FBO Profile: Mac Dan Aircraft

 - June 30, 2009, 12:35 PM

A small New Jersey Airport that is growing in popularity as a destination for New York City-bound travelers will likely become even more popular as pilots seek alternatives during runway closures at Teterboro later this month. Essex County Airport in Caldwell, N.J. is just 10 miles west of Teterboro, but even though it is slightly farther from New York City, Essex County has the advantage of access to six different highways leading into the city as opposed to just one route from Teterboro. “We’re a hidden treasure,” claims Mark Willekes, general manager of Essex FBO Mac Dan Aircraft Service.


Mac Dan Aircraft is part of a full-service aviation company that includes the FBO, aircraft sales division Mac Dan Executive, charter and management company Mac Dan Aviation and a flight training division called Mac Dan Aeronautical. Mac Dan started in 1971, with FBOs at both Teterboro and Caldwell, but in 1994 the company closed its Teterboro facility and focused on developing at Essex County.

Essex County Airport has the advantage of mostly industrial and business neighbors, so noise complaints are not a problem, according to Willekes. “We’re something of a hidden airport,” he said, “and there are not a lot of residences around us.” Most of the few noise complaints that come from neighbors are about piston-engine aircraft, not turboprops and jets. In fact, he added, “We’ve had people asking if jets even come in here.”

Passengers influence the decision to use Essex County more than pilots, according to Willekes, although pilots have the final say if there is a question about safety. VIP travelers are looking to avoid airports that the general media know about, especially those with easy views from local streets.

With the longer of its two runways at 4,553 feet, Essex County can’t accept the largest jets, but everything smaller than a Bombardier Global Express has flown into the airport, including Gulfstream Vs. “We’ve had a GIV take off with six passengers to California,” said Willekes. The airport doesn’t yet offer a precision approach, but the localizer approach to Runway 22 has 540-foot minimums. A new GPS approach with vertical guidance is currently undergoing FAA testing and should be available soon. After the new approach is approved, the next big step for Essex County is a runway extension–to 5,500 feet, operators hope. “This process does take some time,” Willekes conceded. “We wish it could be a matter of 30 days, but with all of the agencies as well as FAA funding, it’s a complex process. We are working with the airport manager to facilitate growth at this field.”

Mac Dan Aircraft also offers maintenance services, including light maintenance for jet customers. The FBO has equipment for servicing lavatories as well as tugs, towbars and ground power for a variety of jets. A 30,000-sq-ft heated hangar is available for aircraft storage and deicing. The FBO also has rental cars on site.

In 2007, Mac Dan spent $300,000 on a facility upgrade, part of which was designed to meet ExxonMobil Avitat standards. Mac Dan has been an ExxonMobil Aviation PremierSpirit customer service survey gold award winner for five of the past six years. Another upgrade may be in the works, which would see the FBO terminal adding a second story.

According to Willekes, Mac Dan has 90 to 95 percent market share at Essex County and now sells more jet fuel than avgas. “Traffic is growing every month,” he said, due in part to an excellent retention rate for new customers who decide to give the airport a try and enjoy the lower costs and efficiency compared with more expensive New York City-area airports.

“The biggest problem we are finding is that pilots don’t know we exist,” Willekes said. “Airport management has done a poor job of marketing [the airport]. We have been aggressively making efforts to [tell] pilots and passengers that we are significantly more efficient for any type of aircraft.” At Teterboro, engine-start delays, ground holds, taxi delays, departure holds and more costly fuel make Essex County far less expensive. “Here,” he said, “you land, the engines are shut down within probably two minutes, your passengers are off to their destination, and the crew has wireless Internet, refreshments, a pilots’ lounge and courtesy vehicles. Our jet fuel is $3.63 per gallon [mid-June price]. When the passengers return, they drive directly
to the aircraft, start up, then taxi, and what is considered a long hold time is 15 minutes.” Willekes will happily try to move things along if a customer looks as if he’s spending too much time on the ground. “If we see a delay, we’re on the phone with the tower requesting priority,” he said.