FBO Profile: SheltAir SAV

 - October 28, 2009, 12:06 PM

Business aircraft operators have long asked for a second FBO option at Savannah (Ga.)/Hilton Head (S.C.) International Airport (SAV), and they got their wish in March when SheltAir Aviation Services opened. SheltAir now competes against Signature Flight Support SAV, which has been the airport’s sole FBO for several decades (though before 1992 it was a Butler Aviation facility; Butler and Page Avjet merged in 1992 to form Signature).

But eight months after SheltAir opened, many operators still aren’t aware that it is even there. “Unfortunately, a lot of pilots still use the printed FBO directories, and our facility here won’t be included until the 2010 editions come out,” lamented SheltAir SAV general manager Michael Lerma. Still, SheltAir has managed to gain about 30-percent market share at the airport, though Lerma obviously would like 50 percent or more.

The company’s new purpose-built facility, which sits on a 4.4-acre parcel on the south side of the field, includes a 7,000-sq-ft terminal, 13,000-sq-ft hangar and 1,440 sq ft of office space for tenants. While SheltAir opened in March, it operated in temporary offices until the FBO terminal was ready for occupancy in late May.
According to operations manager Allie Truesdell, “The location is ideal. We’re right off of Taxiway Alpha, so it’s a shorter taxi distance than it is to Signature.” SheltAir’s next-door neighbor is Gulfstream Aerospace’s service center.

The terminal building is almost a carbon copy of SheltAir’s facility at Daytona Beach (Fla.) Airport, though the layout in Savannah includes direct access to the restrooms from the pilots’ lounge, in addition to the lobby access found at both facilities. SheltAir originally had planned to build a ramp canopy at its Savannah location; that idea was scrapped to keep the ramp more accessible to large-cabin business jets, and efforts to control construction costs also played a role in the decision. A second 13,000-sq-ft hangar is already planned, but has yet to be built.

The executive terminal houses a passenger lounge, flight planning and weather room, pilot lounge, executive conference room and a vending area, in addition to back office space. Amenities include concierge service, complimentary interior cleaning, overnight hangar space, lav service, loaner golf clubs, catering, crew cars, shuttle service, free refreshments and ice, wireless Internet and on-site Hertz rental cars. It also offers light maintenance service–a contractual requirement for
all FBOs at SAV–and on-airport customs is available.

SheltAir SAV is a Chevron-branded facility and pumps both jet-A and 100LL. It is also the CAA-preferred contract FBO on the field and accepts the Chevron Alliance Card, as well as Colt, UVair, WorldFuel, Air Routing and major credit cards. Fueling is available from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and on-call after hours.

SheltAir is “aggressively competing” with Signature on the field, and it will match any competitors’ fuel price at the airport. One operator reported that this includes matching a price he received from an on-field fuel farm. The FBO does charge ramp fees, but will waive them if customers buy a minimum amount of fuel based on their aircraft weight. SheltAir has a one ramp fee or minimum fuel purchase per day policy at the 13 FBOs in its network.

“Price is king, but service is important, too,” Truesdell told AIN. To provide a high level of service, SheltAir hires people for their customer-service skills first and foremost. In fact, most of SheltAir SAV’s staff had no previous aviation industry background, though both Lerma and Truesdell have been with SheltAir for five years.

“We have an excellent internal training program for our new hires,” Truesdell said. “And we actually prefer to hire people with great customer-service skills and no aviation background. That way we can mold them to the way we do things; our knowledge is their knowledge.”

SheltAir’s target is transient traffic, though it is also seeking tenant based customers, she said. “Traffic volumes at Savannah are down from years back,” Truesdell conceded, though she’s optimistic that business and general aviation flying activity is now recovering and will grow in the not-too-distant future.

And that might not be all that far away, with Lerma adding that peak season at SAV is just around the corner. “Our peak time is February to May because of the golfing events during that time, including the Masters in Hilton Head. We missed a lot of that traffic last year since we were just opening, but hope to catch a lot of it this time around.”