(FBO) Life Begins At 60
By Jodi Richards, Associate Editor
New life for retired pilot, ailing airport
COVINGTON, GA — Many look at retirement as an opportunity to relax, maybe travel, do the things for which there never seemed enough time. Not Bob Riddell. After 32 years with Delta Airlines, 25 of those as
captain, Riddell was offered early retirement from the airline. “I tried retirement for about two weeks," he relates, "and it didn’t take too well on me, so I started a new 30-year career. That’s pretty presumptuous, isn’t it?” Riddell is confident his investment in a fixed base operation here will pay dividends for the community, as well as greater Atlanta.
Riddell’s new career is a company he founded, Aviation Investment Resources, Inc., which manages a fixed base operation, Dixie Jet Service, here at Covington Municipal Airport, as well as a charter company, AvJets Air Charter, and a flight training business, AIRFlight Academy.
AIR assumed responsibility of operations of the FBO at Covington Airport on November 9, 2001. And, as Riddell puts it, he had “impeccable timing.” The months immediately following the events of 9/11 were difficult for all aspects of aviation.
He explains he performed “due diligence” on the company for some two years before entering the FBO business, which he did by steps, first purchasing 50 percent into the FBO and charter company before finally taking complete ownership of both as well as the hangar and office building. AIR has some ten employees.
Riddell got his start in aviation as a young man taking flight lessons and “doing whatever I could to get the time. I’d do anything — just let me know when an airplane’s leaving,” he recalls. “I’m not sure I ever made a dollar flying until I got with Delta.”
WINDS OF CHANGE
According to Riddell, the FBO under-performed for some three years prior to AIR’s takeover. “In the two years we’ve had it,” he says, “We’ve gone from about 40 [based] aircraft to about 80.”
Our biggest problem when we took over was we were really dependent on just fuel sales, and the fuel volume was not tremendous,” says Riddell. The airport pumped some 80,000 gallons of fuel in 2003, comprised of 40 percent avgas, 60 percent jet-A.
Riddell explains, “We set about trying to improve the ancillary services and the revenues from them.” The FBO offers some 60 tie down spaces, as well as office space for lease.
In Riddell’s years at Covington, AIR has steadily improved financial performance month after month, he says. “We’re looking forward to a good 2004.”
Roy Hembree operates the FBO’s maintenance facility as Hembree Aviation. Riddell calls it a partnership under which AIR provides the overhead and Hembree provides his own tools and the labor as well as pays the company a percentage of gross revenue. “As we grow, we help him grow and vice versa,” says Riddell. “It really helps an entrepreneur get a running start without having to make a big initial investment and the years it takes to break even. We took the risk up front, but as he gets bigger and bigger, we benefit more and more. We want him to succeed.”
The charter side of the business is called AVJets Air Charter. “Right now we only have one aircraft, a Mitsubishi MU2,” says Riddell. But there is interest from aircraft owners to add their planes to the certificate as managed aircraft. He says AIR is also negotiating a deal to acquire a charter company that currently operates Lear 55s and Gulfstream-IIIs. “We’ve made an offer, they’ve accepted, now we’re getting down to the details.”
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