The Saratoga Sun -

Dreams take flight

Johnson's aspirations land her jet-setting job

 

February 14, 2018

Joshua Wood

Jennifer Johnson sets a landing light at Shivley Airfield.

Sometimes, dreams really do come true.

"It's been my dream to work here," said Jennifer Johnson, the only full-time employee of Saratoga Jet Center.

Johnson had been a familiar face at The Hotel Wolf for a number of years before heading up the hill to work for Mountain Flight Service, which took control of the fixed base operator (FBO) in January 2017. Robert "Bob" Maddox, owner of Mountain Flight Service, and his son, Aaron, had gone to The Hotel Wolf for lunch. It just so happened that Johnson was their waitress.

According to Johnson, Bob Maddox and Aaron Maddox spoke with her about searching for someone to help manage the FBO in Saratoga. Since purchasing the business, both father and son had been sharing responsibilities of the airport from checking fuel systems to plowing the runways. Along with the Saratoga Jet Center, however, Bob Maddox also owns and operates a bed and breakfast in Steamboat Springs, Colo. and the Snowy Range Ski Area in Centennial, Wyo. with the help of his two sons and their partners.

Johnson informed Bob Maddox and Aaron Maddox she had attended school for aviation, that she had close to 500 hours of flight time and she had wanted to work at the facility for many years.

"They told me to send in a resumé," said Johnson, "a week later they hired me."

Johnson started working for the Saratoga Jet Center in April 2017, right on the cusp of the busy season which begins in May. It was a trial by fire for Johnson as both Bob and Aaron showed her everything she would need to know managing the airport.

"I began asking Aaron what I should do about something and he told me 'Do what you think is best. You're in charge here.' and that shocked me," said Johnson.

The Maddox family appears to be very confident in Johnson and her abilities to manage the airport.

"During the winter it's pretty much the 'Jennifer Show,'" said Bob Maddox, "but if Aaron or I are in town we try to rotate in and out to give her time with June [Johnson's daughter]."

Not that Johnson has to spend every waking hour at the airport. Between carrying a radio with her and enabling the use of a call-forwarding system, Johnson is able to spend time at home with her daughter. Should a flight be looking to land in Saratoga, she will hear from them via radio or phone and will head to the airport.

Johnson has a daily routine–a checklist to go through to ensure that everything at the airport is running as efficiently as it can. She starts by checking the fuel systems, stocking the fuel trucks and checking the fuel tanks that sit behind the FBO office. Once all that is done, it's time to cruise the runway.

The lights on the runway, taxiways and ramps are controlled by a radio signal. Johnson sends a signal to turn the lights on and, after alerting anyone within range of her presence on the track, ensures the lights are working as she drives by. Should a light not be operational, it is her job to fix it.

It is also Johnson's responsibility to fuel any jets and planes should the pilots request it. Johnson has fueled a Dornier 321, two Piaggio P.180 Avanti jets and even a Bombardier Global Express. When filling the Dornier, on her own, Johnson had to manage a 60 pound fueling system from an elevated position and in inclement weather.

"The airport is seeing an increase in large aircraft and it's becoming the new normal," said Johnson.

The airport is also seeing an increase in activity. According to Johnson, the first two weeks of January saw a total of 10 operations–an oddity for the slow months of the winter season. During the eclipse, the airport saw 33 operations in three days. It was during the eclipse that Johnson found out she had a fan club.

"I had pilots coming in and asking 'Are you Jennifer?' and I would tell them I was," said Johnson, "They would say 'We get to meet the famous Jennifer.'"

Confused at first, the pilots explained to Johnson that on http://www.airnav.com there were very positive reviews from other pilots about their experience with her and the airport. Add to this the various phone apps that can be used for reviews and word of Johnson's hospitality had spread.

"Great FBO," wrote an AirNav reviewer, James Frank, on June 28, 2017: "Jennifer was super nice to our three young kids. When weather moved through the area one night she personally came out to the airport and inspected our airplane."

One can even find positive reviews on Facebook. Flight Deck Grill, a mobile home cafe in Longmont, Colo., seemed very satisfied after the owners made a trip to Saratoga in August.

"...we had a very welcome and pleasant experience," the owners of Flight Deck Grill wrote, "Thank You Jennifer for being so accommodating at the FBO, we enjoyed our visit and we will be back."

 

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