Supersize It

April 8, 2000


Rifton Aviation positions itself for tomorrow's corporate customer

By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director

April 2000

NEWBURGH, NY — Rifton Aviation Services president Christian Domer has a theory: Major cities around the world have a growing need for a second tier airport to service larger corporate aircraft entering the marketplace, and to meet the increasing demands of cargo. He sees Stewart International Airport here as meeting that demand.

"Our success will be maximized by looking at what niche components of the overall need to move people and freight are best served by an airport like this," says Domer.

"That requires looking at the next generation jets — the Boeing Business Jets — and looking beyond that to the supersonic business jets. They're not going to be flying into Teterboro (NJ). This kind of airport is perfectly suited for that.

"You're seeing it elsewhere. Alliance Airport north of Ft. Worth is one example," he says.

Banking on that potential, Rifton Aviation is nearing completion of a new hangar complex targeted specifically at the new Boeing Business Jets (BBJ) now entering the marketplace. Domer says the 117,000-sq. ft. building will come in "under the target of $100 a square foot." The up front investment will be offset, he says, by the 50-year ground lease and the fact that Rifton retains own ership of the building.

"The cost of long-term ownership will go way down," says Domer. "We have a projected high rate of return and ongoing revenues because of the type of aircraft we can base there." He says one BBJ owner has committed to base in the new complex, and negotiations are under way with two others.

Like many fixed base operations, the owners of Rifton Aviation got into the industry first as users of business aviation. Unlike most, the foundation of the company is based in a religious movement — the Bruderhof communities — that began in Germany a century ago. Domer and about one-half of the 75 full-time employees here are members of the community in which everything is shared, including income. Through the years, the company became users and owners of corporate aircraft for missionary work and for its three core businesses: Rifton Equipment, Community Playthings, and Plough Publishing House.

Domer says he brings a new perspective into the FBO business, coming from the outside. He thinks that he brings a new level of service to the business that will redefine what customers want.

Since establishing its FBO here three years ago, Rifton has become the lone FBO and has grown to some $10 million in annual revenues, pumping some six million gallons of fuel for GA, airlines, and cargo. This, says Domer, is just the beginning, as he unfolds his "FBO supercenter" concept, on which he has a patent pending. The primary target: the high-end corporate customer. "You have to have more than just a conference room," he says.

"You have to have retail facilities, a nice restaurant, an art gallery, and make it into a real destination in itself.

"I'm saying that I'm going to change behavior. Real innovation means defining for customers what they want, to some degree."

Domer hopes to break ground on his supercenter in 2001, and says that a key component of its success will be tied to a planned $50 million development to be built next to Stewart that will include a world trade center, hotel, light manufacturing, etc.

Rifton Aviation is located some 60 miles north of New York City, a fact that Domer says should not be a negative in the long run. The FBO has an agreement with Sikorsky/Associated Aircraft Group, which operates the Sikorsky fractional ownership program, to shuttle customers downtown.

"I think that, over time, you're going to have customers that are going to be very happy coming in here, stepping onto the helicopter, and taking that 20-minute ride down to the Wall Street heliport," he says.

"All the dynamics point to this being a good airport. We have 6,000 acres of buffer around the airport; a 12,000-ft. runway; we're out of the New York airspace; and, it's an airport that's privatizing.