Galaxy Aviation: Florida chain looks beyond state lines

Aviation International News » June 2007
June 5, 2007, 6:11 AM

Galaxy Aviation is, for now, a small regional FBO chain with five bases in Florida and ambitions to extend the company’s brand of family-atmosphere customer service to locations in other parts of the U.S.

The chain started in the early 1980s when pilot,tax attorney and real estate developer Martin Greenberg bought Boca Aviation at Boca Raton Airport. In 1994 the company purchased a second FBO, at Witham Field Airport in Stuart, Fla. When the Signature Flight Support facility at West Palm Beach International Airport became available in 1997, the budding chain, named Galaxy Aviation, bought that FBO, followed by a facility at Orlando International Airport in 2002 and finally early last year the former Aero Sport FBO at St. Augustine Airport south of Jacksonville, Fla.

While most of the chain’s FBOs are called Galaxy Aviation, at Boca Raton the original FBO that launched the company remains Boca Aviation. “It’s been around a very long time,” said Brett Greenberg, executive vice president and son of the founder, “so we kept the name.”

The Boca Aviation facility is the latest to get the full renovation treatment. Last year, the company gutted and renovated the interior of its four-story terminal building at Boca Raton. Two 12,000-sq-ft hangars damaged during Hurricane Wilma in October 2005 are now being renovated. The terminal building looks a little out of place on an airport, more like a sleek office building than a traditional FBO, but it fits in with the local Boca Raton architecture. The FBO occupies the first floor and aviation tenants lease space on the second through fourth floors.

Galaxy’s Orlando FBO was severely damaged when Hurricane Charley blew through in August 2004 and the buildings were condemned, so the FBO moved into temporary facilities until a new FBO and hangars are built. Groundbreaking for the Orlando facilities–which include a 7,500-sq-ft terminal and two 12,000-sq-ft hangars–was scheduled to take place last month or this month. Construction should be finished in the first quarter of next year. At West Palm Beach, Galaxy is building two new 12,000-sq-ft hangars on the airport’s last piece of land available for general aviation development.

Galaxy Aviation is the largest FBO chain in Florida among those that operate exclusively in Florida, but that might change. “We’re investors,” Greenberg said. “We have a chain, and we acquire facilities as they become available. There are a lot of players out there just acquiring to acquire. We’re looking for the right opportunity.”

The Galaxy team takes property issues seriously and even has a real estate division, Galaxy Aviation Real Estate Service, run by president Jonathan Miller. “We have certain criteria we look for that meet the minimum standard of our model. One bad deal can sour many good deals, so we take a conservative approach.”

According to Miller, Galaxy considers the following criteria when acquiring an FBO: fuel volume, number of competitors, runway length, local business environment, location, staffing needs, insurance requirements and the demand for and availability of local real estate. Galaxy isn’t focusing only on the Florida market, he said. “We would consider any locations.”

Galaxy could even swallow a small- to medium-size FBO chain, he added, although FBO sale prices have been increasing of late. “We can keep up with the market so long as it makes sense,” he said.

While Miller works behind the scenes, the day-to-day operations of Galaxy Aviation are the responsibility of Mark Wantshouse, president and COO of the FBO chain. Wantshouse, 47, has spent his entire career working first for Boca Aviation then, as the company grew, for the Galaxy chain.

Employee Retention
Wantshouse is one of many Galaxy/ Boca Aviation employees who have stayed for decades, and it’s not unusual to find line personnel with more than 20 years of service. “A lot of our people have worked through different levels of the business,” he said. “They started on the line then became operations managers and line service supervisors. There’s a lot of internal growth for people to excel and receive rewards of promotion.”

What makes a good Galaxy employee is finding people with as much passion for aviation as the people who run the company, like Wantshouse and Greenberg. “Passion comes with hiring the right person,” Wantshouse said, meaning someone who is passionate not just about aviation but also about Galaxy’s business and customers.

“By promoting and developing that kind of corporate environment, it spills over to the customers. We’re doing it because we’re having fun and we have the passion to provide that extra level of service and care for the customer’s experience. And it’s got to start at the top.”

With the right people on the team, it falls to Galaxy’s full-time training and safety manager to keep employees current with regular training. All new employees must attend a formal two-day orientation class, where they learn about the company’s history, the aviation industry and Galaxy’s philosophy, mission and goals. “And we introduce the passion,” Wantshouse said. “Nobody, regardless of experience, is exempt from the complete training process. We’re all here to make the customer experience pleasant.”

After the orientation, the employee begins working at one of the FBOs and receives more training from the base trainer. All line personnel participate in the NATA Safety 1st line training system, but Galaxy adds more training, including a formal towing training certification program that is mandatory for anyone who tows airplanes.

With locations at some busy business jet destinations, Galaxy isn’t the lowest cost operation around, but Wantshouse does recognize that operators need to be able to ask for reasonable discounts on fuel, and Galaxy participates in most contract fuel programs. The FBO chain also imposes facility fees that vary depending on the size of the airplane and the quantity of fuel purchased. Under Galaxy’s facility fee system a pilot who pays a fee or buys the minimum fuel at one of the chain’s FBOs can then fly to any other Galaxy facility within 24 hours with no requirement to pay more facility fees or to buy minimum fuel. “We do make it competitive and simple to do business with us,” he said.

Galaxy’s five FBOs continue to grow injet fuel market share at each of their airports. “It seems like the growth is not just for Galaxy,” Wantshouse said, “but industry wide, more on the turbine side.” Avgas sales are relatively flat, which could be due to the high cost of aircraft operation and because piston fliers tend to choose smaller airports where fuel is cheaper. Negative comments about Galaxy facilities on AirNav’s airport information Web site are from piston pilots complaining about the facility fees. The majority of comments are positive, including many from piston pilots happy with being treated well despite flying small airplanes that don’t need much fuel.

“Our mission is to provide the best service we can and the best value to our customers,” said Brett Greenberg. “It’s a family business. Everybody who comes in to my facilities, I look at them as part of my family, and it’s important to me to provide the best service I possibly can. We have a strong focus on customer service and safety. I’m a pilot and know what it’s like to operate aircraft. People come in on a jet and they have a lot of things to concentrate on. The last thing I want to do is create any additional burdens on them.”

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