Fly into St. George (Utah) Municipal Airport (KSGU) and you’re likely to have your airplane serviced by a Hansen. With the assistance of his father Lowell Hansen, who taught airframe and powerplant maintenance courses at nearby Dixie College for more than 30 years, Justin Hansen started a small maintenance shop 13 years ago at the old SGU airport. Lowell, now 69, continues to help his 34-year-old son at the FBO that maintenance shop has become: Above View Jet Center. Justin says that the familial support is one of the reasons the FBO, now in its sixth year of business under the Above View name, survived the move from the old SGU to the new SGU despite increased overhead and decreased traffic.
“I started the company, but [Lowell] has always been here to help me,” Justin told AIN. “He likes to be back here helping with the maintenance and driving the fuel truck.”
The current SGU is located approximately six miles south of the now-closed former airport, which was built on a mesa overlooking downtown St. George. While the old location yielded excellent access to town and its amenities, the sheer bluffs comprising the mesa prevented expansion of the airport and its 6,600-foot runway. The old SGU, with its 16/34 runway orientation, had also become notorious for its severe crosswinds, which were a factor in several accidents over the years. When the new SGU opened in January 2011 with its 9,300-foot by 150-foot runway oriented 01/19 to reduce crosswind components, two of the three FBOs moved to the new airport. Eighteen months later, Above View Jet Center is the lone survivor.
“We do more than the normal FBO,” says Justin. “We’re a full-service maintenance shop and certified service center for Robinson Helicopters and Cirrus Aircraft, although we can work on just about any light piston fixed-wing or helicopter. We’ve attended the Bell 407 service training, and we also work on Bell 47s, Hughes 500s and other light helicopters. We’re also a flight school.”
Hansen is not letting lack of competition at SGU affect the quality of service at Above View, however. Instead, he now sees FBOs at nearby Cedar City, Utah (KCDC) and Henderson, Nev. (KHND) as competitors and is striving to bring general aviation back to SGU with superior facilities installed in Above View’s new 8,000-sq-ft building. For example, corporate pilots can lift weights, jog on the treadmill or ride the stationary bike in Above View’s exercise room, and then use the shower facilities to freshen up before their passengers arrive. Other options include napping in leather recliners, watching television or playing video games in the pilot’s lounge, using the Wi-Fi to check email or surf the Internet, or driving one of two courtesy cars into town for a meal.
Hansen intends to continue expanding Above View’s maintenance capabilities, including adding the Cessna service center designation some time in the near future. However, the costs of the move and the additional overhead–including a nearly 600-percent increase in rent to the City of St. George–has pushed those plans “to the back burner.”
“At the old airport I was paying $7,200 annually [to the City of St. George] and here I’m paying more than $46,000 per year,” Justin said. “My nearest competition at Cedar City is closer to [its] town at a more capable airport in terms of landings [Runways 2/20 and 8/26], and its annual payment for its FBO is $1,500. I explained to the city in detail why the move didn’t justify the increase, giving them examples of similar airports and how our rates were higher than anybody else’s, and they didn’t seem to care.”
While the higher rent hampers Justin’s ability to hire more employees, the Hansens and their small staff strive to provide excellent service to all customers. A ChevronTexaco dealer, Above View offers various discounts on its 24/7 fueling of 100LL and jet-A, including AirNav’s Airboss discount program and volume discounts with contract fuel programs such as World Fuel, Everest, Colt and UVair. With approximately 20 acres of aircraft parking available, Above View does not charge a ramp fee, although it does offer a portion of its 21,000 sq ft of hangar space for short-term or long-term rent. Other services include interior and exterior aircraft cleaning, concierge service and catering.
“The only reason we’re able to make it is that I’m out here every single day, all day long, making it happen,” Justin said. “The other FBO had an absentee owner and provided only fuel service. If the customer had any maintenance issues, he’d have to call us, then he’d see our level of service and usually start using us for everything…Being the only FBO at this point has made it feasible to be here.”
While the St. George area enjoys periods of increased traffic drawn by nearby Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, athletic events such as the Ironman St. George and St. George marathon, and the St. George Thunder Over Utah Airshow, Justin says that overall traffic at the airport has decreased since the move.
“SGU used to be a convenient cross-country fuel stop when pilots could take the courtesy car and it was only five minutes to anywhere in town,” he said. “Now it’s a 20-minute drive to get to town, so it’s not as convenient. Many cross-country flyers stop at Cedar City or Henderson [Nev.] instead. We should have sold in the high 600,000 gallons of fuel based on total volume of sales at the old airport in 2010. My projections are closer to 400,000 gallons with just one FBO.”