manager. "The lift lines are short, the powder is deep and the runs are long."
Maybe Northstar should offer "slow turns" to give their customers a chance to experience the Montana scenery. Instead, Spethman and his crew take pride in providing fast service.
"They can quick-turn an airplane before a pilot gets out of the restroom," says Breezy Burlison, territory manager for CityServiceValcon, the Kalispell, Montana-based fuel marketer that represents Phillips 66 Aviation in 12 states.
"Their combination of service, facilities, image and a passion for the business has enabled them to become the market leader at the Missoula International Airport," explains Ed Croymans, Wholesale Sales Manager for CityServiceValcon. "We're very proud to have Northstar Jet as a customer."
Beyond the lure of Western Montana's outdoor attractions lies a customer-friendly attitude that seems ingrained in the FBO team's DNA. Business continues to grow for this dealer, despite stiff competition on the MSO field and an industry confronting political and economic pressures.
"Our team is like a family on the field here," Spethman explains. "It's a tight-knit group that places an emphasis on customer service. We try to bring out the best in our customers, whether they've come in frowning or smiling. It's a pretty rare day that a customer doesn't walk away smiling."
Northstar Jet fuels most of Missoula's commercial airline flights. In fact, five of six airlines landing at MSO fuel with Northstar. But the bulk of its growth has come from serving regional corporate traffic and the University of Montana, according to Spethman.
"At its heart, Missoula is a college town," Spethman says. "The FBO supports all of the University of Montana's special functions, Grizzlies sports team charters and fan charters from all over the country."
Dubbed "Harvard of the West," the University of Montana has been graduating rabid fans since its founding in 1893, when the lumber mills ringed Missoula. Many of those supporters, says Spethman, call on Northstar's sister company, Neptune Aviation, which has a Dassault Falcon 50EX and King Air B-100 standing by to whisk loyal Griz fans to out-of-town games.
An FAA-certificated repair station, Northstar Jet is well equipped to handle large charter aircraft. The airlines at MSO have the FBO on speed dial for call-out maintenance, which Northstar offers 24/7. Northstar Jet technicians fix hydraulics, replace windows and perform other short-notice repairs to keep the airlines flying and on schedule.
"We work on everything from high-end corporate jets to super cubs and light sport," explains Spethman.
Northstar Jet technicians are certified to work on virtually all business aircraft, including Citation, Eclipse Jet, Falcon Series, Gulfstream II, III, IV, King Air and Lear. Their capabilities are robust: aircraft annual inspections; oxygen/nitrogen service; sheet metal repairs; engineering and structural modifications; air-conditioning service and restoration; propeller balancing and dressing; nondestructive testing; plus biennial transponder and pitot static instrument testing and repair.
Adhering to "best practices" is important at the FBO, says Spethman, whether it's in the maintenance shop or on the line, where the crew is NATA Safety 1st certified.
There is 65,000 square feet of hangar space – heated to ward off cold Montana winters. And Northstar has a flight school with three Cessna 172s. Northstar Jet also takes advantage of two key business-building programs offered by Phillips 66 Aviation, the WingPoints® Rewards and Partners-Into-Plane contract fuel programs.
"They are serious," says Burlison, "about what they offer pilots." Still, the lure of Montana's outdoor majesty might trump all that Northstar offers on the MSO airfield. About half the FBO's business in summer is recreational-related, Spethman explains.
"We have folks fly in with a trailer full of Harley's waiting on them, ready to roll to Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks," Spethman says. If the image of riding past black bears and gushing geysers on a motorbike fails to trigger daydreams, then visualize fishing Missoula's Golden Triangle of legendary rivers.
Explorers Lewis and Clark once dropped a line in the Bitterroot, with its nooks and crannies hiding two-foot rainbows. Other anglers wade across the chilly waters of Rock Creek, casting among millions of stoneflies that hatch in May and June, causing a feeding frenzy among cutthroat trout. Grazing moose or bighorn sheep might interrupt a morning of fly-fishing along the banks of the Clark Fork River. For those more inclined to drama, the steep drops and sheer canyons of the Blackfoot River beckon.
It is a fly-fishing, hiking and rafting paradise – and it lies within an hour's drive of Northstar Jet.
But before the snow melts to feed those rivers of Missoula – which Flathead Indians called Nemissoolatakoo for "near the cold, chilling waters" – it fills places like Montana Snowbowl, Lost Trail Powder Mountain, and Big Mountain Ski Resort. "We have thousands of vertical feet of skiing options near Missoula," explains Spethman. "That makes Northstar Jet an ideal starting point for some epic skiing adventures."
Of course, Spethman rarely gets to ski. He's too busy working on providing an epic FBO experience for customers and employees alike.
"Take care of your people and they take care of your business," says Spethman.For more information on Northstar Jet, visit www.northstarmso.com