Going Strong in Fort Worth
Reed Pigman, Jr. took over the family flight
training firm, sold it, and became an FBO
By John F. Infanger
FT. WORTH, TX — In 1939, the father of Reed Pigman, Jr. founded whatwould become the national flight training firm American Flyers. By1973, Reed, Jr. was in charge of the family company, then located inArdmore , OK , before selling it in 1978. That same year, he purchaseda small operation, Piper Southwest, at Meacham International Airport here, renamed it Texas Jet, and since has seen it grow to encompass 16-1/2 hangars and some 15 acres, becoming one of the leading fixed base operations in the region.
After having been involved in most aspects of the business of general aviation, Pigman decided to focus exclusively on line services and property development/management as a fixed base operator.
"When I bought Piper Southwest, we got into aircraft sales and charter in the early ’80s," he recalls. "Then interest rates hit 21 percent and it almost put me out of business. At that time I was just gearing up to sell fuel, so the fuel volumes weren't there yet to produce a good cash flow.
"It was tough times for a couple of years until I was able to get rid of the airplanes we had in our sales inventory and close the charter operation.
"In Ardmore we had maintenance, an avionics shop, dormitory, and cafeteria. I've done a lot in aviation but I just want to stick with fuel and real estate now."
The formula appears to be working for Texas Jet, which Pigman says has experienced its two best years in 2002-2003 and has tracked upward since opening in 1979.
"Some maintenance shops are struggling; same with aircraft sales, flight training, charter. I'm just fortunate that what I chose to do is something that every airplane needs before it gets off the ground," he explains.
He's also fortunate, he says, to be in a market that has become fairly diverse and quite conservative, having once been heavily reliant on the oil and gas industry — until the bust of the 1970s.
Says Pigman, "The economy here is now very diversified, and the energy companies that have survived are very conservative. For example, I have a customer that has a 20-year old Navajo that he has had for 20 years. He's one of the wealthiest people in town. My customer base is so conservative that I don't see this selloff of planes when the economy softens."
Family History — American Flyers
Like many, Pigman got into aviation because it was a family business, with his father first venturing into flight training with American Flyers. "He trained a lot of American Airlines' pilots during World War II," says Pigman, "when their pilot fleet got drafted.
"After the war he bought some surplus DC-3s and started American Flyers Airline Corporation, which was a supplemental air carrier. He had a charter certificate to fly basically anywhere around the world. He had Constellations, Electras.
"The operation moved to Ardmore (from Ft. Worth ), then my Dad died in 1966 and my mother sold the airline portion around 1969. I ran the flight school after I got out of college for five years, at which time I decided two things: I didn't really like the flight school business and I wanted to move back to my hometown."
That's when he came upon Piper Southwest, which he says was near bankruptcy. "It was in the process of going out of business," he says, "but they had the (lease) option, which is what I wanted."
Pigman is not a man who likes to stand pat, directing a continuing series of development projects at Meacham. After acquiring the Piper Southwest property, he immediately constructed two hangars. Steady development has led to 16-1/2 hangars on Texas Jet property today, with the one-half being a sublease with a maintenance shop for overflow. In all, the FBO has some 250,000 square feet of hangar space.
He says he is currently looking to serve as the general contractor for a corporate client's new 30,000-sq. ft. hangar, using his experience in hangar development. He also foresees adding another 12-15,000-sq.ft. hangar for Texas Jet storage, and is planning a vehicle parking garage to accommodate customers who want their cars parked in a garage but to get them out of the hangars. "It's mainly for insurance purposes," he explains, "to keep them separate from the aircraft.
With some 100 different businesses (including four FBOs) at Meacham, says Pigman, there's not much developable property left for airport businesses. "That which is available is very expensive to develop. You would have to either bring the infrastructure to the hangar, or build a taxiway several hundred feet to tie into the taxiway system," he says.
Meacham through the years has turned primarily into a corporate airport, says Pigman, with a 11.8 cents/ gallon fuel flowage fee discouraging lighter aircraft owners from basing here. Of the 100 or so aircraft based at Texas Jet, some 95 percent are corporate, he says.
"Meacham is pretty expensive for the recreational pilot," he says.