By ALAN J. ORTBALS
West Star Aviation, which industry professionals have ranked five years in a row as the best maintenance repair facility around, is seeing its success rise from the ground at St. Louis Regional Airport headquarters in East Alton.
West Star has again been voted the No. 1 Preferred Maintenance Repair and Overhaul in the 2018 Professional Pilot Magazine’s Annual Preference Regarding Aviation Services and Equipment survey. The publication began including the category “Best MRO” in 2014 and West Star has won the recognition every year from 2014-2018.
The PRASE survey is an interactive reader-to-editor-conducted survey on an annual basis by Professional Pilot magazine in which industry professionals, pilots, and aircraft maintenance professionals vote based on their experience, performance, quality and company knowledge in a wide range of categories.
West Star Aviation specializes in the repair and maintenance of business aircraft, specifically airframes, windows, engines, as well as major modifications, avionics installation and repair, interior refurbishment, surplus avionics sales, accessory services, paint and parts. It has a total of seven facilities in four states.
“I think what really sets West Star apart is our team’s absolute, 100 percent dedication to our customers, as well as the 100 percent dedication to our employees from the company,” said Jim Rankin, company CEO. “We believe that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers. That’s how we operate every day.”
A key factor of West Star’s proven success is their effort to be accessible to their customers. In early 2017 the company focused on connecting with customers and providing them tools to do so. This included the redesign of the corporate website with customer connectivity in mind. The Connect feature allows for past, present, and future customers to connect directly with experts in the areas they are interested in or need information on.
“Our website and mobile app are just some of the tangible tools that were developed as a direct result of want to connect with our customers,” Rankin said. “Our customers don’t call an 800 number and select an option, you talk to real people. More importantly, they reach the right people the first time,” Rankin said.
Business has been excellent, according to Rankin, and that has spurred yet another expansion at its East Alton facility. The company is building another 65,000-square-foot hangar, taking its total space under roof to 390,000 square feet here and nearing 1 million square feet company-wide. The new hangar is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
West Star employed 475 people as of last count at its Regional Airport facility but it is constantly adding more personnel.
“A lot of times people think of a company like West Star and they just think of aircraft mechanics,” Rankin said. “But we also employ wood workers and sheet metal workers, avionics/electronics professionals and upholsterers. We have openings for 25 or so right now so we’re going to be over 500 just here at this location by the end of the summer.”
Rankin said that they are constantly conducting outreach to the community, to technical schools as well as working to get high school students interested in a career in aviation.
“Our woodworking and cabinet making capability is key with high-end interiors as most of the cabinetry is custom-built for purpose as is the leather and fabric work in the interiors. We’ll do everything from mounting flat screen TVs on aircraft bulkheads or side ledges to building conference tables. We deal with very high-end corporate aircraft and we have all of the expertise to handle everything in-house. We have a broad range of very talented people and, quite frankly, our reputation helps us. We’ve been the number one MRO for five years and we really do take care of our employees. So, we get a lot of word of mouth referrals.”
About 25 percent of West Star’s employees are former military and the proximity to Scott Air Force Base is a big asset for recruitment.
“We hire for attitude,” Rankin said. “We want folks who are going to be a good fit with our company and are excited about the kind of work we do. We’re more than happy to help train them and get them in a position that they enjoy. We’re hiring regularly and, as we get closer to opening the new hangar, those efforts will continue.
Rankin said that St. Louis Regional Airport is an ideal location for their business and it’s been a great host for years. The 600-acre business park is home to a variety of tenants that generate more than 500 jobs for the community.
“The commissioners and staff at St. Louis Regional Airport are proud to see West Star Aviation staying such a strong global contender in the aviation industry,” said David C. Miller, director of aviation for St. Louis Regional Airport. “West Star’s predecessors operated the largest Cessna outlet in the world from this facility in the 1950s and we’ve done everything we can to help them get the top slot back.”
Miller said that the staff and commissioners have always put supporting both aeronautical and non-aeronautical companies on the airport’s business park high on the priority list. They offer a lot of amenities including snow removal and an on-site restaurant. Parking is always free at the airport for both vehicles and airplanes.
A lot of the businesses, like the Enterprise Rent-A-Car facility at the airport, also cater to West Star customers.
“We service a lot of very high-end aircraft,” Rankin said, “and we have a lot of customer representatives who stay here with the aircraft while we’re working on them. These aircraft can be here for a few months while we’re conducting extensive refurbishments and this area provides a great environment for their stay. It’s a good community and we’re close to St. Louis so there are lots of things they can do and see and they really enjoy coming here.”