Reinvigorating GA in the (WI) Fox Valley

APPLETON, WI - The Fox Cities of northeastern Wisconsin include the county seat of Appleton, situated on the Fox River some 100 miles north of Milwaukee. Owned and operated by Outagamie County, the Outagamie County Regional Airport (ATW) now operates a...


APPLETON, WI - The Fox Cities of northeastern Wisconsin include the county seat of Appleton, situated on the Fox River some 100 miles north of Milwaukee. Owned and operated by Outagamie County, the Outagamie County Regional Airport (ATW) now operates a new FBO — Platinum Flight Center.

Comments airport director Marty Lenss, “We are now directly involved with the fuel pricing here at the airport for a number of reasons. We are certainly in the business to garner a profit; the Outagamie Airport is self-sufficient.

“Like most businesses in the last couple years, we experienced financial stress and had to find different ways of creating revenue.

“In a high regulatory environment that adds expense … whether it’s security, or FAA and safety, or environmental … you don’t have to be in this business long to get an appreciation for how regulated it is. We have to identify new sources of revenue; certainly fuel is that.”

A new FBO terminal is a priority here, and the airport hopes to break ground on a facility that is now in design sometime next year. With a location ideal for GA overflow from EAA’s AirVenture, an annual aviation mega-event held in Oshkosh, WI some 25 miles from ATW, plans are in place to revitalize general aviation and spur economic growth for the region.

Background

The previous FBO’s lease with the County expired in 2005, relates Lenss. From then until 2008 lease amendments with one-year extensions were added to allow the FBO to operate. In 2007, the county began looking at putting out an RFP (request for proposal) for FBO services.

The RFP was issued and the initial response was found to be non-responsive; a second RFP was issued in 2008 … there were three respondents. During that time, airport leadership changed.

“We started some initial discussions regarding the RFP … what happened was in ’08 and ’09 when the economy was south, that interrupted the financial ability of potential investors,” explains Lenss.

“We as a county backed up and reviewed our options given, the new reality and the new economy.”

One option was to move the FBO into a proprietary-exclusive scenario, which is an option under FAA grant assurances, but the option has to be exercised by using airport/county employees. That was something that really didn’t take hold, says Lenss.

“We felt strongly that we wanted to turn general aviation around,” he adds. “We want to share in the success, and if the FBO had stress, we wanted to share that stress … to be a full partner in the process versus the traditional landlord relationship.”

Around 2007, the airport embarked on some $7 million in investment in the south general aviation area with expanded infrastructure in ramps, taxiways, fiber, power, sewer, water, access roadways, and landscaping. The goal is to provide a first-class impression for private aircraft operators arriving in the Fox Cities, relates Lenss.

“It also separates our FBO operations from our commercial operations … we have some safety and security advantages to do that,” he adds.

“That investment has been sitting somewhat underutilized … the FBO hasn’t made that final move to the south side. We felt in order to kickstart that investment in development in the facilities and a self-fueling operation, we should get involved.”

The solution the county liked and has taken was that of a contract-management approach. It repackaged the RFP into an RFQ (request for qualifications), and had an overwhelming response.

“Other airports have done this. It’s a bit unique in this application, but we felt like this had some potential; it gave the county the ability to spur investment and take a managed-risk approach.”

At the conclusion of the contract term all options are open to the county. Says Lenss, “We can go back to the traditional model, continue the existing model, or continue to explore a proprietary-exclusive. It was a good middle ground, as we saw it, to kickstart that investment and move the ball forward with developing GA and the private aircraft arena here.”

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