“But we understand you don’t change people’s habits overnight.”
The new Million Air
Henriksen has been in aviation for some 45 years, selling airplanes, operating a commuter airline, a previous FBO owner, and a Braniff pilot through two bankruptcies. He also operated a Million Air franchise in Mobile, AL. But the goal for some time, he says, has been Gulfport-Biloxi.
“Gulfport was where we wanted to be but there was no space for us,” he explains. “We sent our first letter of interest to the airport in June 2000.”
Then the GPT RFP hit the streets and Henriksen responded, and won the bid. Then the U.S. economy turned south.
Recalls the 63-year old Henriksen, “In between, the economy went upside down on us. Our original investors weren’t able to continue and pulled out so we had to put together another one, in which Roger Woolsey, CEO of Million Air [Interlink], is a partner with us.
The result is a 52,500-square foot FBO complex that has a 30-year lease with a five-year option. Million Air does all the commercial and general aviation refueling at the airport, and will be involved in Customs processing. Prior to Katrina, fuel volumes were at six million gallons annually, an initial target for the new FBO.
Regarding the FBO investment, Henriksen says, “We originally targeted to spend $3.3 million, but it had a provision that if we spent over $5 million we’d get an additional five years on our lease,” says Henriksen. “When all is said and done, we’ll have close to $12 million in it. It’s kind of grown a little bit.”
Included in that tab is some $1 million investment in the U.S. Customs facility.
One of the primary market forces which Million Air is set to tap into is the one created by the airport and the business community tied to trade with Latin and South American entities. Frallic relates that the local Foreign Trade Zone is one of the most successful in the country and includes ports, industrial parks, and even a refinery.
Explains Frallic, “We have been working in Latin America since the 1998-99 timeframe. Our focus has been principally on air cargo. Our cargo facilities were decimated by Katrina; we built a new facility which is just about 500 yards from the new FBO. So there’s a lot of potential synergy there not only in services but also in the fact that pilots and crews who fly in from out of the country will have available to them U.S. Customs without delays.
“Our efforts have been throughout central and south America — as far away as Chile and Brazil, and as close as Honduras and Mexico. And so we have been to every country; we know a lot of the private sector people in a lot of areas. When we go to Latin America on business our private sector goes with us. Not just the tenant operator of the facility but also the buyers.”
In the past year, he says, the focus has been on local companies seeking to create international business connections to sell their products. That ties directly into the local Mississippi State Port Authority, located some three miles from GPT, and which is the third largest container port in the Gulf of Mexico, says Frallic.
The facility had regained more than 100 percent of its pre-Katrina seats by 2006. Airport passengers are expected to double to 1 million by 2010.
... of the airport community,” is how Jim Hopkins, VP with Landmark Aviation, characterizes the status of the one-time heated debate over lease lengths going on this summer between FBOs and...
The grant more than doubles the disaster relief money given to Mississippi airports and brings the total at this airport aloneto more than $51 million.