MUSCATINE & DAVENPORT, IA — Roy Carver Jr., owner of two fixed base operations here says this market is perfect for the kind of operation he wants to run.The Mississippi River winds its way through this Eastern Iowa/Western Illinois region, collectively known as The Quad Cities and comprised of Davenport and Bettendorf, IA, and Moline and Rock Island, IL. Muscatine lies some 30 miles to the west. The economy has a solid base and is growing. His business, Carver Aero, serves as both FBO and airport manager at Muscatine and Davenport airports, an arrangement that he says has served both communities and his business well.
Carver Jr.’s involvement in aviation began around 1970 when he began taking flying lessons. His father, Roy Carver Sr., a well-known business man in the region also had a business called Carver Aero, which Carver Jr. describes as a “holding company for Dad’s airplane. “Dad used aircraft for all his businesses, but they weren’t owned by the businesses. He always owned his own airplane and was a pilot.” Carver Jr. started his own, new business by the same.
In January 1990 he purchased Wise Aviation, with locations at Davenport and Clinton (IA) Municipal Airport. The Clinton branch was closed when the lease expired. Explains Carver, “They had some nice hangar space, but no airplanes of any size.”
He continued to grow his business by purchasing the FBO at Muscatine as well as a freight operation at Davenport in July of 1990.
Carver Aero has airport management contracts for both Muscatine and Davenport airports. Both are five-year contracts with one five-year option. Under the agreements, Carver Aero is responsible for day to day operations of the airports and maintenance of the airfields.
“The city provides the equipment, we provide the manpower in both cases,” says Carver Aero general manager Janet Lewis. “It works well for the community — it’s a whole lot less expensive for the city to pay a management company or FBO than it is to hire an outside person. And, we’re in control of how the place looks. It’s in our best interest to have the airport look nice because it’s our business as well.”
At Muscatine, the FBO leases the facilities from the city, including office space and a hangar. Like the management contract, the lease is for five years, with one five-year option.
An instrument landing system was installed at Muscatine in 2004 and the airport is working toward construction of a parallel taxiway to the crosswind runway. “The paperwork is at the FAA,” says Lewis.
Carver has three large hangars on the south side of the field at Davenport, one 12,000-square foot maintenance hangar and two 10,000-foot storage hangars. Davenport Airport has some 105 based aircraft, mostly piston. While the city owns the T-hangars on the field, Carver, as airport manager, acts as the go-between for the tenants and the city.
Sam Kupresin, manager of business development, says Davenport has “tons of space” for expansion, both on- and off-airport. “That’s the beauty of Davenport — it has space within the airport and around the airport for development of businesses that want to locate here.” Currently, Davenport has some 16,000 annual operations, says Kupresin.
Lewis says Carver Aero would like to see the city of Davenport construct a terminal building at the airport. “It’s the front door to the community,” says Lewis. “Right now they have a terminal building that’s not really utilized.” Lewis would also like to see additional ramp space on the “cramped” airfield.
Charter - A “Backbone” for Carver
The company operates both locations as one business because of the proximity of the two. According to Kupresin, Carver Aero expects to see revenue of some $5 million for 2005. Lewis and Kupresin say fuel and charter account for the majority of revenue. “Charter is the backbone to our operation,” says Kupresin. On its charter certificate, Carver has a Citation 2, a King Air 200, a King Air B-100, a C-90, a Navajo, two Aztecs, and a Cherokee.
“We’ve seen a spectacular increase in the interest for charter,” says Carver. According to Kupresin, charter is up some 33 percent in 2005 over 2004. “Business as a whole has increased about 15 percent,” he adds.
The Davenport facility has a full-time flight instructor on staff, while Muscatine’s is part-time. Davenport is also home to Carver Aero’s maintenance department. “The hangar [at Muscatine] just doesn’t allow it because of size,” Lewis explains.
At Muscatine, some 270,000 gallons of jet-A are pumped annually, while 100LL is “minimal,” according to Lewis. Davenport has some 400,000 gallons of fuel pumped annually, says Kupresin. And while the price of fuel industry-wide has come down in recent months, Kupresin expects this will be a short-term drop and that fuel prices will remain high in the long term. “Fuel sales have increased a little — not a whole lot — particularly with jet-A, which is up over last year, but we’re down with 100LL.”
Industry Impacts, Growth
On the sales and marketing front, Kupresin says Carver Aero has a robust website (www.carveraero.com) as well as a direct contact marketing initiative. “We know who does charter from our client lists and through contacts within the business community,” he says. “We do as much one-on-one marketing as we can, going to their office, talking with them, showing them our fleet and our pricing structure to try to sell our business.”
The future could hold more locations for the FBO company, says Carver, and adds that communities like Muscatine and Davenport are what he’s looking for. “We’re looking for markets like this; growing towns that have a good economic base.”
VLJs (very light jets) could have an impact on operations for Carver, says Kupresin. “The sport pilot license and the emergence of the VLJ is going to have a significant affect on general and corporate aviation,” he says. “I think we’ll see VLJs here.” With the fuel efficiency and price comparisons to other jets on the market, Kupresin says many of his current customers have already expressed an interest in the new aircraft.