Looking to Bring a New FBO Brand

SARASOTA — The founders behind Rectrix Aerodrome Centers, Inc. seek to build a mini-chain of fixed base operations at select underutilized
airports such as Barnstable Municipal in Hyannis, MA, and the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport here. It’s a five-star level of service, they say, and a cornerstone of Rectrix’s operating philosophy will be to bring new ideas to the marketplace. One such idea is its trademarked Hangarminiums, which officials equate to a condo-type arrangement where the FBO gets corporate buy-in up front, easing their risk. The FBO, then, offers a menu of services, from fueling to aircraft management, for its corporate tenants. While the company had its starts and stops at Hyannis, the progress and corporate buy-in at Sarasota is demonstrating a demand for what Rectrix is offering.

“We are definitely out of the box,” comments Richard A. Cawley, president and CEO. “We look at some of the good operations — Wilson Air Center, Showalter in Orlando; they do it right and that’s what we want to do.”

While the FBO seeks to achieve top service levels, Cawley says that Rectrix Aerodrome Centers, Inc. also wants to bring new ideas to the table. In a bid for an FBO at Hanscom Field in Bedford, MA, which it was not awarded, Rectrix offered a double-decker hangar concept (see graphic) which Cawley says could become a practical concept as airports face increasing capacity challenges.

“This is patented,” says Cawley of the double-decker concept. “You get into certain areas of the country where you can dig down a little, and what you have is a facility in which you put your smaller aircraft down below, from Learjets to props, and the larger aircraft on top.”

Getting Started - A Need for Hangar Space
Rectrix Aerodrome Centers, Inc., and Rectrix Aviation, Inc., the charter and aircraft management arm, are owned by partners Cawley and Dr. Thomas J. Russell, Ph.D., who also serves as chairman of the board of directors for Emcore, a satellite technology company. As is often the case, it was Dr. Russell’s need for hangar space that led to a look at the FBO business.

Recalls Cawley, “My cousin’s husband (Dr. Russell), who has a long-time love of aviation, asked if I would get involved with him in developing FBO projects. Hyannis just didn’t have any hangar space for corporate jets and that’s how the whole thing got started. Tom has an aircraft and needed a hangar.”

Both men had success in other enterprises before entering aviation services. Dr. Russell founded Bio/Dynamics, Inc. in 1961 and managed the company until its acquisition by IMS International in 1973. Cawley was founder the an electrical contracting firm, First Electric of Boston.

The $6.5 million Rectrix Aerodrome Center at the Barnstable Municipal Airport officially opened September 1, 2005. Along the way, the FBO and the airport became involved in a dispute over Rectrix’s right to sell jet fuel. The airport is the main services provider at Barnstable Municipal; however, according to Cawley, the airport’s minimum standards are written in such a way that they do not exclude other refueling service providers.
Explains Cawley, “We found out there was a set of minimum standards and this is where the ugly part comes in — they withheld them from us. The minimum standards say we can be a [full-service] FBO, so we stepped it up a notch and made it into an FBO.

“The airport had a monopoly, and they were overcharging and not providing service. The minimum standards say that as an FBO you must provide fuel. We’re trying to achieve what’s rightfully ours, a full-service FBO. Honor the minimum standards; honor the memorandum of understanding [previously reached between the two parties].”

The dispute is currently in litigation. [According to the Boston Globe: “The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, alleges airport officials have diverted an unspecified amount of the $1 million a year the Town of Barnstable gets from airport revenues to fund other municipal operations, in what the suit called a violation of federal law and Federal Aviation Administration rules.]

Moving Ahead - Sarasota and Beyond
The idea for Rectrix Aerodrome Centers, says Cawley, actually was conceived on a cocktail napkin at a restaurant several years back in Sarasota, where Dr. Russell has other interests. The airport fits well with the Rectrix vision, says Cawley. It is an airport surrounded by new development and it remains a secondary airport, compared to Tampa and other airports in the region.

“We have a model — secondary airports,” explains Cawley. Over the next several years he expects the Rectrix brand to growth to as many as seven locations.

At Sarasota, the company had hangared its aircraft as a subtenant of Dolphin Aviation, with which it now competes. Where obstacles were put in the way at Barnstable, says Cawley, officials at Sarasota-Bradenton have welcomed new development on its airfield.

“Sarasota, in my opinion, has the finest airport staff and management of the 23 airports I have visited,” he says. “This is a very good airport.”

The person brought on to oversee the construction and hiring for each new FBO location is William J. Weibrecht, C.M., who has both FBO operations and airport management experience. He is the former director at airports in Martha’s Vineyard and Pittsfield, MA.

Weibrecht says the company selected Sarasota-Bradenton because it was being underutilized by business aviation. “Some of the other operators are a little bit landlocked and weren’t doing the development,” he says. “There had been several discussions about the sale of existing businesses. Those didn’t work out, but the need was still there. So here we are.”

The new FBO complex here encompasses some eleven acres, including eight acres of concrete ramp. It has eight hangars of varying sizes, most of which will be sold as Hangarminiums. Two hangars adjacent to the FBO terminal will be used for transients.

Condo tenants will be large and small corporates. “One hangar may have four owners,” explains Weibrecht, “and for those four I’ll provide all the services. They can pick and choose from a menu what they need from us.”