For many years, Volo Aviation quietly and steadily built an aircraft charter and management business headquartered at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford, Conn., but last year the company moved rapidly into the FBO business. It now owns five locations, at Hayward, Calif.; Houston (Ellington Field); Sarasota and Fort Pierce, Fla.; and Manassas, Va. Volo is also building a new FBO at Sikorsky Memorial and held a groundbreaking ceremony on September 18. The company has plans for further expansion, and is currently looking for a promising opportunity in Southern California. During the next five years, said president Thom Harrow, Volo’s vision is to build the FBO network to 20 facilities and double its aircraft management business.
When the company is choosing a location for its FBOs, Harrow said, “We always look at secondary airports in primary markets. When we locate at a secondary airport, we get more based customers.”
The Houston facility at Ellington Field is a good example of Volo’s strategy of expanding at secondary airports in major metropolitan areas. Located 7 nm east of busy Hobby Airport, Ellington is “clearly not a transient airport,” Harrow said, and Volo is trying to attract customers who want reasonably priced high-quality facilities at an airport without high volumes of airline traffic.
Establishing a Brand Identity
Volo works with Norwalk, Conn. architectural firm Beinfield Architecture to design a consistent architectural prototype for all Volo facilities, including the new Sikorsky FBO and hangar complex. This helps ensure a consistent look and feel for Volo FBOs, he said, “to make sure we don’t end up with a hodgepodge.” On the service side, Volo provides hospitality training by Four Seasons to managers, pilots, technicians and customer-service personnel.
At Volo’s Manassas, Va. FBO, some of the new design elements have been incorporated, giving the facility an airy feel by employing glass and steel features. Volo bought the FBO, the former NextFlight facility, in May last year. After the acquisition, it completed a hangar that had been under construction and refurbished the FBO lobby. Shortly afterward, the company began building an 85,000-sq-ft hangar and 25,000-sq-ft office complex near the Manassas FBO.
The Fort Pierce FBO, also added to the chain in May 2007, grew with the addition of a 36,000-sq-ft hangar, bringing the Volo total there to 22 hangars plus the FBO. Fort Pierce illustrates the benefits of the Volo business model, where hangar lease income from based tenants accounts for half the monthly revenues. A typical FBO earns 20 percent of its revenues from hangar rent, according to Harrow.
The flagship of the Volo chain will be the Bridgeport headquarters FBO at Sikorsky Memorial Airport, where the company is constructing a 125,000-sq-ft facility with 95,000 sq ft of hangar space and two 15,000-sq-ft office buildings. Construction will take place in two phases, starting with one 35,000-sq-ft hangar and one 15,000-sq-ft office/FBO building. Completion of the second phase is expected in the second quarter of 2010.
Although there have been discussions about installing runway safety areas (RSAs) at Sikorsky Airport, Harrow said, “There is no indication that there will be a runway shortening in connection with the installation of RSAs.”
Part of the first office building at Sikorsky will house new airport offices. Those offices are currently located in the 1970s-era passenger terminal. Once the airport offices are moved into the new building, the old terminal will be razed.
“It’s the first time we’re going to be able to have complete control of executing all the architectural design concepts we’ve been working on for about two years now,” said Harrow. “It’s a flagship for us in that way.”
Although Stratford is farther from New York City than the more congested nearby airports such as Westchester County and Teterboro, Sikorsky Airport is ideally located as a positioning airport. Customers can house their aircraft at Bridgeport, where costs are lower, then be picked up at more convenient airports. This is a common practice at other airports in the region, such as Waterbury-Oxford in central Connecticut and Stewart International north of New York City.
Volo Aviation, Harrow believes, is focusing on the right strategy by expanding into secondary airports in major markets. More business travelers are using secondary airports, either as convenient and lower-cost alternative airports or because their businesses are located outside the expensive center of metropolitan areas. “The trend toward utilization of secondary airports and private aircraft is not going away,” he said.