KENNESAW, GA — On a cool late winter afternoon here some 21 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta, Preferred Jet Center general manager Andrew Ash shares his enthusiasm, even in a down economy, while also tempering it. “We’ve definitely been affected, like everybody,” he says. But the fixed base operator has weathered the storm, thinks Ash, and is poised for growth, particularly interested in forming new partnerships which in turn will allow it to offer more services.
Relates Ash, “We’ve been trying to be as efficient as possible. Our business model has been one of trying to pass on relatively low costs, and the way our airport is structured we can do that.
“We’ve lost customers and gained others.”
Ash says that Preferred Jet, which has had fairly consistent annual revenues of some $3 million, saw a drop of some 20 percent in 2009. “We had a strong end of last year with a good last quarter,” he says. “We actually had some growth in our last quarter. We had a better January than the previous year. But, we’re definitely not rolling in it.
Ash says that because many flight departments’s budgets remain constrained, they are taking less uplift. “People who used to take 500 gallons as a courtesy are now taking 200 gallons, or none at all. It has nothing to do with anything we’ve done; they’re strapped,” he comments.
“We just have to ride it out together.The postures of a lot of the flight departments have changed.”
The GM explains that the company’s 15 full-time employees must work harder than ever on customer service — the economic conditions have customers exploring their options. And everybody else is chomping at the bit to get that business,” says Ash.
He remains enthusiastic that general and business aviation is on the rebound. “People have come to terms with what the economy is, and now can make decisions accordingly,” says Ash. “Everybody was posturing for a while, trying to figure out what was going on, and then you get to a point of not doing anything. Now people are trying to make something happen.
He also relates that he was encouraged by the recent Schedulers & Dispatchers convention hosted in San Antonio by the National Business Aviation Association. An exhibitor, Ash characterizes the January event as “enthusiastic — it was an incredible turnout.”
In business since 2001
Preferred Jet Center is based at the Cobb County-McCollumn Airport, which is ranked in the top four of Georgia airports with some 350 takeoffs and landings each day, according to the airport. A designated reliever to Atlanta, the airport is owned and operated by Cobb County. It encompasses some 320 acres and has one runway (6,305x100 feet). Of the 350 based aircraft at the airport, Preferred Jet hosts some 86, according to Ash.
A six-month runway rewidening project was completed in 2008, which included entirely closing the runway in November. Recalls Ash, “Add the economy on top of that and it didn’t help matters. But we were able to get through it.”
Preferred Jet Center was acquired in 2001 out of bankruptcy by co-owners Mitch Nimey and Larry Thompson. While successful in real estate, each had long-term ties to McCollom Airport, relates Ash. They negotiated a new 30-year lease with the county.
“Larry was one of the first linemen here. He worked for Joe Sandman, who was the first airport director out here. Mitch was an instructor with Embry-Riddle. They partnered together and got into real estate; then when they had the opportunity to buy this, they did. They love aviation and we operate it as such,” he says.
The FBO pumps some 1.1 millions annually, some 85 percent of which is jet-A. The eleven-acre leasehold hosts five hangars with a total of 80,000 square feet of storage, along with another 20,000 square feet of office space intermingled.
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