Improving the Banff Gateway
Entrepreneur working to build a first-class FBO west of Calgary
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
Mitch Ford, a practicing lawyer for eleven years, purchased Springbank Aero Services in 1999
CALGARY - In early 1999, Mitch Ford, a 40-year old lawyer with a pilot's license, purchased Springbank Aero Services, Inc., at the region's primary reliever, Springbank Airport. Since that time, he has seen fuel flows and revenues double, has expanded the facility, and teamed up with a Toronto group to offer fractional ownership in Cessna and Cirrus aircraft. Next up: Invest $1.5 million (CAN) in a "world class" fixed base operation that will offer general aviation a premier gateway to the Rockies, Banff National Park, and Lake Louise.
president of Springbank Aero Services, says that the FBO was primarily
a fuel stop with hangars when he bought it. Today, he has two flight training
companies - Red Arrow Aviation and FlyRight - as tenants and has service
agreements with several Aircraft Maintenance Engineers on the airfield.
He entered into an agreement for Budget rental cars at the FBO, and in
June completed the purchase of an adjacent storage hangar.
He estimates revenues for 2002 will approach $1.5 million (CAN), with fuel volumes of an estimated 500,000 liters (132,100 gallons). He has eleven years left on a 30-year lease, and is in negotiations with the Calgary Airport Authority, which operates Springbank Airport under a long-term lease with the federal government, to construct a modern FBO.
Once completed, the new FBO will have space for air charter and maintenance firms as tenants, says Ford, explaining that he wants to be able to offer full GA services but doesn't need to be in all of those businesses himself. A catalyst to attracting charters, he adds, will be installation of a fully certified instrument landing system, currently under study by the Authority and Nav Canada.
FRACTIONALS FOR PRIVATE PILOTS
Ford is also quite enthusiastic about his latest venture, OurPlane, which offers fractional ownership opportunities for private pilots in Cessna and Cirrus single-engine aircraft, with the typical plane having eight to ten owners.
The move was partly as a result of getting out of the aircraft rental business, says Ford, as insurance providers began withdrawing policies for rentals. Insurance, however, could be obtained for single-engine aircraft under the fractional program.
OurPlane was started at Buttonville Airport near Toronto. "We were looking at the same sort of concept," recalls Ford, "and in searching the Internet we found the Ontario company. We contacted them, partnered up with them, and now we are the Western Canada franchise for OurPlane."
According to Ford, offering shares in aircraft from two manufacturers allows the company to attract two different types of customers: those who want to purchase a "tried and true" performer (Cessna) versus those who want more of a "sports car" model (Cirrus).
The fractional purchase price, Ford explains, is based upon how many hours (25 hours, 50 hours, etc.) an owner estimates he or she will fly each year. A monthly fee to cover Springbank Aero's costs and profit averages several hundred dollars. Owners who fly more hours than their original annual estimate pay a per hour premium, he says, which is designed to encourage accurate estimates of usage.
"The buyer gets a brand new aircraft," says Ford, "and once he buys a share he can fly any aircraft of that type in the OurPlane fleet. And it allows them to fly planes that are in the program in the U.S., while being fully insured.
"They buy a license which is fully transferable. They have equity in the airplane. Every five years we renew the aircraft and once the aircraft is sold, they can renew or take their money out of the aircraft, plus or minus any depreciation based on the sale price."
Owners schedule use of the OurPlane aircraft via the Internet website (www.OurPlane.com) or a toll-free phone number. Springbank Aero has two Cessnas fully sold and online, says Ford, and is currently in the process of selling its first Cirrus. Fractional positions are pre-sold before the FBO officially orders the aircraft from the OEM.
Developing in synch
The fortunes of Springbank Aero Services, Inc., are of course tied to the future of the airport, and movement is now being made to make the first significant infrastructure investments in the airport since it was constructed by Transport Canada (TC) in 1971.
The Calgary Airport Authority operates Springbank as part of its lease agreement with TC for International Airport. A ten-year development plan is in process to make it more compatible with corporate class aircraft, and Nav Canada in 2001 constructed a new control tower for air traffic. Last year, the airport handled some 167,666 aircraft movements, according to the authority, which makes it one of the busier facilities in Canada, say officials. Springbank Airport has two paved runways (3,400x100 ft.; 3,000x75 ft.) and adjacent taxiways, and recently added customs services on the field.
Central to the Authority's recent interest in developing Springbank, according to Ford, was the creation of the Springbank Airport Business and Pilots Association (SABPA), of which Ford is vice president.
Ford says that SABPA was primarily formed in 2000 because it appeared that the Authority was not interested in investing any significant money into its reliever airport. However, subsequent meetings with the Authority witnessed a complete turnaround, says Ford.
"The Airport Authority was quite pleased that we formed SABPA, and they've worked really effectively with us," he says. "We relate to them what our concerns are about the airport and what we feel our relationship is with the international airport. Their response has been overwhelming. They like the fact that they can go to a common voice.
"Also, through the efforts of our business association, the Canadian government put a customs office on the field, seven days a week."
A 10-year plan
In March, the Calgary Airport Authority issued its ten-year development plan for the Springbank Airport. Included in the plan is a "Role Statement" for Springbank, part of which reads: "The operation and development of Springbank Airport will be directed to supporting private and commercial flight activity and their support services, including flight training, recreational, corporate, and air taxi operations."
Primary goals of the plan:
o Extension of the primary 16/34 runway from 3,000x75-ft. to 4,300x100-ft.
o Upgrade from a "practice" instrument landing to a certified ILS, which would be financed, installed, and operated by Nav Canada.
o Compatible land development.
o Construction of a joint-use ARFF ("Fire Hall") facility.