Pro-Flight Aviation helps fuel multibillion-dollar economic engine at Renton airport

Diane and Bernie Paholke own and operate Pro-Flight Aviation and Renton Municipal Airport.— Image Credit: Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter
Diane and Bernie Paholke own and operate Pro-Flight Aviation and Renton Municipal Airport.— Image Credit: Dean A. Radford/Renton Reporter


The aviation businesses at Renton Municipal Airport generate about $17.4 million in economic activity in the local economy, mostly Renton.

That estimate of the airport’s economic impact on Renton’s economy comes from a draft report of a Washington state Department of Transportation study of public airports in the state.

Airport businesses either directly or indirectly support about 270 jobs, according to the report, with a payroll of about $4.8 million in Renton, according to the study.

But there’s another figure – in the billions – in that draft report that really explains the impact the Renton airport and its businesses, mainly Boeing and its 737 production, has on the regional economy.

Here’s the list of economic activity, by airport:

• Snohomish County Paine Field: $19.4 billion

• Seatac: $11.1 billion

• Boeing Field: $9.2 billion

• Renton Municipal Airport: $6.2 billion

“So many jobs rely on that figure,” said Ryan Zulauf, the airport’s manager, of the $6.2 billion.

It’s estimated that Boeing employs about 10,000 workers at the Renton airport.

Boeing is the big player at Renton Municipal Airport, of course. But there are 16 other aviation-oriented tenants that help fuel Renton’s economy.

A part of the $17.4 million comes from Pro-Flight Aviation, which feels so bullish about its future at the airport that it opened a state-of-the-art aviation center in July.

“We definitely see a future here,” said Diane Paholke, who owns and operates Pro-Flight Aviation. Husband Bernie is the company’s director of maintenance.

Pro-flight’s core business is to train pilots, fuel airplanes and keep them in good working order. It’s the only spot on the airport where general-aviation aircraft can buy fuel.

It’s also an economic engine that sends business to local hotels, restaurants, car-rental companies and caterers.

Despite the success, the airport’s largest fixed-base operator wanted to grow its business, making an investment during tough economic times to position itself for the future.

Pro-Flight opened at the airport in October 1994 and for the intervening years operated from two locations. But to grow, the company needed to consolidate its business lines into one building, Diane Paholke said.

From just one hangar, it now has eight. “We were stepping on each other,” Paholke said. Two of the eight hangars are used for maintenance.

The space and design gives the company the efficiency it needed.

Bernie Paholke designed the 28,000-square-foot building, featuring what they described as the “latest and greatest” for such an aviation center. It has drawn the interest of others in the aviation industry.

The company employs 16 workers or up to a half-dozen more, depending on the season. Those jobs range from flight instructors to mechanics to office workers.

Paholke draws customers locally and from out of the area, including corporate jets and others who like the convenient access to Seattle and the Eastside from Renton.

“We really are an economic engine,” said Paholke.

With her array of traveler services, Paholke can offer her customers a quick turnaround, not to mention a place to park the airplane and check it over.

“Time matters to these people,” she said.

Pro-Flight owned one of the two buildings from which it previously operated. It subleased its office on the southwest corner of the airport and sold its maintenance shop to a private party who will use it for hangar space.

Pro-Flight is also the base for the King County Sheriff’s Office’s Guardian  1 helicopter, which until earlier this summer was based at Boeing Field. The news helicopters for KOMO TV and KIRO TV also are based at Pro-Flight.

Pro-Flight and the 16 other businesses at the airport with storefronts – including Boeing – will contribute about $2.6 million this year in revenue through leases, leasehold excise taxes and other sources to support the airport. The city-owned airport is self-supporting.

Of that, Boeing will pay the most – about $1.5 million. The rest, about $1.1 million, will come from the other tenants.

Those tenants also mean jobs. The state draft report estimates that those businesses provide about 200 direct jobs.

There are several private companies with aircraft based in Renton that don’t have a “storefront” on the airport, Zulauf said, but the aircraft is used to support businesses within Renton and the region.


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