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Published: Friday, 12/21/2012

California charter company already flies to Toledo Express, leases hangar at airport

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A California air charter company has begun hiring pilots and mechanics to work at a new base at Toledo Express Airport for which the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority approved a hangar lease Thursday.

Sierra West Airlines, based in Oakdale, Calif., will pay $52,560 a year, plus a 3 percent annual escalator, for use of a 17,550-square-foot hangar formerly used by BD Aeroworks LTD.

The lease is for 30 years, with two 10-year options.

Kendra Robinson, Sierra West’s vice president of operations, said the firm already flies here — primarily handling automotive-related freight — and has “had our eyes on it [Toledo] for a while” as a permanent operating location.

Ms. Robinson’s mother, Debbe Robinson, founded and owns Sierra West. Before Sierra West, which operates on-demand air cargo, passenger, and ambulance flights, moves in, the port authority will provide up to $100,000 worth of energy-efficiency improvements to the building.

Port directors voted 11-0 to approve the deal, with board members Opie Rollison and Sharon Speyer absent.

Sierra West’s fleet consists primarily of small jets. Port officials said the company provides for-hire charter services on behalf of Grand Aire Inc., an aviation services company at Toledo Express.

“We’ve worked with Sierra West since 1985,” Jim Renda, Grand Aire’s business-development manager, told the port board Thursday.

“It’s good to have a charter operator based at Toledo Express to compete with the folks up at Willow Run,” he said, referring to a busy business-jet airport near Ypsilanti, Mich.

“There’s a lot of business that can come in and go out of Toledo Express that’s been going to other airports,” port President Paul Toth said after the vote. He noted that Grand Aire had flown such charters itself before a series of crashes during the mid-2000s that killed six of its pilots, including its founder Tahir Cheema.

Sierra West recently has based several airplanes at Grand Aire, with assigned pilots and mechanics. Ms. Robinson said her firm has hired several more trainees and expects to employ between 10 and 15 people in Toledo when it moves into the hangar.

“We plan on continuing to do business with Grand Aire. They’re a big part of our success,” Ms. Robinson said, adding that Sierra West expects to “join a really big team” of aviation-related businesses at the local airport.

Besides serving its customers, Mr. Toth agreed, Sierra West should become a customer itself for airport businesses that provide aviation fuel, aircraft maintenance, and other services.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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