Competition heats up in Oakland

 - December 19, 2007, 1:47 PM

If your destination lies within the shadow of the Golden Gate bridge, don’t think that San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is your only option. Oakland International Airport (OAK), which for decades was served by only one FBO, now sports two FBOs, with a third trying to wriggle its way in. The resulting mix makes for some healthy competition at an airport that can get corporate aircraft in and out faster than SFO and their passengers to downtown San Francisco faster if road and weather conditions are right.

The incumbent
The old guard at Oakland has been KaiserAir, established in 1946 at Detroit’s Willow Run Airport as a corporate flight department for industrialist Henry Kaiser’s various companies. The flight department moved to its present location in 1954 and converted to an external full-service FBO and aircraft charter business in the 1980s. Operating in a curfew-free environment, KaiserAir offers 24/7 line service, aircraft cleaning during regular and swing shifts and aircraft maintenance from 7:30 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.

The oldest, and for several decades the only, FBO on the field, KaiserAir occupies approximately 92,000 sq ft of hangar space at OAK’s North Airport, the original portion of the airfield built more than 75 years ago and now dedicated to corporate aviation. Airliners use the 10,000-foot Runway 11-29 at South Airport, which has its own tower and passenger terminals. Segregating the general aviation aircraft from airline traffic expedites arrivals and departures of both traffic types.

KaiserAir claims to have the “largest San Francisco Bay-area charter fleet” of business jets with its two Citations, two Hawkers and five Gulfstreams. (However, this claim doesn’t take into account Sunset Aviation, an aircraft charter and management company with 13 jets available for charter and based at Novato in neighboring Marin county.) Regular charter customers can take advantage of KaiserAir’s 100-hour charter package, which it says is priced competitively with fractional ownership.

A Rival Moves In
The new kid on the block at OAK is Business Jet Center (BJC) Oakland, which began operations last October as a spin-off of the Dallas Love Field-based Business Jet Center. BJC Oakland can’t compete with KaiserAir in terms of facilities just yet, as it is operating out of a trailer until the $2.5 million renovation of its permanent facility is completed this fall. The original 1920s-era airport terminal building was the launch point of Amelia Earhart’s 1937 around-the-world attempt.

In the meantime, however, BJC offers a cozy pilot’s lounge with little touches like freshly baked cookies and warm popcorn, a computerized flight-planning center, crew cars, fitness-center passes and 24-hour line service. BJC owns one hangar and leases part of a second for transient overnight storage, but does not currently offer aircraft charter or management services except through its affiliate, Dallas-based Business Jet Services.

Part of BJC’s renovation will include the installation of a fuel farm containing 40,000 gallons of jet-A and 12,000 gallons of 100LL. An ExxonMobil Avitat dealer, BJC touts having the lowest fuel prices on the field, even though the infant FBO is currently forced to purchase only as much fuel as it can hold in its three fuel trucks at a time.

However, the accuracy of BJC’s claim depends on the type of fuel purchased and discounts redeemed. On May 31, KaiserAir reported 100LL prices of $3.40 per gallon (full service) and $3.30 for jet-A, while BJC reported $3.33 and $3.35, respectively. Throw in KaiserAir’s acceptance of Chevron fuel card discounts and availability of $2.93 100LL self-serve at KaiserAir, and it seems that Kaiser has the lowest prices. That is until you go to BJC’s Web site ( and print out a coupon for 25 cents off per gallon, or participate in BJC’s volume discounts, which start at 10 cents off per gallon after 250 gallons purchased and increase to 25 cents off per gallon at 1,000 gallons purchased.

Fuel pricing isn’t the only war between the two FBOs. Ramp space can be a touchy issue as well. KaiserAir has access to 22 acres of ramp space, while BJC can measure its ramp space, which is divided into two segments, in terms of square feet. According to a BJC lineman, there have been times when aircraft on the other FBO’s ramp space have been parked in such a way as to impede BJC’s aircraft parking, and requests to move aircraft have gone unheeded.

BJC apparently has impressed some locals, as a posting on reads, “Although expensive, Business Jet Center will be my stop in Oakland on
my future trips because they went beyond the routine politeness that I find in most FBOs nowadays.”

Three’s A Crowd?
The war at Oakland was about to get even more interesting in April with the imminent opening of a third OAK FBO, a Million Air franchise. Though the Shell fuel trucks had already been delivered and a canopy erected over the walkway leading to temporary facilities similar to BJC’s, the deal fell through before the facility could open. According to Sandy Nelson, director of marketing for Million Air, the FBO chain is still interested in setting up shop at Oakland, but is now not expecting to open a new facility there this year.