Open for Big Business in Aviation

Dec. 21, 2018
Business aviation growth across North America means more preparations to meet demands.

When it comes to business aviation needs at San Antonio International Airport (SAT), Properties and Business Development Coordinator John Gallo has a good problem on his hands.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, San Antonio is one of the fastest growing city in the nation, adding about 60 people per day. With that growth comes continued economic development, which means Gallo doesn’t have too much space available to meet the current demands at SAT.

“One of the things we haven’t had in a while that we get inundated with calls about is what kinds of hangar facilities do you have available and what kind of land developments do you have available,” Gallo said. “For many years we really haven’t had anything available because we’ve been completely full.”

SAT is finally getting some more space to help meet demand as it’s working with Western LLC to develop the former Hawker Beechcraft facility at the airport into a new development complete with seven hangars.

The $25 million project involves demolition of the old Hawker Beechcraft facility on nine acres of land and building the seven hangars, which range from 12,000 square feet to more than 15,000 square feet. Each unit includes 28-foot doors and some will have attached offices.

Western is designing, building and financing the project and will lease the facilities back to corporate clients. The facilities should be completed within 12 months and all of the units are already reserved.

Gallo said the units will be leased by tenants currently subleasing at SAT, who will be able to grow their operations.

“It’s in a location that’s very close to the approach end of our primary runway,” he said. “We have a lot of corporate users along that side of the airport, so from a location standpoint, you really can’t beat it."

The site has been vacant for a while, but Gallo said it was due to the size of the old facility.

“One of them was an old paint hangar and the other is a larger hangar, but it had 20,000 square feet of office space,” he said. “When you try and put a square peg in a round hole, for a lot of businesses that didn’t fit their need.

Brad Henderson, managing member for Western LLC, said San Antonio approached the company about how to utilize the former Hawker Beechcraft and after talking with end-users, they realized it would need to be a build-to-suit development.

“We just started marketing it, put it out there, started meeting with folks and what their needs were,” he said. “Everyone came back with the size of hangars they needed and some with attached offices.
“One of the biggest needs was for 28-foot tall hangar doors so you can get the some of the larger corporate jets out there.”

He said the tenets will be a mix of charter operators, corporate tenants, an MRO and manufacturers.

“We really envisioned a phased development, but with the demand, it’s a single phase,” he said.

The continued growth in the San Antonio economy is reflected in the new development.

“You have some charter operators, some corporate hangers, you have a maintenance and repair and overhaul operation with Cutter going on,” Gallo said. “I think it just speaks to the economic growth that we’re seeing here in San Antonio.”

South Florida demand grows

When Fontainebleau Aviation Director of Sales Anthony Banome looks towards 2019 and beyond, the biggest issue the fixed-base operator has can be summed up in one word: growth.

“The consistent theme with Opa-Lacka [Executive Airport] is it’s just growing,” he said. “Everything is growing. Operations within Opa-Lacka are growing and from our standpoint, it’s not just year-over-year growth, but we want to make sure we’re getting a majority of the growth we’re seeing.”

As one of three FBOs located at Opa-Lacka, Fontainebleau is expanding its operations to meet the continued demand of service. According to FlightAware there are 171 aircraft based at the airport. According to the Miami Dade Department of Aviation, fuel sales grew from 8.5 million gallons in 2011 to 15.1 million gallons in 2017.

Fontainebleau sits on 42 acres of land and provides 17 acres of ramp. It has 235,000 square feet of hangar space; a 12,000-square-foot arrivals/departures canopy; and two-story terminal with conference rooms, pilot’s lounge, snooze rooms and a mini market.
The FBO invested more than $30 million, 115,000 square foot facility at Opa-Lacka in 2017 to meet the demands of increased traffic. It’s now working on a 32,000 square foot hangar to accommodate even more aircraft.

“The expansion that we have endured is really just to keep up with own market,” said Bobby Courtney, vice president of aviation, Fontainebleau Aviation.

The Phillips 66-branded FBO is also building a 60,000 gallon fuel farm after seeing sales hit 6 million gallons in 2017.

Miami will host the Super Bowl in 2020, a Formula 1 race in 2020, the Orange Bowl will serve as the college football national championship game in 2021. Courtney said Miami’s receptiveness to bringing major events to the area means business traffic will remain strong.

“I think compared to other airports, the growth isn’t even measurable, Banome said. “I came from Teterboro where it’s reaching saturation point. Opa-Lacka is very far from there.”

Courtney said the south Florida market continues to flourish with the strong real estate development in the Miami area and the region’s continued prominence in Latin America and as a strong travel market from the northeastern area of the U.S.

“The South Florida market itself has become a little bit recession-proof over the last couple of years,” he said. “Even though the financial market has softened a little bit across the domestic side, there’s still enough strength in the South American market for leisure and investment opportunities in South Florida.”

Courtney said more efficient and affordable aircraft is also fueling the business aviation growth in the region, which is increasing demands both in higher service levels and hangar space.

Teterboro to Opa-Locka remains the No. 1 charter route in the U.S. Courtney said, which means the connection of the two markets allow each other to remain strong for business travel. Workweek travel trends also show the Miami travel market isn’t just a leisure destination either.

“I think a lot of people always think the New York-South Florida connection is once people retire and head down or once the wealthy are done doing their thing in the workforce they come down, but from an aviation standpoint, we’ve seen it’s a lot more integrated than that,” Banome said. “People are coming down and doing business, and not necessarily vacationing.”

Fontainebleau is owned by Turnberry Associates, which is traditionally a hospitality company. While price is always the deciding factor for some customers, Banome said the South Florida market is an area where outstanding service can really set the FBO apart from competitors.

“Our expectations are that of delivering the same product that you’d see at the Fontainebleau Hotel, the same product you’d see at the Turnberry Isles Country Club, the same level of facilities and offerings that you’d see at the Aventura Mall,” Courtney said. “Those types of things that are already in our DNA are what we’re employing and what we’re training and what we’re bringing to the table at aviation property as well.

The challenge of finding labor also plagues South Florida, Courtney said, but the emphasis on customer experience means taking non-traditional routes of employee development. Instead of seeking just aviation professionals, Fontainebleau reaches out the hospitality businesses in the region and area colleges like Florida International University who had never known aviation was a potential career path.

“We’ve really educated some of our own people that aviation has a tremendous amount of opportunity and it has nothing to do with being behind the yoke of the aircraft. It has nothing to do with being a pilot or a technician,” Courtney said.. “I feel we’re one of the best FBOs in the entire country and there’s not a single pilot in the executive staff…yet we can speak the lingo, we can understand the concepts, but we’re hospitality-driven individuals, we’re financially-driven individuals who just so happen to be in the aviation industry.

“We have a passion for what we do, but we don’t want to fight to fly the airplane,” he said. “We want to take care of the passengers. We’re an extension of the operation. We’re a service provider.”

The new star in Dallas

McKinney National Airport in McKinney, Texas, has seen a 35,500 increase in traffic since 2016 and had sold about 1.5 million gallons in fuel through September.

Kenneth Carley, airport director at McKinney said the growth is attributed in part to development in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex beginning to migrate north to the area along with the airport’s unique asset in the region — developable land.

“We’re building hangars while other airports that may be in some of the more desirable locations geographically in the region don’t,” he said. “We benchmark against Addison, which is a great airport in a great location, but one of the ways we’re different from Addison is that we have land available to develop and we’re talking to a lot of companies about a lot of projects.”

The growth at McKinney has been a strong investment for the region. According to the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) 2018 Texas Aviation Economic Impact study, the airport now has a $212 million impact on the area, which is up from $44 million in 2011.

“I think it’s a nice message for us to share with the community,” Carley said. “This is a regional asset and this is really what its output is to the region.”

On the west side of the airport, Carley said McKinney has 45 acres of land split into several parcels to develop. In addition, it also purchased 190 acres of land to the east of the airport to allow for additional future development as current trends show the west side being maxed out in terms of development.

“That land on the east side can really make use of the same infrastructure in terms of the runway/taxiway system, all the airport infrastructure, so I think it was very forward looking for the city council and the city to consider and acquire that land,” he said. “I see that land is already working for us today because even though we don’t have any aeronautical development over there today, one of the key things an airport tries to do is preserve the land around an airport for aeronautical development and ensure non-compatible development doesn’t happen.”

The city of McKinney took over the FBO at the airport in 2013 and is currently building a $16 million, 17,000 square-foot terminal and 40,000 square-foot hangar in conjunction with Western LLC. Carley said the new facility will add additional room while offering state-of-the-art amenities for travelers.

“The city did a nice renovation to the terminal we’re in today, but it’s already at capacity and it feels kind of small at our peak periods,” Carley said.

Carley said there are about 300 aircraft based at McKinney, but most of them are single engine piston aircraft. The airport doesn’t see that market as the highest growth market going forward, so the new hangar will be geared towards corporate operators.

“It’s really geared to some of the largest corporate operators, which is the market segment we’re trying to grow the most,” he said. “The highest and best use of facilities seems to be to develop facilities that cater to that demand and that demand seems to be there.”

Carley said they continue to put an emphasis on customer service to keep growing their business.

“Our philosophy is that you can have all the bells and whistles that you can construct in facilities, but none of it really means anything if you don’t provide good customer service,” We really look to provide that at the airport and the airport-owned FBO has been the No. 1 FBO four out of the last five years in the pilot’s choice awards survey.”

About the Author

Joe Petrie | Editor & Chief

Joe Petrie is the Editorial Director for the Endeavor Aviation Group.

Joe has spent the past 15 years writing about the most cutting-edge topics related to transportation and policy in a variety of sectors with an emphasis on transportation issues for the past 10 years.

Contact: Joe Petrie

Editor & Chief | Airport Business

[email protected]


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