Van Nuys-based Western Jet Aviation has made a name for itself servicing Gulfstreams, and general manager Jim Hansen attributes the success of his company to its motto: “Treat every airplane as if you were the owner.”
Hansen got his first job on Van Nuys Airport in 1973, and he’s been there ever since. “I started with Jet Center and by 1985 I had worked my way up to director of maintenance,” he said. “[When I started] we had gross revenue of about $2.5 million; when I left in 1999 it topped $8 million. The problem was the company was on its third or fourth buy-out and I decided it was time to move on.”
In September 1999, with the financial assistance of about half a dozen of his long-standing Gulfstream customers, Hansen opened Western Jet Aviation, sharing a 3,000-sq-ft hangar with a Gulfstream operator. “The financial assistance helped me buy the necessary used tooling and friends on the airport offered to loan their equipment when I needed it,” he said.
Four years later Hansen was looking out the window and realized there were nine Gulfstreams sitting on the ramp waiting to get in. “All I could think of was we’re going to ding something with all that iron sitting out there.”
Fortunately, a friend with Raytheon said half of the company’s Van Nuys hangar, which they used as a radar flight test center, was available. Hansen sized up the space and realized he could put as many as nine Gulfstreams in it and clinched the deal for 50,000 sq ft including 15,000 sq ft of shops and offices and three acres of ramp space.
“I started out with two employees in 1999 and we’re now up to 42, including 37 focused on maintenance; 30 are A&Ps. We have some truly remarkable people here starting with Cheryl Shaw,” he said. “Cheryl was with me for ten years at Jet Center and came here with me to help start Western Jet Aviation. She’s my right arm and is fully capable of running the business by herself; her heart’s into it and customers know it. One hundred percent of our business is repeat or the result of word of mouth.” The facility is staffed from 6 a.m. to 9. p.m six days a week, but customers can get support 24 hours a day, seven days a week if necessary.
According to Hansen, the staff has 30 years’ experience on the Gulfstream II, III, IV and V and more than 25 years on Rolls-Royce Spey and Tay engines and Honeywell APUs for Gulfstreams. “Our capacity is nine to fifteen Gulfstreams per week, depending on exactly what a given aircraft requires, but that number is growing rapidly,” Hansen said. “We are a depot-level shop with the capability to do all minor and major inspections and overhauls on all Gulfstreams. We have an excellent sheet metal shop and our support vendors at Van Nuys are second to none, with overnight service available at all times. If it can be done, we can do it.”
What Hansen is a bit more tight-lipped about is his client base. About 20 percent of the company’s approximately 75-aircraft customer base is world-famous entertainers. “They’re good people and they deserve their privacy,” Hansen said.
Western Jet Aviation currently has three Gulfstreams based at its facility, for which it also provides maintenance, with several more to be added soon. The company also manages maintenance for four other Gulfstreams.
“We’re Gulfstream-focused,” Hansen said. “We offer total support, including engine and APU. When it comes to engines we will take care of the entire process from removal to sending it to the OEM to rehanging it on the aircraft. The customer doesn’t have to do anything; we do it all for a fixed price,” added Norm Hill, vice president for sales and marketing.
“I’ve seen flight departments mismanage a single engine event and they were out of business a week later,” Hill said.
“Every ten years or 4,000 flying hours an operator is looking at over a million dollars in engine work so we’ve developed a customer engine management program that our customers love. Eighteen months ahead we’ll start discussing it with them, talking about their budget requirements, and tell them what to tell the owner. I also start negotiating with the OEM to get the customer the best possible deal so when the maintenance event actually comes up it goes smoothly with no surprises,” Hill explained.
Hill also said the company has begun offering avionics work and has recently purchased new equipment. It currently has two technicians and is seeking an avionics manager.
Hansen said the company is operating close to capacity but he sees expansion options. “Obviously we could add a third shift, though I’ve never cared for that option because you don’t have the same level of control. In the next 18 to 24 months there’s going to be about 400,000 square feet of hangar space available here at Van Nuys and that would be a better solution, though the cost per square foot is high. We’re also exploring opportunities at airports outside California as a way of adding to our Van Nuys capacity. I’m thankful the biggest problem I face is that people want to give us business.”