No matter what vehicle you own, you’ve got to keep the engine maintained. And if you fly a civilian aircraft with a Lycoming or Continental engine, Western Skyways has got you covered. The company has been in business for more than 60 years, and to this day, it is a team that holds the quality of their work in the highest regard.
The company can overhaul about 40 engines per month, and employs more than 60 people. It started in the small community of Troutdale, Oregon, and moved around several times until finding a home at Montrose Regional Airport in 1995.
We interviewed Tony Bogart, one of the four co-owners who bought the company in 2019. All four are former employees of the company.
Bogart had dreams of flying from a young age, dreams fueled by a movie that gave countless people an itch to take to the skies.
“I watched the first Top Gun movie and it inspired me back in the early ’90s to fly,” he said.
He went to flight school and got two associate degrees in the direction of flying airplanes. “I got just short of my commercial license,” he said.
The story of Tony’s start with Western Skyways was a perfect storm of circumstances. He had run out of college money, so he was working part-time for his dad at his store in Grand Junction, earning money to keep flying.
“I’d heard of Western Skyways in Montrose. I had a friend who worked here, and I said you know what, that might look good on a resume as a pilot, learning the insides of an engine, how it works, how it goes together,” he said. “So I turned in an application, and they hired me. Now, it’s been 25 years I’ve been here, and I’ve worked through pretty much every department in the company.”
On a tour of the facility, Bogart explained the process of overhauling and re-assembling an aircraft engine.
“We’re one of the leading engine rebuild shops in the country, and we ship worldwide. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requires these engines to be rebuilt after a certain amount of hours. What happens is they come in our back deck, they’ll either get shipped in or they’ll fly in,” he said. “They go in the back, they get disassembled, they get cleaned, and then they come out here to…the inspection process. And they go through a pre inspection, final inspection, and an assembly inspection.”
It’s an incredibly thorough process, and he explained what happens if something does not pass the inspections.“We check them for cracks or defects or measurement issues. We go through and we measure them and if they don’t meet measurement specs, we reject them and then we replace the parts that need to be replaced to rebuild that engine…Everything gets inspected at least two or three times before it even goes in the airplane, and then it gets inspected again.”
Western Skyways is one of the few aircraft engine shops with both a fuel system check station and an engine check station, each with their own set of controls to simulate an actual flight scenario as closely as possible. They test fuel systems with their flow system bench, which can be calibrated to different altitudes, and are one of the few engine shops left to do so.
Their engine test room runs engines for two to four hours, putting them through all the paces of what a flight would entail. It’s not totally mandatory to test your engines, Bogart said. “But we do it, and any good engine shop will do it, it checks them for leaks, checks them for any kind of issue with oil pressure or fuel pressure. We simulate any accessories that may be with that specific engine to test them and check them, and then we go over them with a fine toothed comb.”
“You can’t pull over on the side of the road”, was a saying Bogart used to emphasize the importance of a properly functioning aircraft engine. He believes that technical knowledge of an airplane will ultimately benefit pilots in the event that something does go wrong.
“More knowledge is always key. I can understand if something went wrong, if it’s a fuel issue, if it’s an oil issue, I can manipulate the controls to where I can get down safer without damaging the airplane because I know some of the things going on with the engine,” he said. “If it’s a fuel issue I can adjust my mixture, if it’s a temperature issue I can adjust my fuel or airflow rate, to monitor the engine to do things to make it last longer before it actually fails completely.”
To rebuild an engine, you need the right parts. Western Skyways has a commitment to finding and using the right parts, and ensuring they always provide the highest quality. Their parts department can see up to $150,000 a day in the constant flow from delivery to installation on an airplane’s engine.
Some parts can be hard to come by too, and that’s where Bogart’s expertise comes in. He is an expert on used parts, which are essential to the business. “There’s…a whole used parts side of things…some of the stuff they don’t make anymore, so you’ve got to know where to go get it.”
But for new parts, finding the right vendors is paramount.
“Right now we probably have about a hundred vendors”, Bogart said. “But on average we use maybe six or seven a day.”
Vendors have to pass an audit in order to sell parts to the business. The quality assurance department, headed up by co-owner Ryan Dickerson, does the auditing, which is regulated by the FAA.
Overhauling engines takes weeks though, and Bogart explained how, in recent years, supply issues have increased the amount of time it takes.
Right now, it’s 12 to 15 weeks due to the supply issues. There was a time when Western Skyways could overhaul an engine in 4 to 6 weeks on average.
“You want to get the right parts, there’s a whole procedure for that too,” he said. “The FAA requires you to inspect the parts.”
Engines are not the only thing the company will inspect, though. If an aircraft is brought in for an engine overhaul, the business can also do an airframe inspection for the customer.
In Bogart’s words: “Engines can only go a certain amount of hours before they have to be inspected. The airframes have the same thing, and we’ll do that as well. So if that airframe needs a hundred-hour, an annual…we’ll go do that for the customer. If it needs to be done, we can do it.”
But ultimately, for Bogart, this is not just about the technical aspect of his industry, it’s about the people. He had words of great praise for his team, and everyone that he works with.
“The only reason why we bought into this company was for this family, to keep them employed,” he said. “But also, the network that I have with relationships, me personally in the world of aviation, there’s people (here) that I’ve grown up with, that have taught me things, and they are some of the best people in my life. They’re amazing, they grew up together here.”
Bogart gave a quote which sums up very well the sense of responsibility that the people at Western Skyways take up in their work.
“As far as quality, as far as quantity, as far as people, as far as parts, we are one of the best in the nation,” Bogart said. “We are the only competition the factory has.”
Gunnison Clamp is a freelance writer and photographer for the Montrose Business Times.