FBO Profile: Kaiser Air Is Long on Experience

 - November 1, 2011, 9:00 AM
Kaiser Air considers its OAK facility a ­‘boutique FBO,’ but few clients get to see it, as the passengers can bypass the terminal and move directly from their car to their aircraft.

Not every FBO can claim one of aviation’s most iconic aircraft as part of its heritage, but then not every FBO can trace its lineage back 65 years. The roots of Kaiser Air’s Oakland Jet Center, based at Metropolitan Oakland International Airport (OAK), go back to 1946 and the flight department for Kaiser Industries, a conglomerate of shipbuilding, construction, car manufacturing, steel and aluminum refining companies run by magnate Henry J. Kaiser.

That company also established the Kaiser Permanente healthcare system, initially for its employees, which still exists today. One of Kaiser’s grander but ultimately unsuccessful projects was the HK-1 Hercules (commonly called the Spruce Goose), the giant World War II-era eight-engine flying boat, which he designed with Howard Hughes and that still exists today. 

Given the company’s wide-ranging and diverse operations, as well as the demanding criteria from perfectionist Henry J. himself, who exhorted his employees to “think big,” its flight department developed a set of stringent safety standards that soon attracted the attention of other companies seeking management of their flight departments, leading to the growth of one of the first aircraft management providers in the country.

By the late 1970s Kaiser Air had been spun off as a separate entity, serving as a management company and aviation services provider at OAK. Last year, the company, which still operates a charter and management division, was recognized by NBAA for its 60 years of safe flying.

Initially, the Kaiser Air FBO at OAK (the company has another location at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport
in Santa Rosa) occupied just hangars three and four at the airport and had a small passenger terminal at hangar four. “There was not as much transient business back then,” said Otto Wright, the FBO’s general manager. “It was primarily for our own managed fleet.” When the company added a separate lease for neighboring hangar five during the early 1980s, it moved into a larger terminal.

Forced To Consolidate

While the typical trend for long-tenured FBOs is to enlarge their facilities eventually, this past summer Kaiser was forced to consolidate because the Port of Oakland, which operates the airport, decided to seek more revenue through the RFP process for the expiring hangar-five lease.

Though the old lease had no renewal option or right of first refusal, Kaiser Air was invited to speak with the port authorities. “They were looking for money that far exceeded what we felt a business could sustain a,” Sandy Waters, the FBO’s vice president of business development, told AIN. “Nobody responded to the amounts they were looking for, so they went privately to a number of people to see if they could put something together.” Eventually, the Port Authority reached a deal with Landmark Aviation for the hangar-five complex (see related article on page 00).

In response, Kaiser Air moved its customer services back to its initial hangar-four terminal, which had since housed its flight operations department. The newly renovated 5,000-sq-ft facility has a passenger lounge, crew lounge with weather tracking computers (WSI service), private shower and crew café. “We like to say it’s more like a boutique FBO,” said Wright, touting the passenger lounge’s view of the airport and neighboring San Francisco skyline.

In addition, the WiFi-equipped building offers an 18-seat conference room and onsite rental cars as well as crew courtesy cars. U.S. Customs is also available.

Most customers, however, never see the terminal’s interior, according to Wright. “We’re one of the few FBOs that can take people from their car at the front gate directly out to their airplane, and that is a big selling point for us,” he said. “As much as we love our nice new terminal, hardly anyone ever comes in because we take them in their cars directly.”

The FBO occupies a footprint of 12 acres (approximately 10 of which are ramp parking), and has 45,000 sq ft of hangar space to shelter the approximately 20 jets and 10 turboprops based there.

To serve the aircraft, the Chevron-branded dealer has three jet-A tankers (one 10,000-gallon truck and two 5,000-gallon trucks) and one 5,000-gallon avgas truck that can carry fuel from the tank farm across the street from the FBO. In terms of overall fuel volume, Kaiser Air pumps 400,000 and 500,000 gallons per month, the vast majority of it jet-A.

Like numerous California FBOs and fuel distributors, Kaiser Air is one of the parties in the legal action by the Center for Environmental Health that is seeking a ban on the sale of leaded avgas along with associated penalties, and the company is therefore intently monitoring the court proceedings.

Part 121 Ops

In addition to the aircraft it operates for charter on its Part 135 certificate, the company owns an international operations-certified Boeing 737-700, which it operates on its recently awarded Part 121 supplemental air carrier certificate. In effect, it makes the company the first airline to be started out of Oakland in 75 years. Based on its success so far, Kaiser Air is considering adding more large aircraft to its certificate. 

Along with the flight operational requirements, the 121 certificate calls for specific line service standards, and that heavy-iron experience has made the FBO a popular destination for large aircraft charter operators as well as sports team charters arriving in town to challenge the local As (baseball), Raiders (football) and Golden State Warriors (basketball). The company has its own large aircraft tugs and tow bars, as well as airstairs and luggage belt loaders.

To service the company’s managed and charter fleet as well as transient aircraft, Kaiser Air operates a Part 145 repair station that can handle most repairs or inspections. It specializes in Gulfstreams, Citations, Challengers and Learjets, Hawkers and some Boeings. “One of the reasons we’ve got some of the clients we have is we’ve got all the equipment here because we do maintenance,” said Wright. “We’ve got our own 737 and our own Gulfstreams, so we’ve got airstart carts, GPUs, APUs and scissor lifts. You name it, we’ve got it, which is an important thing.”

The company also has onsite battery, wheel and brake shops and can provide cleaning and detailing for aircraft of all types, Wright said.

In addition to its maintenance and administrative staff, the location, which is open 24/7, has a staff of 35 customer service representatives and NATA Safety 1st certified line crews.