North American Jet is making its mark, and significant investment
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
WHEELING, IL — Ken Ross, president of North American Jet at Palwaukee Municipal Airport, projected it would take 18 months to sell a million gallons of fuel at his fixed base operation, opened here just over a year ago. It took 12, he says — indicative of the growth the FBO has experienced as it goes after Chicago’s corporate traffic. Ross and his partner are also investing in the facilities, with a final tally of some $7 million after expansion this year.
North American’s Palwaukee FBO is
its second, with a sister facility to the north at Kenosha Regional Airport.
The two operations allow NAJ to effectively serve the Chicago-Milwaukee
North American Jet's two locations: Chicago-Palwaukee (top) and Kenosha (WI) Regional Airport
But it is Palwaukee that is the proven
performer for attracting corporate aircraft, the perennial leader in the
region. Prior to North Ameri-can’s arrival, corporates were primarily
served by Priester Aviation. The Priester family once owned the airport
and sold it in 1986 to the sponsor cities of Wheeling and Mt. Prospect.
If there is such a thing as a precocious FBO, North American qualifies. Ross talks of his company’s success as though it was expected. He talks with the same matter-of-fact confidence of the difficulty of getting established at Palwaukee, with its airfield history and nervous citizens who have voted down a runway extension.
Though an FBO newcomer, Ross came to the industry as a long-time user, a pilot who grew up in Chicagoland and a user of Palwaukee. And he has tasted success as an attorney, one who specialized in aviation. He became a full-time FBO manager after opening the Palwaukee facility.
"Our philosophy is to be a full-service provider," explains Ross. "We have built a facility that offers first-class services to corporate clients, but we also serve pistons, which is why we are seriously looking at an opportunity we have to put in some T-hangars in the northeast quadrant of the airport."
NAJ’s present leasehold (25 years; 25-year option) covers six acres on Palwaukee’s northwest quadrant, and after expansion the facilities will feature 70,000 square feet of office/han-gar space and some 175,000 square feet of ramp, according to Ross.
User Becomes An FBO
Ross, like many FBOs, got into the business by first buying a hangar — at Kenosha — and then adding a fuel farm. Once the FBO was in place, the owners looked for another location nearer to the lucrative Chicago marketplace.
One option was at Waukegan, says Ross, which is located further north of the city. "Waukegan was an opportunity, but when we did our analysis — and we did quite an extensive analysis of the various airports around here — Waukegan has very nice facilities but it is a little difficult to get to," he says. "Driving from the north shore (of Chicago) it takes maybe 10 or 15 minutes more to go to Kenosha on the expressway.
"Palwaukee is much more centrally located, it’s one of the busiest general aviation airports in the country and it was a better fit with our long-term strategic plans."