FBO Profile: Flightline Tallahassee

 - February 8, 2008, 10:07 AM

It all began when Paul “Mac” Langston identified a need for an aeromedical helicopter program in the Florida panhandle. Langston was literally born into aviation, since his dad was a Quincy, Fla.-based cropduster for tobacco and cotton farmers from Florida to Louisiana.

In August 1982 he picked up a litter-equipped Bell 206 JetRanger and hired ex-military pilots to fly for Life Flight, his newly formed business at Tallahassee (Fla.) Regional Airport (TLH). The operation quickly expanded to include fixed-wing aircraft for transporting critical-need patients and organs in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

By the mid-1980s the aeromedical transport company had grown to about 15 aircraft. Langston also ventured into air charter, and by the end of the decade he started eyeing his home base at TLH for the next business expansion.

Looking to improve services at the airport and foster economic development in the Florida capital city, Langston sought to establish a full-service FBO at TLH. In late 1991 he won a 35-year contract to provide Tallahassee with its first full-service flight support operation.

Since then, the company left the aeromedical and air charter segments to focus solely on the FBO side of the business. And today, the FBO–Flightline Tallahassee–remains the center of everything at Flightline Group; it’s not only the company’s headquarters but is also the anchor for continued expansion.

Flightline TLH is a truly full-service facility, offering line service, aircraft sales, part sales, flight training and aircraft maintenance. The company’s terminal building houses pilot and passenger lounges, conference rooms, pilot supply and gift shop, flight-training center and various Flightline Group offices. A private bathroom with shower and a quiet room for pilots are available, and Flightline also has crew cars and Hertz rental vehicles on site.

The FBO pumps about 1.5 million gallons of fuel for general aviation and military customers per year at Tallahassee. Flightline also pumps fuel for the airlines serving the airport, adding even more to this total. Late last year the company signed with The Hiller Group for supply of its Chevron-branded aviation fuel, as well as fueling equipment.

According to the FAA, TLH airport sees almost 13,000 local general aviation operations, about 38,000 general aviation itinerant operations and about 15,400 military operations annually. In total, TLH logs about 275 operations a day, with 38 percent being transient general aviation, 29 percent air taxi, 15 percent military, 13 percent local general aviation and 4 percent airline operations.

The Flightline Tallahassee complex includes more than 100 hangars of varying size and shape and just as many tenants. It also has another 30 or so tie-down tenants.
In October, Langston’s son, Cody, took over the reins of the FBO, leading a team of approximately 30 employees who are responsible for facilities management, aviation fuel, and line and customer services for airline, general aviation and military customers.

More Than Just an FBO
For parent company Flightline Group, the whole is greater than the sum of its many parts: Flightline Tallahassee, Flightline Development, Flightline Okaloosa, SouthEast Piper, Piper Parts Plus (P3), HondaJet East and HondaJet Southeast.

Flightline Group, which is managed day-to-day by president and COO Daniel Langston (Mac’s brother), employs more than 80 people at its FBO and headquarters facility in Tallahassee; fueling operation at Eglin AFB in Okaloosa County, Fla.; Piper aircraft sales dealerships in Vero Beach, Fla. and Atlanta; and Piper parts distributor P3 in Memphis, Tenn. It will further ramp up employment when it opens its HondaJet aircraft dealerships in Tallahassee and in the Northeast in early 2010.

While FBO Flightline Tallahassee is the anchor site for most of its expansion, it is the Flightline Development division that is doing all of the heavy lifting and planning for this growth. These days, the development group is busy, to say the least.

Flightline Group is in expansion mode, having recently broken ground on a new 26,000-sq-ft regional maintenance facility for piston singles, turboprops and very light jets. According to Flightline, the facility, slated for completion this fall, is the largest general aviation development and construction project yet undertaken at TLH.

The commencement of work on the $4 million maintenance facility marked the launch of the company’s long-term plan, which includes an additional development investment of approximately $20 million by Flightline Group and its city and airport partners over the next four years. The completed development plan includes a DayJet training facility, the sales and service facility for HondaJet Southeast, expanded on-airport business facilities and a business-class hotel.

The DayJet training center will be just one of the tenants at Compass Pointe, the old airline terminal building at Tallahassee that Flightline is transforming into a multi-use aviation facility. This phase should be finished in the next three years.

Since the company has been selected as the HondaJet Southeast dealer, it is also building a customer-centric, state-of-the-art dealership facility at TLH to sell and service the Honda twinjets when they start entering service in 2010. Bob Van Riper, who has been with Flightline since 1998 in executive roles covering FBO management, business development and aircraft sales, was appointed in October to lead the HondaJet Southeast sales efforts based in Tallahassee.

If that wasn’t enough, Flightline also has plans to construct a hotel adjacent to the HondaJet Southeast dealership, though plans for this are a little more fluid since a timeline has yet to be solidified. According to the company, there are no hotels within five miles of the airport to support Flightline and other businesses on or near the airport, which is why the aviation company is taking the unusual step of entering the hotel business.

But the company’s investment won’t be limited to TLH; in the fall Flightline was awarded the HondaJet Northeast dealership and it is currently scouting a location within 150 miles of New York City for this new facility. While it has yet to select a site, Langston told AIN that he prefers to base the facility at a capital city, likely putting Albany, N.Y.; Trenton, N.J.; Hartford, Conn.; Dover, Del.; and Harrisburg, Pa. as front runners.