Galvin Flying Service celebrates 75 years

 - January 31, 2007, 9:35 AM

The year 1930 might not have been the best time to launch an aviation-services business. The Great Depression had the American economy wallowing, and fortunes were still being lost. Still, 26-year-old Jim Galvin, a Coast Guard veteran and aviation enthusiast, was a born thrill-seeker. In the early 1920s, he and two Coast Guard buddies became the first to ride motorcycles across the U.S., a feat documented in national newspapers.

It was while chasing rumrunners off the East Coast that Galvin first became enamored of aviation. He would watch the airplanes flying smoothly above his wildly pitching cutter and think, “I should be up there in the beautiful sky.” After leaving the Coast Guard, he learned to fly, moved to Seattle and saved enough of his Boeing salary (50 cents an hour) to buy his first airplane, a Hisso-powered Swallow.

After barnstorming in the three-place Swallow, Galvin sought more productive flying and bought a six-place Ryan B-1 Brougham, the airplane from which Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis was derived. Black Tuesday did little to stifle his ambition, and in 1930 he signed a lease with King County to operate a flying business on Boeing Field. That makes Galvin Flying Service 75 years old this year, one of the oldest FBOs in the country.

With the Ryan’s performance and cabin, Galvin flew a wide variety of missions in the early years. He would search for lost hunters and downed aircraft and fly news reporters to cover forest fires, floods and shipwrecks. His duties ran from the heartwarming to the macabre. One day, he flew a happy couple above Seattle as they exchanged wedding vows. He also transported bodies to all parts of the country for burial. (The practice led to the flight plan custom of specifying “how many souls on board.”) Perhaps his most appreciated and hazardous job was flying supplies to forest firefighters, who were always happy to see the big orange Ryan overhead.

Building a Business Aviation Clientele
In 1980, Galvin’s nephew Peter Anderson took over as president, having started in the business in 1969 as an aircraft cleaner. That was the decade the company expanded its business aviation connection as the light-plane industry suffered crippling setbacks. Charter, maintenance and fueling had been part of the Galvin résumé for years, but that part of the business really accelerated in the 1980s. One of the moves the company made was to acquire a government fueling contract, and as a result three sitting presidents have been guests on the Galvin ramp over the years.

Current general manager Mike Cleary came to Galvin from Regent Aviation in St. Paul, Minn. He told AIN, “This is the third privately owned, family-oriented FBO that I’ve worked for, and that’s the style of business that suits me best.” Cleary said the list of amenities at Galvin includes all the usual desirable components such as wireless Internet access. For pilots there is a sleep room with shower, a pilots’ lounge, video library, satellite television, WSI weather station, a flight data center and complimentary crew cars. Waiting passengers will find concierge services, on-site rental cars, ramp-side pick-up and drop-off, an executive lounge and private conference rooms.

With 24/7 line staffing, Galvin is also committed to safety in ground operations. It maintains a strict two-person-per-aircraft policy on all movements, and line service technicians are certified under NATA’s Safety First program. In addition, Galvin offers 12-minute quick turns; complimentary interior cleaning, coffee, ice and newspapers; metered anti-icing application; and heated, secure hangars.

Cleary admitted that Galvin’s passenger terminal may be a bit worn around the edges but added that new construction might alleviate that situation. He said, “We have three new hangars in process that will add 150,000 square feet to our storage area. We’re considering relocating the passenger terminal to one of the new 50,000-square-foot hangars.” It’s interesting to note that Galvin Flying Service began operations in 1930 with less than 1,000 sq ft under roof. The new construction will bring the total complex to close to 400,000 sq ft of hangar and office space.

Asked what’s new at Galvin, Cleary first cited the growth mode at the maintenance department. Bombardier veteran Paul Krog is the new director of maintenance, and Cleary said he expects him to bring big-company experience to the smaller environment. Galvin’s charter/management fleet is growing, with a new Challenger 604 expected to come on line imminently. And finally, the flight school recently signed a contract with Vietnamese Airlines to train its pilots.

Flight Instruction
Pilot training is a longstanding tradition at Galvin Flying Service that began with the Civilian Pilot Training program before the start of World War II. In the past 75 years, more than 18,000 pilots have received training at the school. Included in the Galvin alumni are several ground-floor Microsoft employees who have since retired early. Cleary told AIN several of them are now pulling down $20 per hour as flight instructors at Galvin and loving the career move.

Cleary acknowledges that it’s tough to make flight schools generate bottom-line profits–especially on a high-rent airport such as Boeing Field. But Galvin remains committed to teaching people to fly. Cleary said the flight school generates a sense of connection among the pilots who earn their certificates at Galvin. That translates into loyalty down the road, a commodity that is difficult to measure on a balance sheet. And besides, Cleary pointed out, “Someone has to prime the pump.”

That sense of connection bodes well for Galvin with its local clientele. Cleary said Microsoft is one of Galvin’s largest customers. Also, the area is home to the cream of the dot-com-survivor crop, creating a strong market for charter and other forms of private aviation. “They didn’t all go bust,” said Cleary. Galvin is one of the top fuel suppliers to the fractional operators that fly to Seattle, and Cleary added, “There are other large companies in the area as well–Nordstrom’s department store and Costco, for example.”

For Galvin veteran Nate Young, now general manager of the Monterey (Calif.) Jet Center, Jim Galvin was a mentor who showed him the way early in his career. Young said, “The emphasis was always on service. We may not have had the most elaborate facility, but it was always clean. And the love of aviation was always there–in ways you could see and beneath the surface.”