Last October, for the first time in its 64-year existence, the FBO at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport came under private control as Sheltair took over management from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ). The Florida-based chain operates 13 other FBOs, including six in New York State alone. It was awarded the JFK location after the PANYNJ issued a request for proposals that attracted more than a half-dozen contenders, according to the agency. In the end, Sheltair’s experience operating the FBO at La Guardia–New York City’s other commercial airport–since 2004 may have tilted the balance in its favor.
While the present structure that handles general aviation traffic at the airport–one of the nation’s preeminent aerial gateways–is less than a dozen years old, its sterile, drab interior was seldom considered a proper welcome mat for private aviation customers visiting the Big Apple. According to a Port Authority staffer, the agency began to consider privatizing the operation at JFK after consulting with private lift providers such as NetJets that noted a demand for a higher level of customer service at the “bare bones” facility than the agency was willing or able to provide. “We want to make sure that the customer-service aspect of handling general aviation aircraft is covered,” said Jerry Spampanato, JFK’s general manager for aviation.
Once the Port Authority selected Sheltair, it awarded the FBO company a five-year lease, with an option for an additional five years. “It’s a great airport,” company founder, chairman and CEO Jerry Holland told AIN at the facility’s official grand opening ceremony in May. “It just needs good service, and that’s what we intend to give.”
Once the facility changed management in October, Sheltair brought in 30 staff members to replace those who were reassigned to other tasks by the Port Authority.
The FBO, which is open 24/7, sits on a four-acre site just off the airport’s 14,511-foot Runway 31L/13R, with a newly renovated 3,100-sq-ft terminal. Amenities include a pilot’s lounge with a flight-planning room and crew showers, a passenger lounge, a conference room, complimentary Wi-Fi, crew cars, onsite rental cars and free shuttle service to JFK’s domestic and international terminals. The large U.S. Customs presence at the airport allows arriving international private flights to be met by inspectors on the ramp.
Along with its own apron space, Sheltair now manages all the hardstands at the airport. While the FBO currently does not offer hangar space, Sheltair is exploring lease options for several vacant hangars. “This way if there are any itinerant aircraft that would like to be hangared and if anyone would like to be based here, we’d like to do that in the future and we’re working with the [Port Authority] on that now,” said Warren Kroeppel, Sheltair’s senior vice president for Northeast operations and development. Among those under consideration is 300,000-sq-ft Hangar 19.
The FBO has two jet-A tankers carrying 7,000 and 5,000 gallons, along with one 500-gallon avgas truck, reflecting the limited piston aircraft traffic to the airport. Those trucks draw from the airport’s central fuel farm, and the FBO supports contract fuel programs such as UVair, World Fuel and Colt International.
The FBO is capable of handling aircraft of any size, including head-of-state aircraft. For the Kennedy FBO, the United Nations General Assembly held each fall is one of the busiest events as world leaders and dignitaries flock to New York City. While Sheltair began operations at the FBO shortly after last year’s assembly, it is eagerly anticipating the next gathering in September, which is expected to draw approximately 100 aircraft to the FBO during the course of the event based on the traffic from past years. “This year we will be fully capable of handling all that,” said Kroeppel. “It’s just a huge number of diplomats coming through this area.”
With all the improvements, pilots, especially those used to operating out of the former facility, have noticed a difference over the past few months. “They are surprised and shocked not only at the facility, but also at the level of service, just the attentiveness on the ramp, the service levels of the personnel inside, the service they receive even out the door to other locations,” said Kroeppel. “[The Port Authority] ran it more or less as a sideline, whereas our focus is to really serve the international traveler.”
The fact that JFK finally has an FBO run by professional service providers has already attracted the eyes of the industry. “This [airport] is one of the crown jewels of the world’s airport system,” said NATA president James Coyne at the facility’s grand opening. “To have a crown jewel of an FBO here at this airport, at last, is a wonderful partnership.”