A Diverse Mix

TOPEKA, KS — Scott Freeman, CEO, Freeman Holdings LLC and general manager Walt Frederick, Million Air Topeka recently sat with Airport Business to discuss the benefits of being a part of an FBO franchise, and the current state of business in Kansas’ capital city.

Million Air Topeka is located at Forbes Field, a joint civil-military public airport located some six miles south of Topeka’s central business district. The airport is owned and operated by the Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority.

The airport covers an area of some 2,800 acres and features two concrete paved runways. At different periods of its history the airport supported commercial air service; there is no commercial passenger service here currently.

The franchise

Says Freeman, “The unique thing about Million Air is there is a lot of standardization — requirements and standards that define and enhance the organization.”

Million Air Topeka is owned by Chris Freeman and is part of a franchise via Million Air CEO and president Roger Woolsey’s Million Air Interlink.

Freeman owns and operates six additional Million Air FBOs: Alexandria, LA; Lake Charles, LA; Moses Lake, WA; Riverside, CA; Rome, NY; Victorville, CA; and Yuma, AZ. Million Air Interlink was founded in 1984 in Dallas. Collectively, Million Air FBOs are operated as corporate-owned and managed FBOs and independent ownership.

“So what Roger and his crew in Houston do is make sure each franchisee is meeting the minimum standards set by Million Air Interlink, which owns the Million Air name and franchising rights; Woolsey maintains the quality of the brand,” comments Freeman.

“We’ve got a long history with Million Air; I think we were one of the first four or five operations in the Million Air franchise, back when it was Lou Pepper and the Mary Kay Group. We were early believers then in what they were doing.

“They’ve progressed as a franchise; we think they’ve done a great job with the minimum requirements that you have to have. Living the brand is a big thing for them.

Serving the Topeka market

Comments Frederick, “There is a lot of corporate traffic that comes here as a destination, but because we are in the middle of the U.S., we want to be that mid-America refuel stop.”

As the lone FBO on the field, Freeman says the facility pumped just under 2 million gallons of fuel in 2010.

“We’ve been fortunate here in that we’ve got an eclectic mix of clients,” he relates. “We’ve got GA, and we have some corporate traffic [large businesses located close to here include: Tyson Foods, Payless Shoes, Target Distribution Center, GoodYear, and FritoLay].

“We have a diverse economic base; there’s not one huge industry that controls the city so to speak. We have a huge mix of smaller operations in this region; it’s a mutual fund of companies here where if one industry tanks, it doesn’t take down the entire local economy.”

There are some 20 planes based here; all but three are hangared. Hangar space is about half full, relates Frederick, who says a lot of that space is used for transient aircraft.

“We get the normal GA recreational flyer here, and we get a lot of corporate charters; mostly turbine-powered aircraft,” says Freeman.

In terms of the effect of the economic downtown, Frederick says he thinks it’s flattened out. “Business has gone down but I’m starting to see it come back up.”

Additional revenue centers

Fort Riley is one hour from Topeka, and when soldiers deploy to Afghanistan or Iraq, or to California for training, they fly through here, says Frederick.

“When we look at a DC-10, we don’t see it much different than a BeechJet 400; we are very accustomed to servicing wide-body aircraft.”

DC-10s and MD-11s that are moving soldiers are contracted with the Air Force, and they come in and pick up Fort Riley soldiers, says Frederick. “But that’s a transportation function; a segment of our four support segments: GA, corporate jet and charter, military charter, and military.

Adds Freeman, “That’s another advantage to this location — we support Fort Riley; it helps balance the loss in GA or corporate traffic due to the downturn.”