2022 Airport Business Project of the Year: ACI Jet's New Headquarters is 16 Years in Development

Feb. 17, 2022
ACI Jet designs its new headquarters to provide a unique and inclusive feel.
Eric Reed
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When ACI Jet leaders began to plan a new headquarters at San Luis Obispo Airport (SBP) in 2005, the company’s business looked a lot different than it does today.

The company wasn’t running a full repair station and was using a facility designed to be functional for a much smaller business. But ACI Jet was looking to the future and the growth of its business, so it wanted a fun, functional and elegant facility that would allow for growth and provide a unique destination for travelers.

“We all sat down at one point and tried to come up with what would the dream building be,” said Bill Borgsmiller, CEO of ACI Jet. “If you had no obstacles and could build what you wanted, not because it made complete business sense, but because it was incredible, what would that look like.”

The new headquarters is designed to celebrate and honor ACI Jet’s spot on the California Central Coast. The structure was built to reflect the surrounding landscape and fit in with the style of local architecture, while standing out for its impressive design.

The rock and wood building materials and natural earth tone color scheme were chosen to add the Central Coast style and feel.

“I’ve always felt the architecture of an FBO should be representative of the area,” Borgsmiller said. “You want a person’s first impression to be something that ties into what they’re about to experience there.”

The lobby was designed to be the heart of the entire structure. Two stories tall, with a wall of glass looking into the showroom hangar, visitors are treated to a full view of the ramp, attached hangar and surrounding landscape at all times. A second story Mezzanine with a view of the runway, pilot lounge and snooze rooms, conference rooms and a training room are all available to visitors.

“The big thing we wanted is to have the building inspire people,” Borgsmiller said. “We want someone from the moment they get to the front door, they feel like they’re part of what’s going on.”

Doreen Baum design lead with Nelson Worldwide, said designing a facility incorporating an executive passenger terminal, offices, maintenance facilities and a new private jet hangar allowed Nelson to curate the client experience for both arrival and departure. Natural materials including wood, stone and exposed steel welcome guests to the terminal featuring a butterfly roof that reaches a peak of 45-feet to maximize views of the sky and surrounding hills. A wine and refreshment bar showcasing the best that the local area has to offer is central to the light-filled passenger lounge where guests can relax and unwind. A curved steel and wood feature stair leads guests to the second floor with more views of the picturesque hills, and of planes taking off and landing.

"The focal point of the second floor is the dispatch room," Baum said. "Enclosed in glass, customers get a glimpse of ACI Jet employees tracking and scheduling flights. Private offices and a board room are also located on this floor.  Back-of-house functions including a catering kitchen, staff break room, pilot lounge and service offices are strategically separated from the front-of-house allowing passengers a relaxing and soothing experience, unlike typical airport travel.  Whether leaving or returning, guests will feel the same level of comfort and sense of arrival while experiencing the hospitality of San Luis Obispo’s new FBO."

The company planned to build a brand new FBO flanked on either side by a maintenance and a showroom hangar, measuring more than 91,000 square feet. ACI Jet decided to start with the maintenance hangar due to the Great Recession and brought that facility online in 2011. Construction on the remaining portions of the building resumed in 2018 and the completed ACI Jet Headquarters opened its doors in April 2021.

The facility was built on a greenfield site at SBP. It was the only space large enough to accommodate the facility at the airport and it allowed for a clean sheet design.

There were challenges with the clay soil on the site and an old swale located under the property, which were addressed in construction.

Borgsmiller wanted the facility to be as public facing as possible. He wanted the public to see an airplane from the window when they approached the building. He was inspired for the idea after seeing Nike CEO Phil Knight’s hangar at the Hillsboro Airport (HIO).

“That makes you feel like you’re next to the plane and you haven’t even walked into the building.” He said. “We took it a step further with the curtain wall inside of the lobby where once you enter, now it feels like you’re inside the hangar.”

The central facility protrudes onto the ramp in front of both hangars in a purposeful tilting out of windows so you can go onto the mezzanine and feel like you’re in a control tower position on the ramp.

Someone without ever going through security or showing a badge can feel like they’re part of everything going on.

“I’d argue that we have the nicest and the newest FBO anywhere in the country,” said Andrew Robillard, vice president, FBOs and facilities for ACI Jet. “It’s one that’s deliberately designed to be inclusive to our entire community as well as the aviation community.”

Tenant offices throughout the building provide space for aviation companies to operate at the SBP. ACI Jet put the company breakroom in a central location attached to the different business units. It allows for more cross interaction between employees compared to their old facility.   

The pilot lounge is broken into private rooms to allow crews to stick together in a private place or spread out.  

“We have areas of our lobby that feel like a private lobby,” Robillard said. “While it’s open space, the furniture is arranged in a way that you can sit with your group or friends while awaiting your flight and feel like you’re in a private space.

The structure uses energy, water and materials efficiently, and limits its environmental impact, and the entire building meets CalGreen building code. This include the porous cement around the building and parking lot, returning all rainwater and runoff back into the ground water instead of getting drained off site, and a motion activated LED system throughout the facility and grounds that turns off when not in use.

The lobby and mezzanine are not just for pilots and passengers, but for the public to come and watch how an FBO functions, aircraft mechanics in action and pilots take off and land in aircraft of all kinds. ACI Jet hopes to spark that interest and inspire the next generation of aviation professionals.

Borgsmiller said the company has worked for 10 years to develop talent locally and started a program with Cuesta College to train A&P technicians. He wants the new facility to inspire more local residents to pursue a career in aviation.  

“When we started the business here, from a business perspective, there was no reason this made the most sense to start it, but we really liked the area and thought it had a lot of potential. We’ve always built the business to work here,” he said. “We’re not following the MBA path here; we’re going to figure out what we need to make it work here and an incredible facility and a way to develop the talent to fill that facility were two of the things we needed.”

Building a facility where you invite the community into the hangar and positioning the business as part of the community, you have a better path to move forward when you want to grow, improve and do things, Borgsmiller added.

“We’ve had people fly in just to see the building,” he said. “For business jet customers who come in, it’s a memorable first impression of the community and I think if they go out and have a good impression, I think it goes a long way in them thinking ‘that’s an amazing place, I want to go back.’”