Business taking off for Mountain Aviation

BROOMFIELD — As the local economy continues to take flight, the area’s private aviation industry does likewise, with one Front Range company’s charter service soaring.

Mountain Aviation Inc. logged 5,500 flight hours last year during 1,300 different flights. Its charter business increased by nearly 12 percent, said Rich Bjelkevig, the company’s founder and president.

“Our core business is operating an aircraft on behalf of an owner or chartering flights,” said Julian Tonsmeire, a member of the business development team at Mountain Aviation, which delivers private aircraft services to travelers across the region.

The company operates 20 jet aircraft, each privately owned by individuals or businesses, he said. They perform all necessary maintenance and upkeep on the aircraft for safe flight, and when an owner isn’t using a jet, Mountain Aviation is certified to charter it to the general public.

“Between those two, that’s 80 to 90 percent of what we do,” Tonsmeire said. It’s a business model Bjelkevig pioneered in the area when he started the company 20 years ago with a partner and a couple of planes at what is now Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport.

“Since then we’ve slowly expanded through long-term business alliances with what I call good-citizen businesses and people,” he said. In addition to aircraft management and charters among a diversified field of businesses, Mountain Aviation helps clients buy or sell airplanes.

Headquartered in Broomfield, the company also has bases in Vail, Aspen and Boise, Idaho. They employ 100 people, half of whom are pilots.

Most Mountain Aviation clients are interested in a strategic or competitive business advantage for their company.

“You can be in multiple locations in one day,” Tonsmeire said, with a morning meeting in California, an afternoon in Arizona and back to Boulder for a good night’s sleep by nightfall. While chartered flights aren’t cheap — hourly prices range from $1,500 for a smaller aircraft typically used for short-range flights to $7,000 for a larger jet capable of international travel — they do save time.

“I can have you and your team landing on the East Coast for your pop-up meeting before you’ve even gotten through the airline process and onto your plane on a commercial flight,” said Malachi O’Neill, manager of business development for the company. It’s a business tool that can distinguish one company from the competition, he said.

Colorado and the surrounding states’ strong oil and gas industry create a robust platform for the thriving aviation company.

“The oil and gas talent generally doesn’t want to live where the oil fields are,” Tonsmeire said, and Mountain Aviation flies geologists and engineers to sites in places across Colorado, Utah and North Dakota every week.

The company also provides physician outreach flights for some area hospitals, flying doctors across the Rocky Mountain region for daylong clinics and services. They also provide flights for the Colorado and Wyoming Donor Alliance, a federally designated, nonprofit organ donation organization. Mountain Aviation completes about 135 flights a year for the program.

“That means any day of the year, any time of the day or night, if our phone rings it’s our job to fly the surgeon out to someone who has regrettably passed away, then fly that gift of life back here,” Tonsmeire said.

He called it a very special part of the job, and something possible partly because of the company’s top-notch safety record. Mountain Aviation earned the highest safety rating possible from ARGUS International Inc., an independent charter aviation rating organization which performs regular, detailed audits.

Safety is the company’s first priority, and its quality employees allow Mountain Aviation to deliver.

“Because the industry is so technically difficult, the people involved in the business … are very knowledgeable and people with a lot of integrity,” Bjelkevig said.

A passion for airplanes and flying fuel the drive to stay in a demanding industry with demanding hours, Tonsmeire said.

“It’s a fun industry but also a 24/7 industry. When Rich’s phone rings at 2 in the morning he answers the phone, and not a lot of presidents of a company this size have to do that.”

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