Interest in flight training skyrockets after pandemic shutdowns

Malin Bergstrom never really planned to work in the family business.

“I was going to be a veterinarian,” she said.

But things quickly changed, said the president of Bergstrom Aircraft Inc.

“Growing up, I worked summers and weekends to help out,” she said. “The summer after my senior year, I was approached to work full time. I liked being at the airport. Honestly, it’s a great group of people – customers and colleagues.

That was in the 1980s, and Bergstrom has been around ever since.

She fell in love with people, and with aviation too. She is the volunteer chair of the Pasco Aviation Museum, which recently reopened after being closed for the past two years due to the pandemic.

Bergstrom’s beginnings

His father, Karl Bergstrom, had been a mechanic for Trans Air in Sweden in the 1960s. But Karl’s wife, Elenor, convinced her husband to immigrate to the United States in 1965.

“My parents wanted to pursue the American dream,” she said. “If you work hard, you will be rewarded. Sweden is a beautiful country, but there are a lot of taxes there. It is the land of the free.

It took his father a while to requalify as a mechanic in the United States, but he did so at Big Bend Community College and became the chief mechanic for Tri-City Airways at Pasco Airport in 1968.

In 1971, Karl and Elenor decided to open their own aircraft maintenance shop, which eventually became part of Bergstrom Aircraft in 1975, according to the company’s website.

The business has continued to grow over the years.

In 1976, it began to maintain aircraft by refueling them.

In 1981, it became a Beech Aero Center, which allowed it to provide flight lessons, and launched into the rental and sale of aircraft.

And in 1983 it added charter flight service.

Karl died six years ago “but I think he would be proud of the way we were doing. Honestly, this place hasn’t changed dramatically,” Malin said. “It’s always about helping the customer.”

It remains a family business. Elenor is still the owner, as are Malin and her brother Daniel, who also works in the maintenance shop.

Daniel’s wife, Christina, is the general manager of the company.

“My parents never pushed Daniel or me into the business,” Malin said.

Survive the pandemic

The company seems to have survived the pandemic – even though it was hit for a while.

“We’ve seen almost a 75% drop in our business,” she said. “We haven’t lost a lot of people. Fortunately, our part-time employees were able to do something else. And our full-time employees have offered to do things like cleaning and painting. We asked everyone to tighten their belts.

The pain, she says, lasted a good 18 months

“Then, as travel resumed and things slowly but surely improved, the airlines here needed fuel for their planes,” she said. “Some new airlines have arrived. Business from client companies, which had completely disappeared during this period, began to return. We just started focusing on doing the best job possible.

The company has 32 employees. This is an absolute record. And Bergstrom said she was looking for more.

“We are looking for flight instructor positions and line service jobs,” she said. “And mechanics. We are overwhelmed. We need more mechanics for our private planes. Our little Cessnas, our King Airs.

The mechanics are so busy that all maintenance on private planes is booked for about 2.5 months.

Most private planes require an inspection every 100 hours. “For many privateers, it could be done in a year,” Malin said.

For Bergstrom’s fleet, most of them enjoy 100 flight hours per month.

Line technicians are the employees who refuel planes, de-ice them in winter and rent hangars.

Bergstrom also manages hospitality and concierge services, including providing discounts on car rentals and hotel reservations, as well as catering.

Pilot school

But most of the Bergstrom company’s business is flight training.

The company has 12 planes and a flight simulator ready for its instructors.

“We are always getting new flight students,” Malin said. “Everyone wants to be a pilot. The number of people who want to learn to fly has probably jumped 50% in the last 10 years. »

And more than ever.

“People want to follow their dreams, and in the last six months they’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel (of the pandemic),” she said. “People walk all the time. They were locked up.

Some of these customers come from the Seattle area because the area can be too busy to handle all the pilots in training.

All this makes his flight instructors jump.

“We could have seven or eight of our planes in the air every day, doing about 20 lessons a day,” Malin said. “Some of our instructors can do three or four lessons a day, but we have a limit on the number of flights an instructor can do in a 24-hour period.”

A pilot’s license can cost around $14,000, and the company offers a payment plan.

“We compare it to the cost of a college education. You have to invest in yourself,” she said.

She said many of their customers are recreational travelers, who might want to take a trip to the coast.

“But a good number of clients are career-minded,” she added.

There are different avenues to become a professional pilot. One is to join the military and go that route.

Or they can follow the steps offered at Bergstrom: get a pilot’s license, then a commercial pilot’s license. “It’s equivalent to getting a CDL,” she said.

The idea is that someone accumulates their flying hours.

When they have enough, they can earn their Flight Instructor License, which allows the pilot to be a teacher and get paid to fly.

The double-edged sword, however, is that some of these flight instructors will eventually move on.

“We lost some of them to the airlines,” Malin said.

But Malin wouldn’t want to be in any other business, including veterinary work.

“We are a full-service aviation company,” she said. “What makes me come every day? It’s the people. Our clients. Our long-time employees, people who have been with us all the time. It’s a big family. »

Pasco Aviation Museum

As if Malin didn’t have enough to do, she’s also the volunteer president of SaveTheOldTower, a non-profit organization working to restore the old Naval Air Station tower, located next to the current Bergstrom building. Aircraft.

In the 1940s, the Navy built the airport to train its pilots, with the tower at the east end of the facility. But the Navy turned the airport over to the city of Pasco in the 1950s.

This is where the terminal was located until the new Pasco Airport – today’s airport – was built in 1966.

Bergstrom Aircraft moved into the old terminal and tower in 1971 and remained there until 2001, before moving to the current facility.

For years after 2001, the building sat empty and began to decay.

“There were a lot of birds here,” she said. “In 2011, there was talk of demolishing the old tower.”

Once the group was formed, they were given permission to save the facility.

He raised enough money to restore the building through donations and state grants.

The first two floors of the tower have been completed and work is in progress on the third and fourth. When these are finished, Malin says they will start working on the fifth and final floor.

“We still need more (money) to restore the remaining floors,” she said.

The museum, which was opened before the pandemic, has been closed for the past two years. It reopened on April 23.

“Over 800 people came through the doors that day,” she said.

The facility is only open on Saturdays until the group can recruit more volunteers.

“We have a solid base of 20 volunteers,” she said. “But we could use more tour guides.”

Bergstrom Aircraft Inc.: 4102 N. Stearman Ave., Pasco; 509-547-6271; bergstromaircraft.com; Hours are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Pasco Aviation Museum: Hours: 10am-4pm Saturdays only; enter through Bergstrom Aircraft. Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and youth. Veterans and museum members are admitted free.

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