On any given day out at Spokane Airways, they never know who’s going to show up.
Well, OK, if it’s the president, they know in advance.
They know because the Secret Service shows up early to make security arrangements and logistical preparations.
“But it’s really not unusual to be sitting in here,” says Greg Bogart, Spokane Airways’ line service manager, “and a Lear Jet will pull up, and you’re not paying any attention to who it is, and you look up at see John Denver roaming the lobby.”
Sometimes the celebrities are here for a performance or a meeting. But just as often, they are just making a pit stop en route to some other destination. In any case, the Spokane Airways employees do their best to just let the rich and famous “blend in with the atmosphere.”
“We give them their space. After all, that’s why they’re flying by private jet a lot of the time,” Bogart says.
Located on the south side of Spokane International Airport, far removed from the ever-increasing crowds of passengers, Spokane Airways is host to the world’s captains of industry, political leaders and entertainment giants.
It’s also a thriving business, presided over by owner and president Richard Chastek, and an important link in Spokane’s growing air service network.
In flying terms, Spokane Airways is a “fixed-base operator,” sort of a one-stop, full-service gas station for private aircraft.
Felts Field is generally considered to be Spokane’s “general aviation” airport. But the fixed-base operation there caters to smaller private aircraft.
The private jets and twin-engine propeller aircraft used by corporations, entertainers and the like require the longer runways of Spokane International Airport, and a broader range of support services.
“Our customers demand a higher level of service than is often available at small, outlying airports,” says John Chastek, Richard’s son and the company’s director of administration.
Richard Chastek bought Spokane Airways in 1988 following a long career in Spokane as a tax attorney, and 20 years with the Pack River Co. - a timber, development and investment company - first as general counsel, and then managing partner.
“In Pack River,” he says, “we had a substantial number of aircraft, and I’ve flown for 45 years or so. So this was a real area of interest. And I wanted to establish a business that my boys could move into.”
John and his brother Mark, who is the company’s ground service equipment manager, hold key positions at Spokane Airways.
Spokane Airways has grown substantially under Chastek’s ownership. Last July, he bought the Flight Craft operation at Spokane International, increasing the company’s overall operation by about 40 percent.
Spokane Airways employs about 50 people, including 10 mechanics, 10 pilots, five-full time and five part-time flight instructors, and other support personnel.
The mechanics are qualified to service a broad range of aircraft, including those used by commercial airlines. The company owns a fleet of aircraft, and provides charter service throughout the United States and Canada.
A big part of Spokane Airways’ business is the fuel contracts it holds with commercial airlines operating at Spokane International. The company fuels more than 110 flights a day.
The rapidly increasing activity at Spokane International during the past two years has also increased opportunities for Spokane Airways. Chastek keeps a crew of cargo handlers on call to assist both the U.S. Postal Service and private overnight delivery companies at peak times of the year.
And the company’s flight school has produced pilots who have gone on to both military and airline careers.
“Over the past five years, we’ve tripled our operations,” Chastek says.
The outlook for a continuation of that growth is good. As the Spokane economy continues to grow, its importance as a transportation hub increases, Chastek says.
And there’s still the celebrities to keep things exciting.
Bogart recalls the time a few years ago when Bill Cosby’s private jet sat outside the Spokane Airways offices, and the actor-comedian sat just inside the open hatch of the small aircraft after ordering a pizza.
The company employees, following the policy of carefully respecting their customers’ privacy, were keeping their distance until a startled mechanic who was walking past the plane heard a gruff command from inside: “Hey, you! Get over here.”
The mechanic peered carefully into the hatchway, and said, “Yes Mr. Cosby, what can I do for you?”
“Get in here,” Cosby demanded. “I hate eating pizza by myself.”