FBO and Airport News: Ascend Expanding to Stewart

 - September 13, 2006, 7:49 AM

Ascend Development is expanding its private hangar complex operations to Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, N.Y. The company started in 2003 with its first private hangar building at Hayward Airport near San Francisco, a 60,000-sq-ft facility divided into six hangar bays adjacent to the Trajen (soon to become Atlantic Aviation) FBO. Phase II at Hayward is now under construction, consisting of another 80,000 sq ft and nine bays due for completion next June.

Private hangars like Ascend’s and the new Premier Jet facility at McClellan-Palomar Airport near San Diego build hangar complexes and sell long-term leases to hangar buyers. The buyers either use the hangars to store aircraft or sublease space to other tenants. Unlike Premier Jet, Ascend does not permit lessees to operate businesses from their hangars.

“We saw that customers want to own and control the hangar for their lifetime and not be subject to short-term leases,” said Gary Briggs, Ascend founder and president. At too many airports, short-term hangar tenants can be evicted when a more expensive airplane needs shelter, he said. The Ascend model “is an acquisition leasehold interest in an individual private hangar. It truly is a real-estate asset.”

Key to making this kind of development work is a long-term lease with airport authorities. At Stewart, Ascend recently signed a 40-year lease with optional extensions. The lease covers 32 acres, and Ascend plans to build a 500,000-sq-ft facility with 42 units that includes hangars large enough for the Global Express and Boeing Business Jet. “It’s the largest master-planned corporate hangar facility ever undertaken,” Briggs said.

Ascend selected Stewart for its proximity to the New York City metropolitan area and employee economics. Many flight departments, he explained, are finding that it is more cost effective to base the airplane in a lower-cost area where crewmembers can afford to buy a decent house and fly to another closer airport to pick up principals. Briggs said he has seen the same phenomenon occur in the San Francisco area, with airplanes and crews based in cities such as Stockton and flying to Bay Area airports to launch trips.

The Stewart facility should break ground in next year’s first quarter with a first phase consisting of eight 110- by 110-foot bays for a total area of almost 100,000 sq ft. The initial 40-year lease should extend to 60 with planned building upgrades, Briggs said.

The building developer and manager, Ascend will not compete with the local FBO at Stewart. Local FBOs, selected by Ascend, provide fuel, towing and other ground services to Ascend tenants. Ascend will help tenants rent available space to transient traffic if the tenant’s airplane is elsewhere and the hangar isn’t being used. “We’re really in the airport real-estate business,” Briggs said.

Ascend is looking for other progressive-minded airports that are interested in high-end hangar complexes built around long-term leases. “It depends on the airport’s attitude about wanting to attract high-quality investment,” Briggs said. “It doesn’t work for every airport. Some airports don’t get the vision."