Touching Bases: Wal-Mart-Owned FBO Offers Grade-A Service

 - May 7, 2008, 6:07 AM

Operators of some posh FBOs sometimes complain that pilots are “looking for Wal-Mart prices.” At Beaver Lake Aviation at Rogers (Ark.) Airport (ROG), that’s exactly what they’ll find. The FBO is a division of the massive retailer and grew out of its corporate flight department. Wal-Mart has a lengthy aviation heritage, with founder (and avid pilot) Sam Walton having traveled the country by air, seeking new store locations. A facsimile of his first “corporate” aircraft, a 1948 Ercoupe, hangs in the atrium of Beaver Lake Aviation as a tribute to the aviation heritage surrounding Wal-Mart and Rogers.

But Beaver Lake services more than the current Wal-Mart fleet of 18 Learjets, a Challenger and a Global Express. The FBO pumps 250,000 gal of aviation fuel per month, split roughly 60/40 between Wal-Mart’s fleet and either transient customers or the 100 other general aviation aircraft based in Rogers. The airport has ILS, VOR, NDB and GPS approaches to its single 6,011-ft runway. The airport is adding a new control tower and fire station, scheduled for completion early next year. Also on tap is a new parallel taxiway.

A Phillips 66 Aviation Performance Center, Beaver Lake has a fuel farm holding 52,000 gal of jet-A and 12,000 gal of avgas. Fuel sales have increased an average of 12 percent per year for the last five years, according to Beaver Lake general manager Linda Jennings. Wal-Mart director of global travel services Duane Futch, however, put the facility in perspective. “At Wal-Mart, we don’t build monuments. Our main priority was to focus on the functionality of the facility.”

To wit, Beaver Lake has 24-hr service; snooze rooms; a fitness center with showers; expanded passenger waiting areas; a flight-planning/weather center; executive conference rooms; a large meeting room; and the AviAte Café, serving breakfast and lunch daily. Futch added, “Like any Wal-Mart store, our goal was to build the perfectfacility cost-wise, amenity-wise and service-wise, and still be able to offer the everyday low prices our customers expect. Of course, in Wal-Mart style, there’s always the possibility that we may branch out and open additional FBOs at new locations.”

Current Wal-Mart CEO Rob Walton, Sam’s son, said, “Dad always loved to fly, and he certainly used that passion for aviation to help him build the company.”