Filling a Changing Need

WHEELING, IL — The Priester family for years owned the Pal-Waukee Airport north of O’Hare International. In 1986, the cities of Prospect Heights and Wheeling purchased the airport, which today is called Chicago Executive. Priester Aviation...


WHEELING, IL — The Priester family for years owned the Pal-Waukee Airport north of O’Hare International. In 1986, the cities of Prospect Heights and Wheeling purchased the airport, which today is called Chicago Executive.

Priester Aviation eventually sold off its fixed base operation as well, and today Charlie Priester, 73, heads up a global charter company. During a recent interview with airport business, Priester talked about how his company is keeping pace with a changing industry; airports; and his philosophy that the customer still drives the business. Following are edited excerpts ...

On his recent investment in a new $300,000 command center for his dispatching and sales staff ...

“It’s all about the impression. We do all the things we need to do from an FAA and legal standpoint, but the customer doesn’t see that. This is a high-tech, global business, and we wanted to create a high-tech mindset – NASA-like.

“It’s an international operation. So you’ve got to have the technology that can span the different time zones and different elements. It’s a high-tech business; the airplanes are high-tech.

“What we wanted to do was to create a mindset that instantly says this is a high-tech industry; it’s sophiscated. It only takes four seconds to make that impression. That’s what we wanted to accomplish.

“As we speak today, we’ve got four airplanes bouncing around in Europe; we have two that are based in Bangkok.”

On changes in the industry since the sale of the family airport in 1986 ...

“My dad was a visionary. He started with the concept of, What does the customer need? He started with the concept that the airplane was a business tool.

Back in those days, the fleet was a Bonanza and a twin-Beechcraft, probably — if you were that sophisticated. Through the years what’s happened is the equipment has changed, but it’s changed to meet the needs of the user. People in my mind still do business with people. The corporate executives have to make face to face contact.

The one thing that we can never replace is a minute in time. So, the thing that this industry does is allow the corporate users to maximize their time, and maximize the value of every minute. And in that is real value.

We’ve gone from the 150 mph Bonanzas to the 550 mph jets. Now we have equipment that goes 7-8,000 miles without stopping. That’s because the users required it. The international nature of business has required it.

Our customers have told us they need that. The OEMs have done their part. We have to do our part regarding the other services, which means airport and support facilities and hangars and all the rest of the stuff. That’s where I see the industry changing.”

On his advice to airports which are working to increase their role in customer service ...

“It’s all about the customer. That’s what I’d tell the airports, absolutely. I was asked this morning, what do you think should be done with the airport? I said, if we can keep our eye on the ball on the customers’ needs, then as we look at future planning that has to drive our future. Whatever that takes, that has to drive our future plan.

On airport/FBO relations and the need for long-term leases ...

“The fact of the matter is, the airport management at so many airports feels that they are required to have multiple FBOs on the airport because there’s federal money. I’ve been told by a number of attorneys that that is not the case.

“You have to treat everyone the same; but it doesn’t mean you have to create an environment where none of them make any money. There should be a business reason for expanding the number of FBOs. The point I think that is frequently missed is the cost it takes to get in this business, which keeps going up.

“The value of your FBO on leased property is equal to the term of the lease, period.

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