FBO Profile: Houma Jet Center

 - March 4, 2008, 4:34 AM

“Houma Airport is a gem of an aviation facility that has not ever been fully exploited from a general aviation standpoint,” said Duke Williams, co-owner of FBO Houma Jet Center. Williams opened the Louisiana FBO almost two years ago, and getting into the business happened as it does with so many other FBOs: the FBO owner operated a business aircraft and saw an opportunity in the FBO sector. Flying around the U.S. in the company Premier I, Williams, a former Naval aviator, figured that he could build a competitive FBO at Houma’s underutilized airport. “We own and operate our own aircraft,” he said, “and I wanted to take the best of everything we encountered in our travels and put that into our FBO.”

What Williams tried to do was imbue Houma Jet Center with a “home away from home” feel, with less formality and more opportunities for visitors to relax. Even though the FBO is housed in temporary facilities, Williams said the people who work there, such as customer service manager Missy Rochel, have created a warm atmosphere where visitors feel welcome. “One of the goals we set out to achieve,” he said, “was to treat the guy who flies in a Gulfstream V and the guy who flies in a Skyhawk equally.” And part of that enjoyment includes free coffee, beef jerky, popcorn, sodas and often a steaming bowl of gumbo or crawfish etoufee.

Houma-Terrabonne Airport is a convenient alternative, with great facilities for an airport that is well outside a major metropolitan area, in this case New Orleans, 30 miles to the northeast. The airport has a control tower open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and two runways, one 6,500 feet long and the other 5,000 feet. A full set of IFR approaches is available, including an ILS to Runway 18 and multiple GPS approaches. The airport gets much less traffic than those in New Orleans, but the drive to the city is only about 40 minutes, according to Williams. “It’s a lot easier to get into.”

Houma Jet Center opened a new 28,000-sq-ft hangar, “the biggest on the field,” said Williams, and it’s rated at the highest hurricane-tolerance level. The new hangar is full and there is already a waiting list for the next hangar, which is scheduled for construction after the middle of this year.

The FBO is also constructing a new terminal building, due for completion in the middle of this year. Planned amenities for the 8,000-sq-ft FBO terminal include pilot snooze rooms, showers, wireless Internet, WSI weather, conference rooms, four high-definition tvs, crew and onsite rental cars and a large passenger lounge incorporating a kitchen and food service area, he said, “so people can sit and eat and visit.”

If the Cajun food and snacks aren’t enough to attract pilots, Houma Jet Center’s jet-A price might help. Early last month it was $4.19 per gallon, and the FBO accepts a variety of contract fuel pricing programs. Since the FBO’s doors opened two years ago, Williams said, fuel sales have climbed every month. “From our experience, there’s been an increase in general aviation use of Houma Airport, post-Hurricane Katrina.”

Williams said that a lot of traffic at his FBO is transient, stopped for a quick fuel top-off in Houma after a trip to the Caribbean. Houma Jet Center can help arrange overflight exemptions with enough advance notice or U.S. Customs clearance right on the three-acre FBO ramp, Williams said. Customs officers aren’t based at the airport, but the customs office is not far from the airport. “They are fantastic about coming to the facility and clearing aircraft. Normally the customs process is done quickly.”

Stopping at an airport like Houma-Terrabonne is becoming more popular because it’s more efficient to fly from the Bahamas or the Caribbean to Houma than touching down in Florida, clearing customs and perhaps having to stop again for fuel before reaching the destination. Pilots can fly all the way to Houma with an overflight exemption, clear customs and often make it directly to their destination, according to Williams.