A Revitalized Downtown Thrives in the Heartland

KANSAS CITY - Nestled in a nook of the Missouri River just accross from Kansas City’s downtown business center, Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport (once Richards Field) is considered by some to be the original home to commercial aviation. In fact...

Roper is optimistic, and the only real caution he has concerns the price of fuel. “It’s not just the direct operating cost of the aircraft, it’s what the fuel prices do to the economy,” he says.

“Business aviation is going to grow. If fuel can stabilize, we’ll see business aviation here back to what it was before the recession.”

Regarding the new self-fueling system, Roper says the airport’s first year of fuel sales exceeded expectations by more than 10 percent. “It’s performing way beyond our projections; that’s probably one of the best things we ever did is build our own fuel farm,” adds VanLoh.

“We now have pilots returning. There’s something to be said about having a control tower operational 24 hours, crash/fire rescue, and knowing the airport is going to stay open in snow. We knew once we got a roof over their heads, they’d be back.

“We’re in the economic development game just like every city; the location of the airport right downtown is a major draw for a lot of companies.”

On the Hangar Ten development, VanLoh says he doesn’t have minimum standards for FBOs on the field. Signature Flight Support (formerly Executive Beechcraft) has always been the sole fuel provider at MKC.

“When we first thought about the competition that would occur between Hangar Ten and Signature, we thought we knew it’s going to lower fuel prices,” explains VanLoh. “But what is it going to do to the fuel sales of Signature? Low and behold, Hangar Ten is actually attracting more new customers to Downtown; pure fuel competition is what it is.”

Hangar Ten: The business model

Opened last October, the new Hangar Ten complex features a 28,000-square foot terminal facility complete with overnight rooms each with a private bath/shower, entertainment center, and fold-down bed; a fully-equipped fitness center; meeting and conference rooms; customer and pilot lounges; gourmet catering; and more.

The 29,000-square foot executive hangar can fit a G650 and features sustainable design aspects.

Says GM Brad Chandler, “Since May of ’09 there’ve been eleven new jet aircraft added to this field. We’ve attracted some people from Kansas; we’ve had a lot of new aircraft purchased.

“A lot of our business comes from either new operators, or operators moving from somewhere else, or aircraft added by our based customers.

“A big part of our goal is to increase the overall volume at the airport, whether through based customers or transients.”

The marketing approach is very much word of mouth, relates Chandler. “What we’ve really tried to avoid is using fees to leverage fuel purchases,” he says. “The question comes up … what’s your ramp fee? Well we don’t have ramp fees, or handling fees … we have a facility charge, but we’d really much rather earn your courtesy fuel business.

“That’s the approach we’ve taken, and we’ve tracked it … we’ve looked at our courtesy fuel loads and they are well above on average what we would’ve implemented on a mandatory basis.

“Our hangar prices are based on the square footage of the plane and the volume of the fuel you buy; your fuel price is based on the volume of fuel your fleet buys, period.

“From a customer service standpoint, we’ve tried to identify all of the small things; we want to get those small things right every time. The chocks are big to us; opening doors are big to us; fresh, quality food is big to us.”

Owner and CEO Jim Stowers says the flight activity Hangar Ten supports is all GA and mainly turbine. “Our hangar and office building are more than 100 percent full at this time; we have plans to continue expansion in late summer.” The expansion will include another 22,000-square feet of hangar space and a 17,000 square foot terminal building.

Regarding the current business climate Stowers comments, “We are feeling more optimistic every day. Nationwide we are seeing an increase in traffic at GA facilities. Our ramp is very active and we see a continued increase in private travel due to many factors — continued security concerns, delays with TSA, continued and growing demand for travel to specific sites not served by commercial carriers, all help us achieve our business model.”

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