Full Service Philosophy: Central Flying Service - 55 and growing

Business Profile

Full Service Philosophy

Central Flying Service — 55 and growing

By John F. Infanger

October 2004

LITTLE ROCK, AR — Hanging from a ceiling in the flight departmentat Central Flying Service here, a sign reads: “CFS has flown over417,000 training hours since 1939.” That’s a lot of flighttraining by anyone’s measure, but it’s just a small part of the story of CFS and the Holbert family that has operated it from day one. Central has grown to encompass 525,000 square feet at Little Rock National Airport, and CEO Dick Holbert likes to claim his is “the largest full-service FBO in the world,” with the emphasis on full service.

Central Flying Service

The purchase of its competitor’s facility, Midcoast Aviation (below), expanded Central Flying Service’s facilities some 40 percent. Today it encompasses 20 buildings and 525,000 square feet.

Midcoast Aviation

Dick & Don Holbert

Dick (left) and Don Holbert

At a time when many fixed base operations have transitioned away from being everything to everybody, just focusing on fueling and property management, Dick and brother Don Holbert continue to believe an FBO should be full service, including flight training, nearly as active as it was when father Claud Holbert helped co-found CFS in 1939. They even own the terminal restaurant.

Explains Dick Holbert about the decision to retain flight training, which accounts for some 2 percent of sales, “We still believe it is a prospect factory for us.” He estimates that the CFS training fleet records an average of 600 hours each month with 15 aircraft.

Via a sister company, Airport Services, Inc., which is headed up by brother Don, the company does all of the airline fueling at Little Rock National.

Central Flying Service also started its own fractional ownership program, SkyShare, which features King Airs, Barons, and Bonanzas. CFS manages and operates the aircraft for its customers and currently has four aircraft sold in the program. An attempt to franchise SkyShare to other FBOs failed, according to Dick Holbert, so it was brought back totally in-house. “We folded the tent on the franchising because it just wasn’t generating the revenue for us,” he explains.

The company has a long history in aircraft sales, having been a Beech dealer and today maintaining its affiliation with Raytheon Aircraft Corporation. According to Holbert, CFS in 1964 became the first independent Beech dealer to record $1 million in sales.

Central is also a Diamond aircraft dealer for the DA-40 and new DA-42 models and uses Diamonds in its flight training fleet. Holbert says the DA-42 is going to be a “quantitative leap” in technology for that level of aircraft, using jet fuel in a diesel engine. The four-place light twin retails at $430,000.

According to Holbert, the internet has changed the aircraft sales business, making CFS a global player merely because of the technology. Despite the recent economic downturn, Holbert relates that sales have been strong. “We decided not to participate in the recession,” he says.

The company is also a major maintenance/overhaul facility, employing nearly 100 technicians in its maintenance and avionics departments. Besides focusing on Raytheon aircraft, the company specializes in Hawkers and Citations, and is developing its Falcon business. Dassault has its U.S. Falcon completions center based across the airfield here at Little Rock National.

Under One Leasehold
Effective September 1, CFS and the airport finalized a new lease in which all of its facilities are now under one leasehold. “There was no obligation to do it,” says Holbert. “We had had about 12 different documents and the entire process was revenue-neutral.

“One thing we cleared up was when the buildings revert to ownership of the airport commission. Now if we build a building, it reverts after 25 years. We pay a per square foot minimum, or 1 percent of gross receipts plus the seven cents per gallon fuel flowage.” He says all CFS facilities are full, and the FBO has approval for two new hangars.

Clinton Revisited

Central Flying Service was the home base for President Bill Clinton during his two terms. In November, he’s returning.

The event is the official opening of the Clinton Library, and Central Flying Service CEO Dick Holbert expects this will be the biggest traffic flow his FBO has seen yet.

When he was first elected president, recalls Holbert, Clinton held an economic summit prior to his inauguration. That event brought in so much traffic that CFS sold some 100,000 gallons of fuel in three days.

“We are expecting that the opening of the Clinton Library in November is going to be even bigger than that event,” says Holbert, “and we are expecting some 40 heads of state, including Tony Blair [U.K. prime minister]. It’s going to be a major event.”