Sheltair is taking its Jet Center FBOs and design/build expertise to points north
John F. Infanger
FT. LAUDERDALE — In mid-June, representatives from theHolland-Sheltair Aviation Group, which has been a significant forcein South Florida aviation since the 1980s, were nearing completionof the deal that will see the company take over FBO services at NewYork’s LaGuardia Airport. It is somewhat of an official stamp on a new plan that has the Sheltair group of companies reaching beyond the Sunshine State for future growth. And, as with Florida, the company will be seeking opportunities that capitalize on its menu of experience, from fixed base operations to fuel farm management to turnkey design/build services.
Also in June, the company announced it is changing its FBO brand from “Jet Center” to SheltAir Aviation Services. The company operates FBOs at Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International, Daytona International, Orlando Executive, Melbourne International, and soon to be Jacksonville International.
Its mainstay aviation business, however, is and has been property development and management. One of its strengths is the ability to design/build facilities — its own and those of its tenants. It designed, built, and operates the well-recognized Ft. Lauderdale Jet Center, an FBO/office complex at FLL. It also serves as manager of an airline fuel farm consortium at Miami International.
This is not your father’s FBO company. It fits well, officials here say, with the current marketplace. And in fact, the lead principal, Gerald Holland, has done well with his aviation interests. His firm is well-established as a real estate developer for both residential and commercial facilities, a number of which are award winners.
The story they tell here is, Holland used aviation to monitor his business interests. Along the way, he saw quite a few aircraft sitting in the Florida sun and saw a hangar development opportunity.
Explains Ed Zwirn, chief operating officer, “Jerry saw a lot of planes that had no shelter; hence the name Sheltair.”
For more than a decade it has operated its two FBOs at FLL and Daytona International under the Jet Center name. The company was complacent to maintain the two operations until Zwirn came on board.
John Schmatz, CFO and primary partner, relates, “We really had no desire to expand the FBO business, but did continue to expand the real estate side.
“The FBOs are very successful. But it was kind of a secondary side of what we did. We never considered expanding the FBO side until we ran into Ed Zwirn. We always felt we didn’t have the proper management people in place to make it happen. The FBO side of the business is so much more management intensive.
“We had the opportunity to hire Ed and we made him a partner. We then saw some opportunities to expand the FBO side.”
A Different Portfolio
Comments Schmatz, “We can offer both services to an airport; we’re not strictly an FBO company. We’re also a real estate development company that understands airport development. We understand the restrictions; we understand the fire codes, the setbacks, the building restriction lines — all those things that go into developing on an airport and developing on leased land.”
In fact, Sheltair has property interests at many airports throughout Florida (see sidebar). It is also a potential competitor to its own subtenants, as is the case in Ft. Lauderdale where its Jet Center is at International and a major sub, Banyan Air Service, is at nearby reliever Executive.
Says Schmatz, “While there’s some competition, I’ve never felt it was a problem. A lot of time a customer will come to us at the Ft. Lauderdale Jet Center and need hangar space. There’s a limited amount of hangar space at FLL, but there’s more at FXE (Executive), even though that’s still tight. We can refer them to Donnie [Campion, Banyan owner], or to our own in-house rental arm to provide them with hangar space.”
Sheltair’s strength, he says, is that when it looks at opportunities at an airport, it’s not restricted to an aviation business, per se.
Says Zwirn, who heads up the aviation services division, “The interesting thing is that we have a different arm. We look at new construction as a good thing, whereas other operators look at brick and mortar as a bad thing. We have the ability through our construction division to go into these marketplaces and feel comfortable, such as at Jacksonville.
“I don’t think any companies, including Signature [Flight Support], would spend the capital to go into Jacksonville to build a second FBO. For us, it makes sense geographically. We’ve got a long-term lease [40 years] and with our construction capability, it made sense.”
Both Zwirn and Schmatz emphasize that the Sheltair future lies beyond Florida, be it FBO acquisitions, property development and management, or fuel farm management, which it does at Miami International for an airline consortium.
lGA, ATL, and Beyond
Zwirn, according to Schmatz, is the catalyst to expand the aviation services business, with both Schmatz and Holland the real estate developers. Thus, the company is now seriously moving to other markets north, putting in bids for FBO services at LaGuardia and Atlanta.
Says Schmatz regarding LaGuardia, “It’s pretty much a done deal. We’re all gearing up for an August 1 start.” When it occurs, Sheltair will be moving into the LGA Marine Terminal, now operated by Signature.
The LaGuardia FBO bid process has been controversial and visible within the industry, and went through a re-bid cycle. “We’re obviously paying them a lot more than we would have paid them in the first bid situation,” explains Schmatz. “We thought LaGuardia was important from our standpoint because it takes us out of being a Florida company in the perception of people, and now being more of a national company.
“We also think we’ve got some economies of scale and some customer tie-in, to service the same people that are down here in South Florida.”
As Schmatz looks at opportunities down the road, be they FBO or build/design/management, he has some ideas on what makes a good deal for both airport and developer.
“It’s a package. The length of the lease is important.
“There are airports out there that would love to have private money coming into the airport, especially post-9/11 when a lot of federal dollars are going to security and infrastructure. There’s not a whole lot of dollars available for GA. I think that’s where people like us can come in and supplement the public money with private funds.”