Thirty years ago, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was the sleepy undeveloped South Florida of novelist John D. MacDonald’s trouble-attracting protagonist Travis McGee. At spring-break time, the city would erupt with partying young people, but during the rest of the year it was business as usual, a South Florida far removed from today’s frenetic, beach-front high-rise metropolis.
At Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, this meant that the aviation business was predominantly piston-powered, and in 1979 Don Campion and John Price opened a small maintenance shop and aircraft sales operation called Banyan Air Service. The company’s main focus was maintaining piston singles and twins operated by local charter companies, and the timing for opening a business at the airport couldn’t have been better. Since then, the airport has benefited from Fort Lauderdale’s rapid growth to becoming the yachting capital of the U.S., attracting a steady clientele of jet-operating business owners and vacationers as well as a growing customer base from Latin America.
By 1984, Banyan had added an FAA repair station certificate, moved to a larger facility and began selling fuel and operating as an FBO. The Banyan pilot shop opened in 1989, and a year later the company added avionics repair and installation.
The next step was a turbine engine maintenance shop–Honeywell TPE331-approved–propeller overhaul and non-destructive testing capability. Banyan was an early adopter of European JAA certification and added repair station approval for Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil, which helped encourage Latin American customers to travel to Fort Lauderdale for maintenance and avionics services.
In 2002 Banyan acquired another FBO at the airport, Cav-Air, adding hangars and another fuel farm to its facilities. Today Banyan owns more than one million square feet of hangar and office space on more than 85 acres. The company uses 250,000 sq ft of that space and leases the remaining space to other airport tenants.
In 2006 Banyan’s FBO terminal opened in a 25,000-sq-ft building adjacent to a new 20,000-sq-ft hangar. The following year, the pilot shop adopted a new brand name, Hangar 63, and this year Banyan’s Jet Runway Café opened.
The new facility is the embodiment of Campion’s dream: “I always wanted to create a customer experience, not just an FBO,” he explained. That experience starts upon entry to the FBO terminal, with its 3,000-sq-ft Tommy Bahama-style lobby, 30-foot-tall palm trees, plantation fans, waterfall and 800-gallon saltwater aquarium. Three pilot lounges, a bunk room, snooze room and shower facilities are available for flight crewmembers. Business travelers can use one of three conference rooms and a business center.
Campion is well aware that his expanding FBO could be at risk during the recession, but a bit of luck and some well thought-out strategy have helped the FBO prosper.
Most affected of late are aircraft sales, he said, although Banyan doesn’t own its inventory and it brokers used aircraft. Fuel sales are also down, by 18 percent
year-over-year. Business volume in the maintenance, avionics, parts and Hangar 63 departments “has been very busy,” Campion said. And aiding that is the more than 50 percent of maintenance-related revenue driven by Latin American customers.
Another factor that has kept the Banyan hangars humming is that its primary customer base operates turboprops and light jets, which have suffered less falloff in flying activity compared with larger jets.
A bit of prescience didn’t hurt either. Campion and his managers met early last year to discuss possible strategies if the economy declined. They devised a variety of tactics, including new ways to upsell and cross-promote to customers and minimize expenses, so they were ready when the economy started to fall off.
Last year was Banyan’s best ever, and the maintenance division has done so well that the company has had to hire more mechanics.
Would Campion like to replicate Banyan’s success at another airport? Not really, he said, because there are still plenty of opportunities for Banyan right where it is, primarily by adding new aircraft models to its capability list and new services such as increasingly popular telecom installations on turboprops and jets.