The ups and downs of life can be difficult to manage for any business, especially during a pandemic and supply-chain crisis. Fortunately for Don and Linda Rydstrom, owners of Westjet Air Center in Rapid City, South Dakota, it takes more than a few bumps in the road to stop the Phillips 66® branded FBO from keeping planes in the air and fuel at the ready.
In fact, the full-service FBO, located at Rapid City Regional Airport (KRAP), has experienced much success over the past 18 months, and Linda credits that success to her the entire family’s close ties to their family and community.
“We’ve been blessed. We are so grateful for the reliability and care that Phillips 66® provides, and for all of our partners who’ve helped us have an incredible summer season in spite of many challenges,” Linda said. “From Harms Oil and Lessley & Sons of Texas to Wyoming Refinery and our Governor Kristi Noem, it took an entire community, but we never shut down during the pandemic and we kept all employees fully staffed—it’s been a great partnership with everyone.”
Westjet Air Center has been a staple of the Rapid City aviation community for decades and has continued to grow since Don purchased the FBO in 1978, about 21 years after it originally opened in 1957 as a Phillips 66 branded FBO. Keeping Phillips 66 Aviation fuel was not a difficult decision and now Westjet is coming up on its 65th year as a Phillips 66 Aviation Fuel Partner.
“We can’t say enough about Phillips 66,” Linda said. “Everyone has been so easy to work with and they’ve always taken care of our needs consistently and have even gone above and beyond to ensure our satisfaction.”
Not too long ago, in 2015, Westjet celebrated the grand opening of a new $1 million FBO facility, which they built to cater to their aviation customers’ wants and needs, including a state-of-the-art flight-planning center, pilot’s lounge, private sleeping quarters, well-stocked vending area, and a children’s room built to cater to traveling families.
Westjet also features 75,000 feet of top-of-the-line hangar space, concierge assistance, 24-hour fueling, and extensive ground and maintenance services operated by fully trained and certified specialists—many of whom were trained in military service at nearby Ellsworth Air Force.
“We could not have better employees, and we always promote from within, so our turnover has been virtually non-existent,” Linda said of her 25 loyal employees, many of whom she’s employed for decades. “Once you get hooked on aviation, you don’t leave aviation.”
As a pilot herself, Linda believes you can’t successfully own and operate an FBO unless you’re a pilot, which is why Westjet provides new employees with their first three to five hours of flight training at no charge. This, Linda says, gives them an appreciation of what pilots need and want and an understanding of certain things that only make sense to pilots. Plus, Westjet offers a substantial discount to employees who want to enroll in flight school and continue their training.
The flight school is separate from Westjet and it’s owned and operated by Don and Linda’s daughter Miranda Rydstrom Maleki and her husband Bijan Maleki, both of whom are actively involved in the business and will take over the reins of the company in the future.
“My husband and I are in our 46th year of owning the company, and our daughter and son-in-law joined us a few years ago,” Linda said. “We’re slowly getting ready to transition to that next generation, but it will be slow, and I will still continue to be involved.”
Though retirement is around the corner for Linda, Don has already stepped back to pursue other activities and interests, neither is eager to get out of the aviation business. Both are retired commercial pilots with more than 16,000 hours of flight time, so they’ve spent the better part of their lives in the skies, either pulling cargo, flying corporate or simply cruising for fun. In fact, prior to getting married, Linda was one of Don’s employees who often served in a variety of capacities, including hauling cargo, piloting corporate flights and anything else that needed to be done. Miranda and Bijan are doing the much of the day-to-day management, with Linda’s assistance and guidance.
“I married him just so I could get some time off,” she said with an infectious laugh.
As longtime members of the Rapid City community, Don and Linda have a soft spot in their hearts for the children living in and around the area. The two have shared what success they’ve had with various organizations that support children in need. In fact, Westjet is sponsoring a Christmas party for more than 400 Title I elementary students this month, a tradition of theirs for the past 15 years. This is just one example of the many outreach efforts that Don and Linda spearhead as a way of giving back to a community that has supported them through their own ups and downs.
Westjet Air Center is a member of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).
“All of us in Aviation should be grateful for the work that NBAA and NATA did to get us through this pandemic because they were really instrumental in helping get through some of the regulatory stuff that was required for the payroll grants that were given,” Linda said. “I can’t say enough about both of those organizations.”
To learn more about Westjet Air Center, please visit westjetair.com.