Having soloed his first flight at the age of 16, John Bales considers aviation to be one of his first passions. Bales’ father was an airline pilot and instilled this love for aviation in his son at an early age. After college took him in another direction for a short period, Bales returned to the aviation industry in 1989 at St. Louis Lambert International where he served as part of the airport operations team for five years.
“In airport operations, I got to work with every department with all managers and learn more about the ins and outs of airports,” Bales said. “I loved it so much, but soon realized I didn't want to be stuck in operations my whole life—I wanted to do more within the industry.”
In 1994, Bales’ journey eventually took him to Spirit of St. Louis Airport located in Chesterfield, Missouri, where currently he serves as director.
“I love my current role because I do something different every day,” Bales said. “I deal with real estate leases, operational projects, emergencies, tenant relations—among other tasks. It’s the reason I haven't gone anywhere else.”
A team of 21, Spirit of St. Louis is a Phillips 66® Aviation fuel contractor, providing Phillips 66 fuel to several FBOs around the greater St. Louis region.
“We don’t touch airplanes as the FBOs provide all the traditional services,” Bales said. “However, we maintain the fuel farms and all taxiways and runways. We also have 200,000 gallons of storage on the field, which is impressive for a general aviation airport.”
Operating since 1964, Spirit of St. Louis has contracted Phillips 66 fuel for 57 years, making it the fuel of choice for the airport for nearly the entirety of its history.
“We have contractual obligations to our FBOs which means consistent delivery is crucial to us,” Bales said. “Phillips 66 understands our needs and our unique situation as an airport. They’re always responsive and help set us up for success.”
Spirit of St. Louis takes advantage of several Phillips 66 resources including marketing, training, quality control and other learning services. The airport also maintains a relationship with the Phillips 66® Lubricants team and the Phillips 66 Aerostars.
With over 100 base jet customers, Spirit of St. Louis serves a wide variety of customers, from corporate to leisure aviation, and is also highly respected in the community as a huge supporter of the industry.
“We have a great relationship with St. Louis University’s aviation and engineering program in which they bring high school students from across the nation to the airport for a week-long summer camp,” Bales said. “Students have the opportunity to meet pilots, see what mechanics do, and crawl through a 7X or Falcon 900. It’s a perfect way to spark their interest and give them an inside look on how the industry works.”
In addition, Spirit of St. Louis is a part of the Greater Saint Louis Business Aviation Association, a local organization that raises money for college scholarships within the industry. Bales, a board member of the Greater St. Louis Business Aviation Education Foundation, helped jump start this scholarship program. Through golf tournaments, aviation trivia nights and other fundraising initiatives, the association has been able to fund the education of many students while growing the next generation of aviators.
“Last year, we provided nearly $50,000 in scholarships,” Bales said. “And it doesn’t just go to students looking to become pilots; we also donate funds to those looking into other departments like maintenance and engineering.”
The association also raises money for worldwide humanitarian organization Wings of Hope—a local foundation that provides airplanes to regions in need across the globe.
“Wings of Hope has over 150 airplanes located around the world, and provides many medical relief flights,” Bales said. “They have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and we at Spirit of St. Louis are beyond proud to support them and have them as a tenant.”
Additionally, the airport wrapped up the 2022 Spirit of St. Louis Air Show & STEM Expo in June. Presented by Boeing, the expo is a two-day event that is designed to promote STEM and aviation education and career opportunities within the region.
“Participants enjoyed a number of experiences this year from contests and presentations to displays and flyovers from the Blue Angels,” Bales said. “It’s a great way to show our community how supportive we and other entities are.”
As the airport continues to make a name for itself within the community and beyond, Spirit of St. Louis is constantly updating its facilities. In 2020, the airport opened a new, state-of-the-art US Customs and Border Patrol general aviation facility, allowing the airport to clear customers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The airport’s crown jewel, however, is its Ground Run-Up Enclosure, a highly-advanced facility featuring modern aviation and engineering technology.
“The reason behind the Ground Run-Up Enclosure was in response to a noise study we had done, which revealed that many located nearby—business or residential—had several noise complaints. Therefore, we had to restrict engine run ups for maintenance to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. only,” Bales said. “So, we had this facility built, allowing us a greater time range to conduct this maintenance service.”
One of the first enclosures of its kind to be built in a North American business aviation airport, the installation is a highly engineered space, featuring acoustic panels that greatly diminish the noise created by engine startups.
“This was a win-win situation,” Bales said. “Now, I get to go out to the community and show off what we did to help keep our neighbors happy, and from an economic standpoint, more operators will be attracted to us as we offer this maintenance service 24/7.”
Spirit of St. Louis is still growing, currently amid a major rehab project for its main taxiway and looking to begin drainage projects in the near future.
“Not only do we want to expand, but we strive to keep the airport as high class as possible for our operators,” Bales said.
Spirit of St. Louis Airport is adapting to meet the needs of the modern aviation world while taking action to fuel the next generation of aviation professionals. Phillips 66 and the aviation industry look forward to more growth and success at the airport.