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...

Express Airport Services (EAS) was selected to operate the new FBO; its partner on the RFQ is Tailwind, a flight training school and Cessna Pilot Center. Neither of the companies were tenants before the contract.

EAS at the time was a fully-owned subsidiary of ExpressJet Regional Airlines, which operates United/Continental regional flights from ATW. FBO operations began in October 2010 and the company fuels GA and the commercial carriers here, but does not perform airline ground handling, says Platinum Flight Center general manager William Zejda. “We’d love to explore that piece of business with the carriers here; we do some ground handling for air charters,” he says.

At the time of negotiations, says Lenss, “We were approached by our incumbent operator to enter into negotiations for an asset purchase and acquiring a large corporate hangar and attached fuel farm [long-term lease associated with the facility].

“We purchased the remaining lease term and the assets, including fuel trucks, tow-bars, tugs, fuel farm, and deicing equipment, etc., from the incumbent.

“We acquired the hangar asset and fuel farm asset and we are now just concluding our new fuel farm project; it will be operational just before EAA AirVenture in late July and includes self-fueling capability — something our resident pilot population has asked for.”

Benefits; activity level

The FBO transition was conducted in a very compressed timeframe, says Lenss. “We worked with EAS and Tailwind to come up with a new name for the facility as well as making some minor cosmetic changes to the existing FBO facility.

“The physical facility was in rough shape; much like a commercial terminal, it’s often times the first and last impression that pilots get when coming to the community.”

From a fueling standpoint, comments Lenss, “We felt like this model made a lot of sense; we are taking those proceeds from the FBO and fueling and reinvesting back into the infrastructure to hopefully spur a healthier more robust aviation community here at the airport.”

Says Zejda, “The biggest benefit for the airport will be in controlling the product. Now the airport has more control over the face of what they are presenting to general aviation here.

“The goal in getting this contract is customer service ... putting the right people in the right places and giving the customer that platinum-level of service.”

The FBO currently has 18 employees, and Zejda does not expect to add employees once the FBO moves to the south side of the airport. “Overall, it’s going to be a much more compact operation, with everything in a common area on the field,” he adds.

Activity here has been pretty steady and of late, officials have seen an uptick. “Our core business is the business traveler,” relates Zejda. “We are expecting to bring in new corporate activity; already there have been some changes made and people want to come back here now … and I don’t know if they had that feeling before.”

Consolidating GA

The general build-out of the new FBO terminal along with a common aircraft storage hangar and a new maintenance hangar is under design.

“That is kind of the last element of our master plan in moving general aviation from next to the commercial passenger terminal and getting it to the south side … that would then allow growth to occur by not having conflicting land use issues between commercial aviation and GA,” explains Lenss.

Part of the airport’s initiative as a whole relates to sustainability, and it is looking at a variety of design options for the terminal to include sustainability measures such as solar, geothermal, daylighting, etc.

The airport will fund the development, and there are also some hangar funding opportunities with the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics.

On EAA’s AirVenture, comments Lenss, “We are certainly an overflow airport for EAA. On a typical year we will see some 450 GA-related unique aircraft visits to the airport.

“Last year, because of all the wet weather, we had more than 700 unique aircraft. In the south GA area, we’ve actually developed three grass fields for parking aircraft; those are designed to drain quickly and really paid dividends for us last year.”

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