Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport (GPT) marked a major milestone last month when the new Million Air FBO (the company’s 29th location) opened its doors to customers for the first time. The $12 million facility is the first new FBO to be built at the airport after it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Since then, Atlantic Aviation has handled private aviation at the airport out of trailers as the hurricane tore the roof off the landmark WWII hangar formerly occupied by the facility.
Million Air’s FBO is the first to be built according to the airport’s master plan, which was drawn up in the mid 1980s. That plan saw the relocation of the airport’s general aviation sector from GPT’s east ramp area, where it was sandwiched between two U.S. military facilities, to a newly developed southern area that has seen nearly $80 million in public investment. Part of the plan called for land to be set aside to accommodate two FBOs, and it was this provision that caused Atlantic to balk at rebuilding its facility in the face of uncertain private aviation business in the Katrina-devastated area.
Undeterred, Million Air agreed to develop its eight-and-a-half-acre plot as a benchmark in the airport’s resurrection. “Million Air’s $12 million investment is clearly the catalyst for a renaissance and rebirth of general aviation,” said Bruce Frallic, executive director of the airport. Atlantic Aviation has told AIN that it has not yet determined its future plans at the airport and said will at least serve out the remaining nine months of its contract.
The new 12,500-sq-ft Million Air FBO building was armored against the wrath of Mother Nature. “It’s built to the new international hurricane standard, which is 140-mph steady wind load,” said Arve Henriksen Jr., part owner and president and CEO of the facility. He and his wife, Emily, the FBO’s business manager, formerly owned another Million Air franchise in Mobile, which they sold in 2005 to concentrate their efforts on GPT. The building is anchored to a subfoundation of massive footings and frames tied together with tensioned rebar, and is crowned with a standing seam metal roof for additional protection. To eliminate the need to board up the facility in advance of approaching storms, windows throughout the building–including those in the passenger area, which provide a 180-degree view of the tarmac–are specially strengthened double-layered glass sheathed in neoprene to prevent shattering. The facility also has emergency generators to power both the building and the fuel farm.
The two-story atrium houses the customer service counter and hospitality center (the largest in any Million Air facility). The building is staffed 24/7 and provides a theater room with a 106-inch screen and a choice of more than 6,000 movies, a fitness center with male and female locker rooms and showers, quiet rooms, a flight-planning room with Internet-based WSI, free Wi-Fi and a business center. Its three conference rooms will accommodate up to four, 10 and 20 people, respectively.
Another feature is the provision of three “VIP” waiting rooms on the ground floor with private doors for the potential use of celebrities heading to Gulfport’s nearby casinos. Given the heavy military presence at the airport, the building also has a military lounge area and briefing room. A café is accessible from outside the building, so patrons will not have to pass through security, and it provides not only catering capability for customers but also a food option for workers on that side of the airport.
The FBO’s 20,000-sq-ft hangar with 28-foot clearance houses a maintenance department that can handle most airframe and engine line tasks short of a hot section. The company said it has room to build additional hangars as the need arises. The ramp outside the FBO will accept aircraft up to the weight of a Boeing 737. The FBO also offers flight training and aircraft charter, sales and management through contractors.
Aircraft are served from the FBO’s above-ground fuel farm, which has an 80,000-gallon capacity with dual drive-through lanes that permit the loading of two tankers simultaneously. The double-wall steel tanks are bolted through their concrete pads to withstand Katrina-scale wind. On the tarmac awaits a new fleet of three 5,000-gallon jet-A fuel trucks and a pair of 1,000-gallon avgas tankers, all equipped with EMR 3 wireless datalink electronic metering systems that instantly transmit fuel sale totals to the FBO to ensure quick turns. With its fuel supplied by World Fuel subsidiary Ascent Aviation Group, the Phillips 66-branded FBO expects to pump up to 6 million gallons of fuel each year for its business aviation, commercial and military customers.
As GPT lies within a foreign trade zone, the FBO has several features attractive to the international traveler, such as a $1 million, 3,600-sq-ft customs facility attached to the far end of the FBO’s hangar, complete with immigration and agricultural testing areas; the facility can handle 60 passengers an hour on its two processing lines, and is GPT’s on-site processing area for all business aircraft landing from international locations. “We may be the first designed U.S. Customs facility attached to an FBO in which Customs officials actually instructed us on all the specifications we were required to include in their operation,” said Henriksen.
The airport’s foreign trade zone status allows FBO operators to offer discounts on fuel. Inbound business aircraft can upload jet-A at a 5.7-cent per gallon state tax discount, while outbound aircraft can receive a 24.7-cent federal tax discount as well as the 5.7-cent-per-gallon discounts.
“With the advent of the new Million Air FBO offering superior service and savings on the cost of fuel, plus our new and expanded airport facilities and our new deep-water port, we believe our airport and Port Authorities will become the main entry point for South American business traffic,” said Frank Genzer, chairman of the Gulfport Biloxi Regional Airport Authority. As a result of those discounts and the airport’s location, GPT also hopes to position itself as a convenient tech stop for European business aircraft headed to South America.