Phillips 66 Aviation
November 7, 2023
RAPID CITY, South Dakota – In this gateway to the rugged Black Hills, pilots and their passengers fly through KRAP to visit one of the oldest fixed-base operators (FBO) in the Phillips 66® Aviation network.
Then again, the owners of Westjet Air Center – now celebrating 66 years with Phillips 66 – have a sense of humor. Drawn from Rapid City Regional Airport’s official identifier, Westjet’s tongue-in-cheek slogan, “I Flew Through KRAP to Get Here,” seems to resonate with aviation fans everywhere. Nearly 800 miles away during the 2023 Reno Air Races, Westjet President Linda Rydstrom said she witnessed “multiple people out in the wild wearing our stuff, which was pretty fun.”
When it comes to running an FBO not far from Ellsworth Air Force Base, the family members operating this business are as serious as the bomber pilots selected to fly the new stealth B-21 Raider when it arrives. Above all, Westjet’s longevity and success is built around a love of flying – and community.
In fact, the years of flight experience racked up by Rydstrom, her husband Don Rydstrom, CEO of Westjet, plus their daughter Miranda Rydstrom Maleki and her husband Bijan Maleki, rivals that of many military aviators. Their piloting experience, as vast as a Great Plains horizon, helps set the FBO’s management apart.
Linda, a Rapid City native, began flying when she was 20, eventually becoming chief pilot and director of pilot operations for Westjet’s former fleet of 14 charter aircraft. Don, a former New York City and Denver banker, learned to fly and fell in love – in more ways than one. He bought Westjet, where the couple met and eventually married. Together, the two have logged more than 16,000 hours of flight time. Miranda runs a flight school at the FBO and flies for a Fortune 500 company, where Bijan works as a chief pilot for the same firm. Bijan also flies and teaches aerobatics. He just returned from the Reno Air Races where, as a rookie, he placed third, a remarkable achievement for a first-time competitor.
All in the (local) family
The four family members work closely together, leveraging each other’s skills. Linda has a CPA and manages back-office matters, while Don uses his banking proficiency to pilot the financial side. Utilizing her business degree, Miranda leads the FBO’s marketing, and as an aerospace engineer, Bijan specs new construction, equipment acquisition (think fuel trucks) and more.
“We feel that Westjet is one of the best FBOs there is because of our backgrounds,” says Linda. “And there are a lot of good FBOs. Add in Allison Corbin, our chief legal compliance officer, and we’ve got a very strong corporate team. We’re not a large chain, but we work to maintain that smaller, state-of-the-art FBO.”
Giving back to the Rapid City community is a big part of Westjet’s identity. The FBO supports the local Youth and Family Services nonprofit, which serves more than 14,000 children and families with meals, counseling, crisis intervention and daycare. Westjet is also a recurring title sponsor for the nonprofit’s Kids Fair, which draws 10,000-plus attendees annually.
“We’re all in when it comes to supporting children and aviation,” explains Linda. “The FBO gives us the opportunity to invest back into the local community. Miranda and I were born and raised here. We just firmly believe in our community.”
For example, Westjet uses a local catering company that also operates as a nonprofit for customer flight meals. Their philosophy? Buy a meal, give a meal, allowing Westjet catering to reinvest in local communities.
Their family-style attitude permeates through every aspect of Westjet. “Our goal is to provide a place that feels more like a home to rest and prepare for flights,” says Linda.
Inside its $1 million terminal you’ll find a state-of-the-art flight-planning center, pilot’s lounge, private sleeping quarters and well-stocked vending area. But it also features a children’s playroom and a pet area with real grass. Customers can even buy a Yeti dog bowl emblazoned with a witty KRAP slogan.
66 Years with Phillips 66
Being part of Phillips 66 for six decades has helped keep Westjet’s doors open and fuel flowing, especially during tough times when fuel is hard to come by.
“We’re huge supporters of the brand,” Linda proudly states. “Phillips 66 owns their own refineries; they’re not a secondary fuel supplier, and that’s significant.”
Fuel supplies were tight during the 2020 and 2021 pandemic years. Even the airlines at Rapid City were scrapping for fuel. “We were fortunate because so many FBOs were running out,” explains Linda. “Phillips 66 got us a driver out of Houston that came up for the summer and drove fuel for us, pulling supplies from all over.”
At one point, Westjet won a variance from South Dakota’s governor, allowing trucking companies to run longer hours. “That took cooperation between transportation companies, the governor and Phillips 66,” says Linda. “We’re grateful that Phillips 66 spent a lot of time on the phone that summer.”
Invited in 2022 to join the Phillips 66 Aviation Advisory Council, composed of a select group of FBO leaders and marketers, Linda says she loves the collaboration. “People that go through the same struggles as we do will reach out and ask how to get around it and what to do,” she explains.
Westjet’s future? Well, there’s better KRAP to come, as Westjet is developing a new 15,000-square-foot hanger, augmenting an existing 70,000 square feet of hanger space. There may even be an FBO acquisition in the works out west. One that would be run by Miranda and Bijan, carrying on a tradition of aviation, family style.
For more about Westjet Air Center, visit www.westjetair.com.