Inside the Fence

April 21, 2008

A few thoughts from the road, and a farewell to an industry friend ...

But first, a comment on the recent brouhaha over airline inspections and the FAA. Obviously, the charges of neglect have merit, as Congressional testimony asserts. Many in industry are aghast at the revelations, and the sudden flurry of inspections systemwide doesn’t suggest innocence.

The thought from here is this: Is this a funding issue as much as a safety issue? Both FAA and industry have for years been suggesting a need for more inspectors; at least, that’s been a topic brought up at many conferences. While Congress is putting FAA under its microscope it should also consider whether or not the legislature is giving the agency the tools to do the job.

* * *

Ron Henriksen, subject of this issue’s cover story, seems to have the Midas touch. He turned a dabbling in the telecom business in the ‘80s into a fortune. Now he’s turning that money into airports. The reason: because he can. It’s his contribution.

Henriksen has built a first-class business aviation reliever airport west of downtown Houston, and in the past several months has taken on the charge of completely rebuilding a GA facility in Austin. The Texas capital has been desperate for good GA facilities since the closing of Mueller. Two airports, two goals — one caters to bizjets; the other to light aircraft.

Prior to building Houston Executive, Henriksen tried to build his airport south of the present site. He met strong local resistance. To his criteria on what comprises a proper site, besides location and open space, he has added another. “I had to add to the criteria to try and build it where every politician in sight isn’t going to write you a nasty letter.”

An observation: While Henriksen says he has no interest in partners in his airport quest, there does seem to be a potential in the marketplace for private funding of business airports. It’s not why he got into the airport building business, but it may just be that along the way he has uncovered another opportunity.

* * *

XJet, based at Denver’s Cen-tennial Airport, is working on building a global network of FBOs that focus on the aircraft owner, not the pilot. Members get fuel at cost. XJet VP Stuart Kupfer, a Gold Key concierge, relates his view on customer service: “I call it the psychic reward — there’s something great about doing something for someone, and actually caring for them. It’s seeing that kick in the walk as they walk away.”

* * *

Finally ... I first met Thomas “Dean” Harton when he was CFO for the former Hawthorne Aviation mini-chain of FBOs. He subsequently was a key player for Piedmont-Hawthorne and Landmark Aviation. Dean, 63, passed away in March, the victim of a stroke. He was a long-time industry friend; a nice gentleman; and one of the smartest FBO financial guys I’ve ever met.

Thanks for reading.