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BUSINESS FEATURE: Ron Wyers rides the current in the air and on land

Ron Wyers, president of Western Aviation in Grand Forks, has a winning combination with his passion for flying, his ability to adapt to a challenging economy and his environmental sensibility. Here he stands with his Rans Aircraft currently being built to train students in his new flight school opening early next year; Photo, Erin Perkins.
Ron Wyers loves to fly -- the freedom to travel, the speed of getting places and for the pure thrill of floating above it all.
 
But what is even better about Wyers is his business sense.
 
Wyers, 64, has been building, maintaining and modifying aircraft out of his Grand Forks shop, Western Aviation, since 2001. Western Aviation is nationally known for building, modifying and repairing ultralight aircraft.
 
"I've been flying all my life," said Wyers of why he opened his own aviation company. "I started out in construction and got into aircraft out of interest."
 
He initially got started in the aviation industry modifying and building ultralight aircraft kits for customers across Canada.
 
Since then he's successfully navigated a few turbulent and changing economic realities.
 
Ten years ago when he first opened Western Aviation in Grand Forks the "economy went all to heck" and that's when Wyers decided to become a distributor for a product he already used -- Stewart Systems Paint and Fabric.
 
"We didn't want to be using poisonous paints," said Wyers of why he started using Stewart Systems Paints. "So when a opportunity came to become a distributor we took it."
 
Unlike the usual aircraft paint, Stewart Systems uses paints that require distilled water and not chemical solvents to thin, have no chemical emissions and only require minimal safety equipment to use because there are no poisons in the air, said Wyers.
 
For the past three years the online sales of the paint to destinations all over Canada -- including a recent museum job in Nova Scotia -- has kept Western Aviation flying.
 
A new decade and new economic challenges are now knocking on his door.
"The flying schools in this area of B.C. have all shut down and private pilots have all parked their planes," said Wyers.
 
The business of building and modifying planes has slowed down to the point that Wyers is the only full-time employee. There was a time when he had five full-time staff. So he is now planning a flight school to start in the spring of 2012. He hopes to have about 12 students who want to earn their Sport Ultralight license.
 
He is currently building a Rans ultralight aircraft to be used in the flight school. The plane is full of the newest sport plane technologies including a computerized dash board instead of the traditional dials and a plexiglass surround for maximum viewing pleasure. The aircraft is so light it weighs only 1,200 pounds full-loaded with passengers and is therefore very fuel efficient.
 
Light weight fuel efficient planes and paint are only two aspects of his environmental contributions. Wyers has also made modifications to his hanger including radiant floor heating, using electronic timers to control energy use and he is now awaiting the installation of energy efficient lighting that could save up to $800 a year in electricity.
 
Wyers was recognized by Boundary Community Futures at their 2011 Small Business Awards ceremony with the Boundary Sentinel’s Green Business Award for his innovative environmental decisions.
 
"It's great," said Wyers of the award. "It was a big surprise. I wasn't expecting it and didn't know anyone knew we were out here."
 

For more information about the flight school or Western Aviation go to www.westav.ca