Castle & Cooke Aviation: California company slowly builds U.S. chain

 - January 3, 2008, 8:41 AM

Castle & Cooke Aviation burst onto the FBO scene at the NBAA Convention with the purchase of two FBOs, the former Circle Rainbow facility at Honolulu International Airport in Hawaii and Everett Jet Center at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. The acquisition is the first in the company’s plans to add more aviation assets and build an FBO chain in the U.S. and possibly in Europe.

Castle & Cooke has quietly operated a “corporate aviation facility” at Van Nuys Airport in California since 1981. Technically not an FBO, the facility sells jet fuel from a 50,000-gallon fuel farm and rents hangar and office space. One of its tenants is Eclipse Aviation’s Van Nuys service center. The reason Castle & Cooke doesn’t call the Van Nuys facility an FBO, according to executive vice president Steven Friedmann, is that “the rules in Van Nuys require large amounts of acreage to have an FBO. It’s a distinction unique to Van Nuys. In any other city, this would be an enormous FBO.”

The move into the Hawaii market is no surprise, as Castle & Cooke has a long history in the state, beginning in 1851 as a wholesaler called “Kakela Me Kuke” (Castle & Cooke in Hawaiian). Owner David Murdock purchased Dole Food in 2003, and the Dole flight department operates a Bombardier Global Express and has three Eclipse 500s on order.

Castle & Cooke Hawaii will compete with two other FBOs, Bradley Pacific and Air Service Hawaii (the latter received an overall score of 8.07 in the 2007 AIN FBO survey). The company expects to complete renovation of the facility by the end of this month or early next month. The Circle Rainbow buildings were empty for about five years and needed a lot of work, including encouraging nesting birds to relocate.

The renovations include more than 20,000 sq ft of refurbished hangar space, 60,000 sq ft of offices, a larger ramp, a new FBO lobby, reception area and departure lounge, pilot’s rest area and flight-planning room, two conference rooms and showers. The departure lounge will feature fresh Dole fruits, drinks and snacks. In addition to normal FBO services, Castle & Cooke plans to offer maintenance, aircraft cleaning and catering.

Opening an FBO in Hawaii makes sense, Friedmann said, because “charter traffic from the West Coast to Honolulu is at an all-time high and we’re confident that we’re going to be able to come into that market and establish a beautiful facility.”

A Seattle Alternative

At its Everett FBO, Castle & Cooke is hoping to capitalize on Paine Field’s attractions as an alternative to busier Seattle-area airports. The airport, 20 miles north of downtown Seattle, offers a 9,010-foot ILS-served runway and is home to Boeing’s 747, 777 and 787 manufacturing facilities. Everett Jet Center also includes Flightline Services, a self-serve avgas facility near the airport control tower.

The company’s plans for Everett Jet Center include building an entirely new FBO that will combine the current FBO and Fliteline operations, to be built on a 24-acre site on the west side of the airport. In the first quarter or early second quarter, Castle & Cooke will break ground on the new FBO, which will initially consist of two 40,000-sq-ft hangars, a new FBO terminal, ramp with de-icing capability and more than 20,000 sq ft of office space. Construction should be finished in the first quarter of next year, when the facility’s name will change to Castle & Cooke Aviation.

In addition to similar amenities as the Hawaii FBO, Everett Jet Center will feature a gymnasium with showers, a flight kitchen and large baggage storage areas. Everett Jet Center’s Jim Wilkinson, FBO manager and founder, and Terry Wilcoxson, operations manager, are staying on to run the FBO.

Friedmann isn’t saying what FBO purchases are next for Castle & Cooke Aviation, but the company isn’t looking to buy large FBO chains and prefers one good FBO at a time or two or three facilities in an attractive regional market. “We don’t have to make a statement to investors or spend a bunch of private equity money to meet forecasts,” he said. “We want to find solid groups that have a solid history and a solid future. We’re sort of plodding and methodical. There are groups out there gobbling up FBOs as quickly as they can sign the paperwork. We’re not on an accelerated time frame like that.”

Outside the U.S., Castle & Cooke might expand to Europe. “Dole Food has offices in 90 countries,” Friedmann said. “It would be natural for us to get to the point where we would expand into international markets.”