AURORA, IL — Once known as Joliet Avionics, 44-year old J.A. Air Center is redefining itself again, this time as a first-class, full-service business aviation service center. At its new facilities in Aurora, the fixed base operation is positioned to seize market share by offering an alternative for the region’s growing corporate presence. A completely renovated 150,000-square foot facility and direct tollway access to the Chicago Loop is just what J.A. needs, as owner Bernie Klotz asserts, “to take the company to the next level.”
A lease situation at the FBO’s former location, DuPage Airport, along with facilities which the company has outgrown, began signifying major change for J.A. more than three years ago. President Brad Zeman relates, “There were certain things that we wanted the company to be doing, and it wasn’t doing them at DuPage.
“We wanted to get back into the FBO business; we wanted to sell fuel again,” says Zeman.
A 38-year general aviation industry veteran, owner Klotz says fuel was a factor, but not the most critical. Lease term length and needed expansion were the major considerations for leaving, says Koltz. “There was no capability for us to grow at DuPage and the industry demanded expansion; we tried to open up communications with the airport authority, but we could not put a favorable program together.”
When J.A. sold its buildings back to the airport ten years ago, the company tried to negotiate a long-term lease. DuPage would offer only five-year lease periods, which limits any long-term planning, says Klotz. Furthermore, J.A. was constricted by its facilities, particularly the height of its hangar doors. It was recognized that larger facilities were required in order to service the next level of aircraft.
“Not to diminish DuPage,” says Klotz, “our partnership was continually weakening instead of strengthening. We saw the opportunity to partner with Aurora, and the rest is history.”
Finding a home
J.A. had, over the years, built a relationship with Aurora’s director Bob Rieser, and discussions about a possible move had taken place in the past. Klotz relates that Rieser was eager to help put something together. J.A. and Rieser came to an agreement which includes a 30-year lease with a 10-year option, and 1.5 percent of J.A.’s gross income.
“As long as we can maintain a positive relationship with the airport, and grow a little here and there, we are looking at staying here for at least 40 years before any further major negotiations,” says Klotz.
J.A. also had to meet Rieser’s strict minimum standards for a full FBO lease. These standards include minimum hangar and public lounge space requirements as well as flight training capabilities.
“This location allows us to get back in the FBO business, in a first-class facility, with more space to accommodate growth,” says Zeman.
Klotz likes the fact that J.A.’s facilities at Aurora are outside of the terminal control area, keeping the FBO’s operations out of the way of neighboring airport tenants. He also believes that the suburban airport is much more accessible than DuPage, located on Route 30 in Sugar Grove, 35 miles west of downtown Chicago and just minutes from major business parks and the East-West Tollway Research and Development corridor (I-88).
Realizing The FBO
“When they presented me with the plan a couple years ago, I had no idea it was going to come out as fine as it did,” says Klotz. “They didn’t miss a trick.”
That plan, referred to as plan A, did not come into fruition as expected, and the result is J.A.’s current $9.4 million renovated four-building campus. The original plan, which the company spent six months designing, consisted of an entirely new 107,000-square foot facility. While plan A came together well, says Rieser, it necessitated getting FAA grants to build necessary apron and ramp infrastructure; grants which were not attained.
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