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Empire Airlines named Idaho's Small Business of the Month

Updated: Jan 3, 2020

Coeur d’Alene Press file photo Empire Airlines president Tim Komberec, center, as he is inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame in 2016. Empire Airlines was chosen by Idaho Sen. Jim Risch on Thursday as the state’s Small Business of the Month for Idaho.

For Empire Airlines, August’s skies are clear.

On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, recognized the Hayden airline as the Idaho Small Business of the Month, an honor that includes recognition in the Congressional Record.

“This was totally unexpected,” Empire Airlines president Tim Komberec said. “I’m still trying to digest and process it, but it’s obviously a great honor for Empire and its nearly 400 employees.”

Empire Airlines, founded in 1977 as Clearwater Flying Service, started as a small, fixed-base charter company that flew sportsmen and smokejumpers into the backcountry wild. It expanded in 1984 with the purchase of a nine-passenger plane and a Coeur d’Alene-to-Lewiston-to-Boise route.

When competition undercut Empire’s prices, it shifted focus in 1995 to heavy maintenance aerospace, briefly departing for Spokane International Airport before returning in 2003, finding its permanent home at Pappy Boyington Field in Hayden. It has since developed agricultural drone operations, earning the business of ag giants like Simplot and Anheuser-Busch. In 2016, Empire was inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame.

“I think what’s helped us endure is our stick-to-itiveness,” Komberec said. “Our stick-to-itiveness comes to mind, as well as our really strong business ethics and our great employees. Mix that up with great customers, and we’re fortunate to be where we are.”

“Empire Airlines’ success is a prime example of Idaho’s entrepreneurial spirit,” Risch said in a statement. “[They] dare to dream, look at things differently, never give up, and when opportunity calls, answer with, ‘We can do that.’ The State of Idaho is proud to be home to innovative, hard-working entrepreneurs like … all of those at Empire Airlines.”

The “We can do that” line is a staple for how Empire Airlines approaches each challenge, Komberec said, a motto that has helped the airline grow wisely over the years.

“The founders of this place: They had very high ethical standards,” he explained. “If something in a deal wasn’t right — if it was even in a marginal gray area — they just wouldn’t do it. They put a lot of hard work into their financials, and they looked at their work ethic carefully and critically. We decided early on, you run the business like you run your home finances. You just want a good, clean operation.”

That foundation, Komberec added, helped nurture a positive reputation in the industry and among Empire Airlines’ customers.

“If, after all that, you’ve decided there’s an opportunity [with a customer], you figure out how you’re going to do it,” he said. “You don’t figure out how you’re going to not do it. Then you give your people the resources and tools to get it done.”

He also cites the airline’s relationship with its customers as an asset to company growth, stemmed from a collaborative viewpoint, rather than a transaction.

“The key is excellent, wide-open communications,” Komberec said. “We literally exchange thousands and thousands of bits of data — financial and operational — every month … We provide the information to them so they know we’re taking care of their needs.”

Those needs have evolved at an exponential rate, the company president admitted, one that has constantly pushed Empire Airlines’ need to adapt to the market.

“The customer’s needs are a lot more complex today,” he said, “more structured. Resources have become much more complicated and sophisticated. What it takes to run a certified operation like ours today is light years further from what it was like when we started. But you just got to grow with it. You just need to make sure you’re staying ahead of the technology and making sound decisions for you and your customers.”

“The entire Empire family shows how one big idea and a dedication to hard work can lead to small business success,” Risch complimented. “I would like to congratulate Tim Komberec and all of the employees at Empire Airlines on being named the Idaho Small Business of the Month for August 2019. I look forward to watching your continued growth and success.”
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