While all FBOs say that going the extra mile for the customer is their number-one priority, some–such as the Sonoma Jet Center (SJC)–will go to notable lengths to prove it, as the crew of a private jet that landed at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport facility discovered last year, when they missed their outbound commercial flight. The passenger and jet were going to remain in the area for a number of days, but the crew was headed home and the private flight arrived too late for the crew to catch the first leg of their trip home.
As soon as FBO owner and president Josh Hochberg heard the pilots were in danger of missing their connecting flight, he fired up his Mooney Ovation and flew them down to Oakland, arriving in time for them to catch their flight. “We’ve done that on a couple of different occasions for folks,” he said. “No compensation or anything; we just say we’re going to make it work and that’s the kind of attitude that the whole team brings to the table.”
Hochberg and his wife, Julia, have owned the FBO at the former U.S. military training base since 2010. While most of the four-acre facility was built in 2005, a 12,000-sq-ft World War II-vintage hangar provides a distinct reminder of the field’s history. Indeed, when Hochberg received an old framed aviation fuel advertisement as a gift, he was amazed to see that it not only featured the airport, but that the old hangar was readily identifiable in the background. In addition to the “Redwood hangar,” the facility has another 35,000 sq ft of aircraft storage space available, including access to a brand-new 22,000-sq-ft hangar capable of accommodating a Gulfstream G650 built by neighboring charter and aircraft services provider Vine Air, which allows Sonoma Jet Center to use it for transient aircraft shelter.
The 4,000-sq-ft terminal offers a passenger lounge with refreshment bar, concierge service, crew lounge/snooze room, flight-planning area, an eight-seat conference room and guest business office, but its most popular feature might be the outdoor patio area adjacent to the ramp, where guests relax in the California sunshine and watch the airplanes go by. Crew cars are available, as are rentals, which can be delivered rampside from the nearby commercial terminal.
The FBO, one of two on the field, has 19 employees (11 full time), and its line service technicians are NATA Safety 1st trained. The facility, a gateway to California’s wine country, is open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. during the peak season, which runs from summer through early fall. “Roughly it corresponds to when the wineries and vineyards start picking up when the grapes start blossoming in June, until they harvest and crush in September and October,” said Julia Hochberg, SJC’s vice president. “That counts for both tourism and the wine industry related traffic.” In the off-season the FBO closes an hour earlier.
Making Room for Corporate Aviation
In 2011, the Avfuel-branded dealer was awarded the airline fueling contract at the airport, which sees a handful of Bombardier Q400 airline flights a day. Last year the location pumped 1.2 million gallons of fuel, including both jet-A and avgas. GA operations accounted for approximately two thirds of that total. The facility has a pair of new 5,000-gallon jet-A tankers and two 750-gallon avgas trucks that distribute fuel from the tank farm. The facility stores 24,000 gallons of jet-A and 12,000 gallons of avgas. Over the past year, the owners said they have seen business pick up by 10 percent, particularly during the last six months.
The FBO provides some aircraft maintenance. The three technicians on staff work mainly on piston airplanes but can also perform light maintenance and troubleshooting on helicopters and jets. They even do emergency AOG work for Horizon Air, the Alaska Airlines subsidiary that provides regional service to the airport from a handful of West Coast locations.
The airport is set to embark on an $84 million expansion project that will include lengthening of both its 5,000-foot-plus runways. Rather than forming an “X”, the two runways currently resemble a “V” and share the same end point. According to Josh Hochberg, over the years this has led to occasional confusion by pilots wondering which runway they were told to use. The expansion will increase the primary runway length from 5,200 feet to 6,000, and the secondary runway from 5,000 to 5,200, thus separating the runway ends and finishing off the X.
Aside from improved safety, one of the goals of the project will be to attract regional jet service to the airport–which will also receive a new commercial terminal and control tower–but the Hochbergs believe the improvements will also draw more corporate aviation as well. To that end, they recently purchased an adjoining office building with landside and airside access. Though the building was refurbished, their plans call for it to be demolished and replaced by 30,000 sq ft of corporate flight department hangars and offices.
Passionate about aviation, the Hochbergs make their facility available for a number of community events during the year, including an annual aviation day held in conjunction with the EAA’s Young Eagles program. “We think the outreach is important, getting people exposed to aviation,” said Josh. “The way we look at it, if we don’t support this sort of event there’s not going to be people around to fly Gulfstreams and Citations in the future.”
Last year the facility’s historic hangar played host to its inaugural charity fundraiser known as a “suitcase party.” Nearly 200 people showed up for a gathering at the FBO with packed suitcases, hoping to win one of three pairs of seats on a weekend junket to Las Vegas, donated by an SJC customer who provided the use of his Citation. At the end of the event, the winning tickets were drawn and the lucky couples boarded the private jet and departed.