Published: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 

Arlington Flight Services plans airport transformation

By John Wolcott
HBJ Freelance Writer

ARLINGTON — Arlington Flight Services is the newest business at the Arlington Municipal Airport and owner Kevin Duncan has visions of growing his business and making bold moves that will help enhance the future of the airport.

“The biggest story here is that Arlington's facility is a magnificent airport that is extremely underutilized,” he said. “We've got some great plans for the airport as well as for our own business.”

Duncan speaks with the enthusiasm of a recent convert to flying but he has the business background and investment ability to back up his vision of a more active airport in Arlington. He arrives at a moment when the airport is already getting fresh attention from city officials and from businesses wanting to add to the airport's role as a catalyst for economic development.

“We'll be a full-service fixed-base operator, an FBO serving the whole airport, as well as running a flight school with our three low-wing aircraft, flight simulators and other services that will really change things at the airport,” he said.

Duncan recently moved into the former Glasair Aviation offices near the north end of the main runway, after gutting the building to create multiple offices for a pilots' lounge and flight training rooms connected to the building's large hangar.

His chief pilot and flight operations manager, Lucas Smith, will provide flight training for new pilots and for advanced pilots seeking certificates in instrument flying and commercial pilot ratings. Duncan and Smith plan to promote flight training for spouses, too.

“Spouses wouldn't be rated as pilots but they'd have enough training to be able to fly a plane in an emergency,” Duncan said. “We frequently hear about situations like the 80-year-old woman whose husband died of a heart attack in flight. Fortunately, she was able to land the plane by following instructions from people on the ground, but it would have helped a lot more if she had flight training herself.”

Arlington Flight Services will also provide an aeronautical medical examiner, Dr. Ronan Murphy, on site to provide pilots' medical check-ups, a new presence at the airport that will provide services needed to meet Federal Aviation Administration rules for flying, physicals and related services.

The high-tech flight simulator Duncan has now will soon yield to an even more sophisticated walk-in simulator with hydraulic actuators that realistically replicate the motions of aircraft flight. 

Duncan also plans to install 10,000-gallon underground fuel tanks to provide jet fuel, aviation gas and regular auto fuel that can be used in some modified aircraft engines as well as in motor vehicles. Presently, only aviation gas is available at the airfield.

“We'll be able to attract corporate jets to the airport and service them with these new facilities, as well as servicing nearly 500 general aviation aircraft that are already here,” he said. “We'll also be fueling the Alpha jets (former German Air Force fighter planes being reconditioned at the airport by Hans van der Hofen's Abbatare Inc.) that are flying from the airport.”

Later, he plans to build a new 10,000-square-foot headquarters for his business near 172nd Street NE, at the south end of the airport, encompassing two buildings plus a large hangar. 

“We plan to serve general aviation needs first, then move up to handling business aircraft, too,” Duncan said. “We'll soon have a crew car for temporary use by visitors to the airport, which will encourage businesses to fly into the field. And we plan to add rental-car services. The airport really needs more of these types of services to attract new companies here.”

Arlington Flight Services offers ground-school classes, aircraft rentals, training for sport pilot and private pilot licenses and instrument and commercial pilot ratings. A full-time mechanic maintains AFS aircraft but also offers service for any private or corporate aircraft.

Getting AFS up and running is filling Duncan's days, but he's also has been working on broader plans and ideas with the Arlington Airport Commission, City Council and Mayor Barb Tolbert, herself a pilot and a strong supporter of developing the airport's assets.

Duncan said he's had several meetings with Arlington officials to talk about how Arlington Flight Services can help make the airport more attractive, a move that is particularly important now that real estate investors have bought the former Meridian yacht manufacturing facility and acreage at the airport to develop an aerospace-themed business park.

Duncan's pursuit of business aviation and corporate services also will augment the city's efforts to develop a long-planned business park on the west side of the airport.

“Things are happening quickly,” Duncan said enthusiastically. “We've got new eyes, experience and enthusiasm that we think will really have a fairly significant effect on the airport, not just things that are good for AFS but for the whole aviation environment here.”

Smith said the additional fuel supplies, flight training and future rental-car services will increase business and corporate air traffic, spurring economic growth at the airport and boosting city revenue.

Duncan's enthusiastic visions are clearly linked to the evangelical energy often seen in newly certified pilots but his plans for AFS and Arlington's airport stem more from lessons learned and intuition honed by his other successful business ventures.

“I've only been flying about three years, so I'm new to the aviation business. I started by walking into (Cathy Mighell's) Out of the Blue Aviation at the airport and taking flying lessons,” Duncan said. “That's where I met Lucas, who was my instructor. Soon afterward I bought a Cessna 152 and Lucas and I flew to Boise to get it. After that we flew cross-country together a couple times and saw a lot of airports and different FBOs. That started generating some ideas for us.”

Seeds were planted but nothing began happening until Mighell sold her hangar and closed her 6-year-old venture in December, news that spurred Duncan and Smith to launch AFS.

Today, Duncan flies a Cessna 182 Skylane and is moving fast to fulfill his dreams for AFS, fueled by income from his earlier two businesses he runs with his wife, Vicki. The first was building and operating a hydroelectric co-generation project on Ebey Hill at the highest elevation on Jim Creek. Duncan has been selling its power to Snohomish County PUD since the mid-1980s.

Their second business, KVA Electric Inc. in Arlington, has more than 35 years of experience in electric substation maintenance and repair, working with Pacific Northwest utilities, government agencies, industrial customers, contractors and equipment manufacturers. But it also has a global reach through contracts with the U.S. State Department for servicing U.S. embassies worldwide. The electrical work requires “top secret” clearances, he said, and involve 54 embassies on five continents.

“We'll also be offering full aircraft management at AFS,” Smith said. “That'll include full maintenance of someone's aircraft, plus having it fueled and ready to go when they're ready to fly.”

Smith has helped create the vision for AFS, as well as the airport, and sees his new role as an opportunity to fulfill some of his own dreams.

After working in the outdoor recreation market, particularly with rock climbing and mountaineering equipment, Smith joined the Oregon National Guard from 2003-05 and served a tour in Iraq. Setting his sights on an aviation career, he enrolled with the University of North Dakota's highly regarded aviation degree program and earned his way to a top rating as a commercial pilot.

Later, he arrived at the Arlington Airport as an instructor with Out of the Blue Aviation, where he met Duncan and became friends while he was teaching him to fly. Together, they developed their vision for Arlington Flight Services.

“In two years, this airport will be much different than today,” Duncan said. “The mayor and council members are looking for new ways to respond to opportunities, people are energized here, it's an exciting time.”