FBO Profile: Irving Aviation

 - September 18, 2008, 5:46 AM

Gander is something of a legend in the history of transatlantic aviation. Its location in Newfoundland positions it well to serve as the last or first stop on the North American continent for airplanes to gorge on fuel before or after crossing all that water. Gander also felt the brunt of the 9/11 grounding, accepting 39 heavy airliners and absorbing their 6,595 passengers and crew into a community of slightly less than 10,000 people. Testament to their fortitude and generosity, the locals somehow made it work.

That spirit of welcome is evident at Irving Aviation’s Gander FBO, which has been in operation since 1992 and handles on average between 10 and 15 aircraft per day–a combination of corporate, cargo and military, some as large as KC-10s and Antonov An-124s. Renowned for its quick turns, tasteful facilities and Häagen-Dazs ice-cream sticks for visiting pilots and passengers, Irving Gander is the top-rated Canadian facility in AIN’s 2008 FBO reader survey. It is one of three FBOs owned and operated by Irving Oil, a family-run Canadian company with deep roots in aviation.

It was Arthur Irving Sr. who initiated the Gander FBO in 1992. In 1916, his father, K.C. Irving, enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps and served as a pilot in World War I. He returned to New Brunswick in 1924 and founded Irving Oil. Irving family businesses have owned corporate aircraft for more than 75 years, and the current Irving Oil corporate fleet is based at St. John’s, New Brunswick. Irving Oil’s marketing area includes Atlantic Canada, Quebec and eastern Ontario, as well as the New England states as far south as Connecticut. The company’s business footprint has Canada’s largest refinery at its center in St. John’s, New Brunswick, also home to the corporation’s headquarters. The refinery currently produces 300,000 barrels a day, but a second, adjacent refinery now in the planning stages could double that capacity.

Gander Airport opened in 1938, one year before the outbreak of World War II. It soon assumed great importance for its role in the ferrying of military aircraft. Seventy years later, Gander remains an important tech stop for aircraft that can’t vault the pond from major city to major city. Perhaps surprisingly, Irving Gander derives steady business from even the larger corporate aircraft that don’t have to stop, according to Cindy Millett, retail aviation sales manager for Irving Aviation/ Irving Oil Marketing. In addition to planned stops, Gander is also regularly there for “numerous medical, mechanical and other emergency flights.”

Contrary to the U.S. chain model of geographic diversity, Irving Aviation’s three FBOs are all in Newfoundland–the other two are at St. John’s (opened in 1997) and Goose Bay (opened in 1998, and ranked number three in Canada in AIN’s 2008 FBO reader survey). All three compete with other FBOs on their respective fields, and Irving “has majority market share in the corporate aircraft segment and a healthy portion of the cargo and military segments,” according to Millett.

The rankings of Irving FBOs in AIN’s survey speak for how well they’re meeting their customers’ expectations. What does Millett see in the facilities that makes them stand out from the crowd? “Our employees live and breathe high standards for customer service, and they’re em-powered to go beyond their customers’ expectations. In Gander, seven employees have been with us since day one, and all of the Gander team knows the FBO business, and they know their international customers by name. The new facility is designed to make the most of our warm Newfoundland hospitality.” Two stops at Gander recently by this writer in a Gulfstream G200 round trip between New York and London can attest to that.