FBO Profile: Panorama Flight Services

 - January 31, 2011, 5:15 AM

The management style at Panorama Flight Services at Westchester County Airport (HPN), New York, can perhaps best be summed up as “the buck stops here.” How else could you describe a three-generation family-owned business where the company president and vice presidents put not only their cellphone numbers but also their home phone numbers on the business cards they give to customers?

Occupying 21 acres at the western end of the airport, Panorama is the only independent FBO on the field, competing with major chains such as Signature, Landmark and Million Air and ExxonMobil’s Avitat network. “What makes us different from all of them, and what enables us to be successful, is the 70-plus employees who comprise this company and how much pride they take in the job they do,” said Gene Condreras, Panorama president and grandson of the company founder, who continually reminds his staff, “You don’t work for me; you work for the customer that we serve, just as I do.”

Panorama has been at the airport since 1958, when what is now today’s FBO began as Panorama Air Tours, through which founder Theo Healy Sr. offered aerial tours over New York in a Luscombe he rebuilt from a wreck. His son, Theo Jr., who took over the reins in 1964, acquired a twin-engine airplane and converted the business into an on-demand charter provider, gradually adding more services and staff. In 1981 the company opened its general aviation FBO when it moved into a new facility at HPN.

With the company rapidly outgrowing its building, Panorama in 1999 negotiated a 30-year lease with Westchester County for land to build a new two-story $12 million facility, which opened in 2002 on the other side of the airport. Panorama at that time added turbine airplane maintenance, and the FBO is currently the only one at HPN with its own in-house maintenance department, even providing maintenance to most of the airlines that use the airport.

In addition to other activities ranging from aircraft management to flight training, the company operates a charter department with a small fleet of jets that includes a pair of Learjet 60s and a Challenger 600 on its own Part 135 certificate.

A veteran at the airport for more than three decades, Condreras has experienced all aspects of the FBO business, starting at the age of 19 when he was hired as a line service worker for what is now Landmark’s facility. He joined the family FBO when it opened in 1981, and in 1992, when his father retired, he assumed the company presidency.

“The first thing I did when I took over was to put my home telephone and cellphone numbers on my business card,” he said. “We hand them out to customers and tell them if you need me for anything at all 24/7 do not hesitate to call.” That level of responsiveness is reinforced as one walks through the FBO. Every exit door has a plaque telling customers that if they are not 100 percent happy with the service they received they can contact Gene, or his vice president brothers Ed Condreras and Ken Healy, along with their respective phone numbers.

Panorama’s management believes strongly in leading by example. During the late December blizzard that paralyzed the Northeast, the company’s president spent the night at the facility along with his director of ground service (who has been with the company for 30 years), his director of maintenance (24 years) and others. When HPN–which was among the first airports in the Northeast to reopen after the storm–resumed operations the next morning, the FBO’s ramps were clear and open for business.

New Fuel Provider

As a former ChevronTexaco dealer, Panorama was recently forced to search for another aviation fuel supplier when the oil company announced last May that it would no longer be marketing aviation fuel in the Northeast. Condreras interviewed fuel suppliers for months before settling on a distributor. “At the end of the day, I chose Eastern Aviation Fuels and Shell because when I sat down, I was dealing with the owners of the company, just like when a customer walks through the door here and has full access to the owners of this company.”

Condreras also appreciated the steps Eastern has taken to disseminate industry information among its clients, allowing for the creation of a network. “I believe that for an independent FBO today and tomorrow to be successful, we have to be able to tap each other’s resources as far as the knowledge base and being able to work together to effectively refer business to one another and represent one another,” he told AIN.

Panorama has a fleet of five new fuel trucks–three 5,000-gallon jet-A and two 1,000-gallon 100-octane avgas tankers–all equipped with a wireless networking system that transmits information to the FBO’s front desk and accounting department as soon as pumping is concluded.

Facility Improvements

Based on overall gallons pumped, the company has seen a slight increase in business over the past year. After a drop of more than 22 percent between 2008 and 2009, Panorama noted a 7-percent gain in 2010. During the lows of the recent downturn, the FBO underwent a major renovation. The modifications included opening the customer areas to improve traffic flow within the building and allow more convenient ramp access. The interior décor was upgraded as well.

“It became painfully apparent to me that if I was going to stay ahead of the curve and be competitive with these four chains that I needed to address my facility to make it a top-shelf fit and finish with a better flow,” said Condreras. “There’s two ways you can look at it; it was a horrible economy to be paying for a renovation in and a wonderful economy to be contracting to have a renovation done.” Another change saw the removal of light towers on the ramp, which eased the concerns of pilots operating larger aircraft.

Those recent improvements will get the maximum exposure this summer when Panorama hosts NBAA’s Northeastern Regional Forum on June 8. Given the record-breaking success of last year’s event at Teterboro Airport, Panorama expects a similar turnout. “It was quite an honor to be chosen to host that event considering the other options they had available here in White Plains,” Condreras said. “We will do everything we can to help NBAA put its best foot forward.”