Inside the Fence

Jan. 8, 1999


John Infanger, Editorial Director

January / February 1999

John Infanger, Editorial Director

Once again, aviation funding comes to an impasse, despite an industrywide hope that the new year would bring a long-term package much like other transportation venues were legislated in 1998. Now, the immediate hope has reverted to getting one full year of funding back. Alas ...

* * *

In the top of the news, Signature Flight Support is looking to buy the AMR Combs chain. It's a development that merits more than mere reporting.

Back in the late 1980s, talk of consolidation in the FBO industry was all the rage. Yet, it's hard to believe anyone could have pictured the scenario that is unfolding with this development. When Butler Aviation merged with Page Avjet in the mid-90s to form Signature Flight Support, it seemed like an unlikely teaming of different cultures. And, in fact, it was not a smooth transition, most notably because of controversy at the top managerial level which led to the defection/dismissal of key managers.

In the past few years, however, Signature Flight Support has emerged not only as the largest chain of FBOs on the planet, it's also focused heavily on turning around the perception of its level of customer service with a good measure of success. Meanwhile, its parent company has continued to invest heavily in the industry, most notably with the purchase of Dallas Airmotive.

Signature is a totally different company today. From this seat, it seems there are two key reasons for this: personnel moves and what seems to be unlimited resources.

Regarding personnel, two people in particular stand out from a list of respected resumes: Bruce Van Allen and Mary Miller. Once Van Allen began directing the FBO segment, it took on a different air. He has demonstrated an ability to cherry pick industry up-and-comers to place in key positions, and early on garnered industry respect by hiring back several managers who many perceived had been unjustly or unwisely forced out.

Miller has been the force driving the customer service emphasis and has orchestrated an ongoing system-wide training program since shortly after the merger. With Butler, Miller had consistently been recognized for her customer service oriention at the DCA FBO.

Regarding point number two, resources, Signature is owned by British-based BBA Group, which has remained true to its original word that it planned on becoming a long-term aviation player. If the deal is approved by regulators, BBA plans to pay the $170 million purchase price out of "cash resources."

Of particular interest will be what happens at the four airports where the two chains operate competing FBOs.

* * *

Update: San Diego's City Council has OK'd terms for the privatization initiative at Brown Field, reported on in our October issue.

* * *

A call for volunteers ... Starbase, a non-profit program to interest at-risk children in aviation and aerospace pursuits, now operates in 16 states and at 22 locations. The mission is to motivate kids in math, science, technology, goal setting, and positive life choices. Interested? Contact board member Bob Jandebeur, Million Air Tulsa, at (800) 75-TULSA. Thanks for reading.