Mark Willey, CEO
The fate of the Napa Jet Center is closely tied to the wine industry and tourism.
Last fall, Bridgeford Flying Services at the Napa (CA) County Airport held a celebration to formally introduce its rebranding as the Napa Jet Center, replacing a name that had stood for 65 years and which had become well recognized within the community.
Remarks Napa Jet Center CEO Mark Willey, “As we continued to evolve the business and as Napa Valley became world renowned, it made sense. We didn’t take it lightly. It came out of peer group discussion and board sessions. I’m part of an FBO 20 Group. We did some focus groups with customers; we did some with employees.
“There’s a lot of different names that you can use when you want to do something like this. Even the logo development — we wanted to capture the heritage, the community.
“We went to our fuel provider AirBP and had them help us select a couple of design firms. Even the logo development took more time than I would have liked. But it needed to take the time. We got something that would be timeless and show what our business is about and what Napa is about.
“We went to Cessna’s marketing VP, Roger White, to get his input. To me this is something you do very rarely, and you need to put the resources, the time, and the effort to do it right. Using the words Jet Center implies a quality, full-service operation. Using the word Napa denotes the community and what the expectations are of the customers that come here. It’s why we’re here, to service those customers.”
A central consideration in the rebranding initiative was a cognizance that Bridgeford Flying Services was already a well-known brand in the community. Originally established in 1942 as an Air Base for National Defense, the airfield was transfered to Napa County in 1945 after which three former World War II pilots formed Bridgeford Flying Services.
Explains Willey, “We respected the fact that the Bridgeford name means something very important to the community. We called the previous owners; one was still working in the business when I got here; one of the orginal owners. And we talked to many of the surviving members about the name change and our reasons. We tied it in with our 65th year celebration. We invited VIPs; media. Probably had well over 300 people.
“The board’s direction and the owner’s direction are to live up to the standards of excellence that our name demands. After being here for 65 years, we do a lot in the community. We donate to various non-profit causes; we’ve probably taught over 6,000 people to fly. I ran into a Southwest pilot the other day that learned to fly with us. That goes through the community. A number of the vintners learned to fly with us. We manage their aircraft for them. They’ve come to know Bridgeford Flying Services and it means something to them. We wanted to keep that legacy.”
The company also invested some $125,000 to reinvigorate the terminal interior, according to Willey, which emphasizes the local wine heritage.
The Napa Jet Center remains a full-service business aviation company offering line operations, aircraft storage, executive aircraft charter, aircraft management, aircraft maintenance services, a flight school, and aircraft sales. It is billed as the oldest Cessna dealer in the Western U.S., and remains a Cessna Pilot Center. The FBO operates on a 20-plus year lease with the airport.
CEO Willey was recruited to head up the Napa FBO after spending some 17 years at Atlantic Aviation, then owned by the DuPont family. He spent the last seven years as VP/general manager of its Wilmington, DE headquarters.
He relates that his company’s fortunes are directly tied to the wine industry and tourism. There is limited growth locally, he says, and the business is very seasonal. Napa Jet Center gets very involved with local groups, such as the Napa Valley Destination Council, and provides wine tours and wine distribution through Sansibar, a wine distributor.
Says Willey, “The community has a Fly a Leader program through the Chamber of Commerce. We’ll bring business leaders out, fly them around the valley, take a tour of the airport with the airport staff, and we’ll go through the tower. So, they get to see the asset that the airport is so that they can help protect that asset. One year we brought out a number of the concierges from the local resorts.”
Looking to the future, Willey says growth through acquisition of a similar type FBO is a possibility. “We’ll start talking more seriously about that at our next board meeting,” he says. “We can develop more here or look elsewhere. It would be nice to have the same type of destination places, so we’re providing the customer the same experience. If it doesn’t come to fruition, it doesn’t. We’re not going to be a chain of buy and sell.”