Rifton aviation copes with downturn

 - January 4, 2008, 6:42 AM

Rifton Aviation at Stewart International Airport (SWF) in Newburgh, N.Y., has confounded observers since it took over the former W.R. Grace hangar several years ago. Operated by the Anabaptist Bruderhof religious community, the FBO expanded quickly, riding the tide of economic prosperity late in the last decade. The county planned an expansive industrial park nearby, meant to go hand in glove with development and marketing of the airport.

The most visible evidence of Rifton’s outreach is the gaping BBJ-size hangar complex completed two years ago. At the time it was conceived, the hangar project looked set to ride the wave of bizliner sales that was cresting. With the stalled economy, sales of BBJs and Airbus Corporate Jetliners have faltered. Even NetJets’ BBJ fractional program has shown lackluster sales performance.

So where has that left Rifton? The company’s president, Christian Domer, has taken leave of absence, and Rifton is now led by 30-year company veteran Steve Blough. He told AIN that Rifton is, indeed, for sale, but business has been increasing gradually during the stop-and-go economic recovery. Blough further said the FBO operations have been going well, but Rifton’s charter operations and small fractional operation have been slow.

One industry observer noted that Rifton would be an attractive acquisition, but getting a clear handle on operating costs is difficult, since an unknown portion of the workload is shouldered by members of the Bruderhof community. With a new owner, that work would have to be done by paid employees, and figuring out how much that would cost is murky in the absence of historical labor costs.