Western Skyways gives a lift to winged charity

by Matt Hildner

MONTROSE - Charities often depend on the good work of others to get going and keep rolling.

Such is the case with Samaritan Aviation, the Montrose-based Christian ministry that flies medical missions in Mexico and Papua New Guinea.

Thanks to a donation of labor by engine manufacturer Western Skyways, Samaritan saved on nearly half the cost of a $33,000 engine overhaul for two of its planes. The savings will allow the charity; which heads to Papua New Guinea later this week, to spend more money on medical supplies and other good works.

"We can really stretch a dollar this year," said Gary Bustin, who co-founded Samaritan with Mark Palm.

For Western Skyways the decision to donate labor for the job was no decision at all, said Vice President of Sales and Marketing David Leis. "We kind of pride ourselves in being a humanitarian supporter," he said. "Our philosophy is to do what's right."

Samaritan contacted company salesman Trent Tubbs, who in turn came to Leis. Leis, who estimates that nearly 80 percent of the employees at Western Skyways are Christian, said the company likes to support the kind of non-denominational work done by Samaritan.

"(Tubbs) came to me and I said, 'Absolutely;'" Leis said. "They wanted to buy an engine. I said well, why don't we just donate the labor portion and they buy the parts."

The work done by the company will provide a measure of comfort to Samaritan once the two planes have been shipped to Papua New Guinea and the group starts flying its missions. Palm, who also does some maintenance work on the planes, said overhauling the engines could not have been done without

the specialized skills and workshop that a company like Western Skyways has.

"Nobody does their own engines anymore," he said. "Going into a 'shop like Western Skyways is about as good as it gets." A big lift for Samaritan will come from the work done to its amphibious Cessna 206. The plane's ability to make water landings makes it ideal for an island nation like Papua New Guinea, Samaritan estimates the use of the plane will have an impact on the lives of nearly one million people.

Western Skyways started in 1994 with four employees. That year, the company built 89 engines. Since then it's grown to 74 employees and completed 420 engines last year. That growth has made it easier for the company to lend a hand when groups like Samaritan come calling, but Leis said the interest in lending a hand to a good cause has always been there .. "We would have done something like that back then too," he said.

Contact Matt Hildner via e-mail at matth@montrosepress.com