Dallas facility is an accidental FBO

 - October 9, 2006, 1:13 PM

The newest FBO building at Dallas Love Field Airport is six years old but looks younger. Located on the northeast corner of the airport close to the intersection of Runways 13 and 18L, Business Jet Center is a Texas-size facility, with a three-story FBO terminal on a 24-acre property that includes 178,000 sq ft of hangar, FBO and office space.

Mike Wright, partner and founder of the FBO with his father, Robert, didn’t plan to open an FBO, but in 1997 his charter/management company, Business Jet Access, was one of the tenants on the property when then-FBO Dallas Jet Center closed its doors after facing financial problems. The airport manager asked Wright if his company would be interested in managing the property on a month-to-month basis, and that turned into a long-term lease and construction of Love Field’s newest FBO.

Along with building the new FBO terminal and renovating all the old hangars, Business Jet Center also built two new hangars and a new fuel farm. “As soon as we get new hangars open, they’re full,” said Wright. “There is room for a couple more hangars, and there is still demand for hangar space [at Love Field].” The FBO originally sat on 16 acres but has expanded ramp space in front of the terminal by 6.4 acres after working with the airport to reposition a taxiway. At Love Field, the Business Jet Center terminal features a ramp-side canopy, triangular-shaped and large enough for Gulfstream V-sized airplanes to pull through. The FBO terminal includes all the standard amenities such as wireless Internet access, concierge services, crew cars, WSI weather service, direct phones to clearance delivery and ATIS and separate office areas in the pilot lounge.

The FBO also offers three individual bunk rooms so pilots don’t have to nap in lounge chairs. In the terminal lobby, a neat feature is private phone areas where passengers can do business without leaving the lobby. Business Jet Center Dallas also recently became a gateway station for trips to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Dallas general manager Stephanie Jordan worked for Dallas Jet Center and joined Business Jet Center in 1997 when it took over the facility. Since then, Business Jet Center’s fuel market share at Love Field has grown to 24 percent, up from 10 percent. Business Jet Center is a Phillips 66 dealer in Dallas, doesn’t charge formal ramp fees and works with most contract fuel companies.

Just as Wright wasn’t planning to open an FBO in Dallas, he also had no sights set on Oakland, Calif. But a chance phone call from Sierra Academy founder Skip Everett, who had a lease on the old terminal building at Oakland International Airport, piqued Wright’s interest.

After coming to an agreement with Everett, Business Jet Center opened a temporary Oakland FBO in September 2003 and then spent more than a year refurbishing the old 1920s art deco terminal building on the north side of the airport. The décor is a combination of fanciful furniture that looks like old black-and-white movie-set pieces surrounded by classic aviation photos from the 1930s and 1940s. “It was a lot of fun to do,” Wright said of the $4.5 million renovation, most of which was crafted by his mother’s design firm. Business Jet Center Oakland includes adjacent Hangar 1 and half of Hangar 2, in addition to recently renovated Hangar 6, which used to be the Alaska Airlines maintenance facility.

The Oakland FBO (an Exxon Avitat facility) has grown slowly but steadily, but not as quickly as Wright anticipated.

And before Business Jet Center moved in, there was only one FBO at Oakland, Kaiser Air, making the field ripe for competition. Nevertheless, Wright added, “We’re not here to take their market; we’re here to expand the airport.” And Oakland Airport officials seem resigned to the fact that heavy airline maintenance is not coming back to Oakland, with both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines closing their big maintenance hangars.

With two FBOs, Business Jet Center and its 135 employees are busy taking care of customers and making sure they come back. So is another FBO in the cards? “We do look at other opportunities,” Wright said. “We look for [places] that seem to have a fit for us.”