FBO Profile: Castle & Cooke Aviation Van Nuys

 - November 2, 2012, 1:55 AM
In addition to an elegant lobby, Castle & Cooke’s Van Nuys facility features a conference area, flight-planning center and pilot’s lounge.

The story of Castle & Cooke Aviation starts like that of many FBOs, with a small flight department needing more space to grow. Craig Walker, Castle & Cooke vice president of operations and development and Dole Food director of aviation, started flying for David Murdock in 1980. Murdock is the chairman, CEO and president of Castle & Cooke, a trading, shipping and agricultural company that originated as a general store in Hawaii in 1864 and eventually ended up owning Dole Food. Most recently, Murdock sold his 98-percent stake in Hawaiian island Lanai to Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison.

Castle & Cooke Aviation currently consists of four FBOs, each in a unique marketplace. In Lanai, the company still provides FBO services but doesn’t own the facilities. Castle & Cooke owns an FBO at Paine Field in Everett, Wash., the former Fliteline Services/Everett Jet Center facility. Also in Hawaii, Castle & Cooke rebuilt the old Circle Rainbow FBO at Honolulu International Airport, and that facility, with a 17,000-sq-ft hangar and 60,000 sq ft of office space, is now full of tenants and does brisk business for mostly destination traffic.

Gradual Build-up at Van Nuys

Van Nuys Airport in southern California is Castle & Cooke’s newest full-service FBO, since the facility gained rights to sell fuel to transient customers in 2009 and formally began FBO operations in the third quarter of 2010.

After basing the flight department in the company’s original Van Nuys hangar, Castle & Cooke built a larger hangar and began leasing space to other tenants. This was followed by more facilities, including a 40,000-sq-ft hangar, the largest clear-span hangar at the airport, according to Walker. In Castle & Cooke’s 2009 renegotiation of its master lease with Van Nuys Airport owner Los Angeles World Airports, the company was able to add a two-acre parcel north of the control tower, as well as full FBO rights, including fueling for transient customers. Under construction now is a new 38,000-sq-ft clear-span hangar large enough to accommodate new large-cabin jets such as the Gulfstream G650 and Bombardier Global 7000 and 8000. The two-acre parcel is also being developed for additional ramp space and will open in mid-fourth quarter this year, followed by the hangar. The new ramp can handle airplanes up to BBJ or ACJ size, and it will also host its own small executive lobby.

While all of Castle & Cooke’s facilities, including the new hangar and ramp space, make it one of the largest FBOs at Van Nuys Airport, the company isn’t focused on attracting a high volume of traffic and taking market share from its many competitors. “We’re focused on service, not quantity,” said Walker. “We would rather have fewer high-quality operations.” The goal, he explained, “is that throughout the Castle & Cooke network, we want people to feel they’ve been well taken care of.” Of course, the added facility and ramp space helps. “In 2009 we were limited in our space,” he said. “We didn’t want to marginalize service to our tenants to take care of transients.”

Since opening the doors to transient FBO traffic at Van Nuys, Castle & Cooke has boosted sales of fuel to those customers (not including tenants) by 30 percent in 2011 and 17 percent through September of this year, according to Tony Marlow, general manager of the Honolulu base. The traffic mix at Van Nuys has changed during recent years, with more business jet traffic and fewer small turboprop and light airplane movements, although overall traffic is down, too. “The complexion of Van Nuys is changing slowly to more jet traffic,” he said.

Business at Honolulu continues to increase, Marlow added, and Castle & Cooke enjoys 100-percent market share at its Everett FBO because it is the sole FBO at Paine Field. At Everett, business has climbed about 6 percent this year. At Honolulu and Van Nuys, the Castle & Cooke FBOs sell fuel via World Fuel Services. At Everett, the FBO’s fuel is provided by Epic Aviation (formerly AirBP).

That said, the FBO business remains challenging, especially because pilots are extremely cognizant of fuel prices. “We’ve seen that operators are more price-driven than they’ve ever been,” said Walker. “ Small, midsize and larger jets, people are becoming more sophisticated.”

“At Honolulu,” Marlow echoed, “there isn’t an operator that doesn’t ask for a discount or contract fuel. Our philosophy is to produce value through whatever way possible.”

Each of the Castle & Cooke FBOs shares similar amenities, and the Hawaiian theme is evident throughout the facilities. “We’ve expanded the ability to cross-market [among the FBOs],” said Walker. Customers at one Castle & Cooke FBO are happy to learn that there is another Castle & Cooke facility at a destination where they might travel, he said.