Hawthorne Global Plans Growth Strategy

 - January 2, 2013, 1:25 AM

While Hawthorne Global Aviation might be one of the newest FBO brands in the field, in its DNA it is also one of the oldest. The Hawthorne name has been involved in aviation since the early 1930s and the company’s chain of service locations was purchased in 1998 by the Carlyle Group to form the bones of what is now Landmark Aviation. Hawthorne existed as a holding company until the return of several industry veterans who were involved with the company during its FBO ownership days. They decided to jump back into the aviation services arena and set about the process of building a new chain of locations, backed by private-equity firm Moelis Capital Partners.

That plan bore fruit early this year when the South Carolina-based company acquired ExcelAire at New York MacArthur Airport, the largest aviation services facility on Long Island, and in August the company announced it had purchased the former AeroPremier FBO at New Orleans Lakefront Airport, which had recently completed lengthy renovations to erase the scars from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

“Our sweet spot is in growth areas,” Steven Levesque, Hawthorne’s president and CEO told AIN. “We target FBOs with nice term leases of 1 million gallons [annual fuel sales] or more, but we’re available to look at smaller FBOs that have known growth factors.” The company expects to reveal a deal for a greenfield development project at an airport in the Midwest soon and could announce several more acquisitions in the first quarter. Hawthorne conservatively expects to add several more FBOs a year to its growing footprint, toward a goal of approximately 20 locations over the next five years.

Toward a National Brand

“The infrastructure network would include medium to larger-size business and resort markets nationwide,” said Hawthorne chairman Bill Koch. “Already we have the Northeast and South, we’ve got one in the Midwest, and some coming on the West Coast as well, so we’ll be national in the near future.” In choosing potential locations, the company will weigh fuel flowage against any other services the FBO may offer such as aircraft charter/management or maintenance, all of which it got with its ExcelAire purchase. The company will maintain the ExcelAire brand as its aircraft charter/management division and roll any aircraft management contracts acquired through future FBO purchases into it.

“To have prominent aircraft management and charter capabilities from a premier operator on the East Coast gives us the ability to expand that service into new locations as acquired and built,” said Koch.

Hawthorne sees the recent trend of consolidation among FBOs continuing as operators who have faced a difficult four years seek exit strategies or to increase their liquidity. Levesque acknowledges that Hawthorne isn’t alone in the hunt for additional locations. “It is competitive, but at the same time we are not likely to be on the biggest airports,” he said. “We’re focused a little more on the next tier, the growth airports, because we think there’s a lot of value there.”

While it plans to standardize key areas such as customer service and line service training as well as back-office practices, Hawthorne said it will preserve the individual flavor at all its locations. “We’re not taking a chain strategy that tries to make them all look and be alike, but we’ll try to take the best of each market and find the consistency of quality service that we are trying to create,” Koch told AIN.

The company’s recent brief period of FBO ownership has been eventful. In late August, on the seven-year anniversary of Katrina, Lakefront Airport was again slammed by Hurricane Isaac, which flooded several FBOs, necessitating relocation to trailers as soggy terminals were emptied and gutted. The Hawthorne Global location completed repairs early last month, according to Levesque. While Hurricane Sandy ravaged the New York area at the end of October, the company’s MacArthur facility escaped serious damage and remained operational.