A seasonal northern Midwest FBO expands its business into Florida
By Jordanna Smida, Associate Editor
Iand O' Lakes, WI — What began in 1993 as a small general aviation facility at the Land O' Lakes Airport (LNL), has since expanded its business to North County Airport, West Palm Beach, FL. Its investment in aerobatic events and gliders are providing a solid foundation for Barry Aviation's future growth.
Just off a desolate highway that winds through the northern woods of Wisconsin, resides Barry Aviation, a lone FBO, striving to place its hometown of Land O' Lakes on the map. Tucked behind a golf course on the Wisconsin and Michigan border, the FBO is surrounded by virgin forests and lakes that boast some of the state's best fishing. Barry Aviation's rustic facility attracts visitors as it prepares to host this year's U.S. National Glider Aerobatics Championships.
Founded in 1993, Barry Aviation is a family-run business owned by husband and wife team, Tim and Patti Barry. The airport is owned by the city and in the 1930s was one of the nation's smallest commuter airports, according to Jim Bates, airport commissioner for LNL. Barry Aviation is under contract with the city to provide its services — fuel, maintenance, aircraft sales, banner towing, and glider/flight training on a 20-year lease.
The town of Land O' Lakes has a population of 850; however, that number jumps to 5,000 with the influx of vacationers and those with summer homes in the area, says Bates, which translates into increased traffic on the airport.
This year Barry Aviation is host to the U.S. National Glider Aerobatic Championships competition. As a result, Barry Aviation has received international recognition from news crews around the world. During the Glider Championships, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Aerobatic teams compete for advancement to the World Glider Aerobatic Championships to be held in Cordoba, Spain next year.
"We felt it was very important to create an event to increase traffic," states Tim who heads up the Wisconsin location, Barry Aviation Inc. He expects the event to bring in an additional 1,000 people to the town, which he says is a "win-win situation for the community."
The airport has been able to garner support from the town to use its facilities as well as financial backing for the events.
A majority of Barry Aviation's traffic is from the metropolitan area or retirees and their families, Tim says. "This is a seasonal business. ...the summer is the peak tourist season.
That's when we enjoy the profitability," he states.
This past year, the company ran into a challenge as its newly installed above ground fueling system had various problems requiring the company to stop pumping fuel. "It was really tough. We lost a whole year of fueling," states Patti who oversees the Florida location, Barry Aviation Florida, Inc.
Though the operation has been without fuel services this past year, the company plans on building that portion of the business up again, Patti says. To increase fueling, it recently installed an automatic 24-hour fuel system. The company also plans to have AWOS and is in the process of extending its runway to 5,000 feet, which is expected to be complete in 2003. "This should bring in quite a bit of jet traffic and at that point, we'll be able to add jet fuel," she states.
To supplement the winter months, the company looked to expand their operations. Originally, it had considered a location in the Bahamas, but decided on North County Airport in East-Central Florida. "It was a new airport and it was a good time to do a start-up business," explains Patti.
Both say the Florida location complements the Wisconsin location well. "Many of our clientele fly south during the winter months, so the transition was very natural," Tim adds. The North County Airport is owned by Palm Beach County and expansion is very controlled, Patti says, noting that there is one FBO on the field and there is a waiting list for hangar space.
Barry Aviation's Florida location is not a full-service FBO, but offers maintenance and glider instruction services, which are its main profit centers.
The maintenance facility primarily services piston aircraft and gliders, as well as some warbirds. The facility, which has only been in operation for a year, has grown significantly, Patti says. "The business has increased from zero mechanics to five," she states.
Prior to the maintenance facility's opening, there was only one maintenance operator on the field. "There wasn't any maintenance competition. When we opened up, it brought an option to the customers on the field. They feel they're treated a little more fairly if they have an option," she states.
Expansion is ongoing at Barry Aviation. It recently entered into contracts to purchase the Type Certificate and the production, engineering, and tooling rights to manufacture Krosno sailplanes, Tim explains. "We plan on being the first U.S. manufacturer in a number of years to be building sailplanes of that type," he states.
The Barrys have decided the business, Barry Aviation, LLC, will reside in Florida near West Palm Beach. "There are a lot of economic incentives for job development in the surrounding counties," Tim states.
A number of people have also expressed interest in the manufacturing facility, Patti says. "We have a lot of connections with engineers and people from Pratt Whitney, Sikorsky, and Lockheed & Martin," she states.
The company hopes to build some four gliders a month and intends to employ between 30 and 40 employees. "I think it's going to be a big part of our business, but it's going to be different because it's production," Patti says. Though the company will begin manufacturing one model, it hopes to eventually include an aerobatic or motor glider as well.