FBO Profile: Yellowstone Jet Center

 - December 6, 2011, 3:10 PM
Yellowstone Jet Center’s executive terminal has an understated rustic appeal that the company describes as distinctly Montana, “homelike and comfortable.”

While most FBO operators around the country are anticipating the start of winter and its travel challenges with some trepidation, the staff at the Yellowstone Jet Center (YJC) at Gallatin Field in Bozeman, Mont., is eagerly awaiting it, as the snowstorms that sweep down from Canada signal the beginning of the FBO’s busiest season.

Given its proximity to the ski resorts of Big Sky, the service provider, one of two on the field, anticipates a blizzard of aircraft arrivals once the flakes start falling. “Typically in the wintertime, from mid-December through mid-March we have a full ramp,” said Kent Foster, the facility’s general manager. “Day and night the hangars are full.” The more than 100,000 sq ft of heated hangar space at YJC typically shelters 30 to 40 aircraft and can accommodate those up to the size of a BBJ.

In addition to the aircraft whose passengers are either enjoying the slopes of nearby Big Sky or visiting another home, the airport also acts as a reliever field for other resort areas in the vicinity such as Aspen, Vail and Jackson Hole. “We have a lot of customers who will fly into other resort locations, but due to hangar restrictions there, they’ll drop off their passengers and fly up here for a hangar,” said Foster, who has been with YJC since 2002.

Fractional customers also make up a large portion of the FBO’s business, and the facility sees on average 195 landings a month for aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds, more in the peak winter and summer (when Montana’s pristine lakes and streams attract anglers), fewer in the spring and fall. While the airport has approximately 20 based business jets and a handful of turboprops, the vast majority are stored in private hangars on the field, with just a Dassault Falcon 7X and a Falcon 900LX calling YJC home.

Now a Signature Facility

The facility itself was established in the late 1970s as Sunbird Aviation. In May 2000 it was sold and became the Yellowstone Jet Center, and in March this year it was acquired by Signature Flight Support. “With such high customer loyalty and the name recognition and being in the location we are in Montana [just 80 miles from Yellowstone National Park], Signature decided to keep us named Yellowstone Jet Center,” said Foster. Officially the name of the facility is Yellowstone Jet Center by Signature Flight Support, and it’s one of just XX of the chain’s XX locations that has been allowed to maintain its brand.

“A lot of our customers are like family, and my customer service representatives and line crew know their dogs’ names and their family members’ names when they come in,” Foster told AIN. “Customers we’ve seen for years are as close as you can be in our business environment.” YJC employs approximately 32 people, most of whom have been there for several years and have come to anticipate their clients needs. Indeed, the FBO’s slogan is “Service as spectacular as the scenery,” and the location has been a top-40 finisher in AIN’s annual FBO survey in five of the past six years.

Rather than increase staff temporarily to meet the demand during the two seasonal peaks, the FBO maintains a stable year-round workforce and increases employees’ work hours during the peak seasons. The facility is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, with callout service available at other times.

YJC’s executive terminal has an understated rustic appeal that serves to welcome guests to Big Sky Country. “I guess it’s an atypical FBO,” said Foster in describing his facility, where customers occasionally loan their mounted hunting trophies for display. “It’s very Montana feeling, homelike and comfortable.” That rustic décor extends to the massive stone fireplace in the lobby, constructed of stone taken from the nearby mountains. The 15,000-sq-ft building offers amenities such as refreshments, a gym, conference room, snooze room, quiet room, pilot lounge with showers, flight- and weather-planning room, free Wi-Fi, onsite car rental and crew cars. According to Foster, Gallatin Field is one of the few remaining airports where customers can pull their cars alongside the airplane. For some regular YJC clients who own their own Boeing 757, that can be a plus.

In addition to being home to a pair of flight schools, the FBO operates its own in-house Part 145 repair station, which is now under Signature’s TechnicAir banner and is certified for work on Challengers, Gulfstreams, Hawkers and King Airs, in addition to the many piston-powered aircraft that inhabit the airport. Given the severity of Montana’s winters, the service provider offers Type I and Type IV de-icing.

Currently the FBO is unbranded when it comes to fuel. According to Foster, the location, which also provides 100 percent of the airline fueling at the airport, pumps on average more than 5 million gallons of jet-A a year, more than a million gallons of that into private aircraft. The FBO owns four jet-A refuellers: a 7,000-gallon-capacity truck and three 5,000-gallon tankers, as well as a pair of 100LL trucks, all equipped with the chain’s SIGnet handheld wireless point-of-sale billing units.

Like most in the aviation service industry, YJC experienced significant erosion in the recent downturn. “We saw 40-percent loss of business from 2008 into 2009,” said Foster, who acknowledged hearing about another recent slump in the industry. “We have not seen that here. We are continuing to pump more fuel week over week, month over month, year over year; though we’re not back to 2007 levels we’re still making progress, we’re still growing.”

According to Foster, while the airport tends to be a destination that does not see much in the way of quick turns or tech stops, it does receive a fair amount of Canadian traffic, and for several years the airport’s tenants had lobbied for a U.S. Customs presence. A new stand-alone customs facility is under construction at the airport and is scheduled to open next year.