FBO cuts ribbon at Westhampton Beach, N.Y.

 - September 28, 2010, 10:28 AM

After years of wrangling, SheltAir Aviation Services has opened its new FBO at Francis S. Gabreski Airport (FOK) in Westhampton Beach, N.Y. Part of the Holland Sheltair Aviation Group, which operates 13 facilities in New York, Florida and Georgia, the company has been at Gabreski since it acquired the FBO from the Long Island Jet Center in 2006. The Eastern-most airport with a control tower on Long Island, the former air force base features one of the longest runways in the state at 9,000 feet and has even played host to Air Force One.

“This facility serves Long Island’s entire east end, and the Hamptons area is the highest per capita [income] area in the entire state of New York, if not the Northeast,” said William McShane, Holland SheltAir’s senior vice president for aviation development and properties. “In terms of demand, there’s been a lack of service and a lack of facilities at this airport. With the 1940s structure that we were operating out of, we couldn’t provide the efficiencies or the services the way our customers deserve them.”

The concept of a modern FBO at the airport was under consideration long before SheltAir acquired the property and involved many negotiations with the airport, the local community, and government and environmental officials before it came to fruition. “I think we brought the ingredients to the table to finally make it happen,” said company founder, chairman and CEO Jerry Holland. “We kind of speeded up the process, but even since we got involved it took four years.” The 5,000-sq-ft structure, designed by Gaddis Wind ­Associates, is the first new-built FBO at the airport, replacing the WWII-vintage structure inherited from the Long ­Island Jet Center.

Along with the new building, SheltAir more than doubled the size of its ramp to a total of five acres, suitable for accommodating up to 40 aircraft. “One of the biggest things for our company is that without the new ramp space we built here, all summer long we were towing aircraft across active taxiways and runways to make room for arrivals. Now we don’t have to, and that increases safety tenfold,” said McShane, who noted that the airport has also closed taxiways and runways in the past to provide ­overflow parking space during major area events such as the U.S. Open golf tournament.

According to SheltAir, the recent improvements represent the first phase of a $7 million redevelopment plan at the Suffolk County-owned airport. The old FBO building was leveled last month to make room for a 20,000-sq-ft hangar and 2,000 sq ft of additional office space slated for completion in November.

The airport’s proximity to the Hamptons summer communities means that operations in the months of June through August are disproportionate to those during the rest of the year, and since the new facility began operations around the end of June, its busiest day saw 35 arrivals. “Right now the general activity at this airport is more in those three months than exists at the other regional airports in the area, year round,” McShane told AIN. “What we built here supports our current and near future needs and those of the community.” An additional 52-acre parcel of land adjacent to the airport slated for development as an industrial park could eventually provide additional year-round traffic for SheltAir and Malloy Air East, the other FBO on site.