The maintenance operation at Sunrise Jets is an outgrowth of the company’s long-term charter and management service.
“Our family had been in the publishing business since the 1950s, producing about a half dozen publications such as McCalls and Ms. Magazine,” Eric Lang, president of Sunrise Jets, told AIN. His father worked in New York and commuted to the family home in Vermont. In 1978, when the commuter airline he used to commute between the two points ceased serving the airport, he purchased a Piper Navajo. A year later, the elder Lang’s pilot suggested they put the Navajo on a Part 135 certificate and charter it out when it wasn’t being used, to help offset operating costs. Thus Eastway Aviation began operations at Islip MacArthur Airport, and the plan proved economically sound. In 1985 Eastway moved from the Navajo into a King Air 200 and by 1988 had two of the twin turboprops. “We had been using a third-party maintenance provider, but at that point it simply made sense to begin doing our own maintenance. We hired a director of maintenance and started doing smaller inspections, tire changes, brakes and overhauls, and the demand for our maintenance services began to grow,” Lang said.
In 1989, the Eastway operation moved to a larger facility on Islip to accommodate the growth of the fleet. By 1990 Eastway was operating three King Air 200s and one King Air 90. “We became one of the premier King Air operators in the Northeast by simply focusing on the 500-miles-or-less charter market,” he said. “During the 1990s we focused on operating a King Air fleet, but in 2002 we moved up into the business jet market and increased our managed aircraft fleet. It was a period of significant growth in the industry. People were growing tired of airport security lines and the inconvenience of commercial air travel,” Lang said.
Wide Open Hamptons Market
In March 2011, Eastway moved from Islip to a new facility at West Hampton Beach/Gabreski Airport. “We had major competitors at Islip and realized there would be none at West Hampton despite its being one of the most affluent areas in the country. The airport has a 9,000-foot runway, great facilities, no aircraft management companies or maintenance, and was underutilized. We saw it as a way to differentiate ourselves in an ideal niche market,” Lang said.
The airport, located just off Sunrise Highway, a major thoroughfare of the Hamptons, is so far east the company is the first New York operator to see the sun rise in the morning. As a result, “Sunrise Jets became a dba of Eastway,” said Lang.
The move to West Hampton was predicated on a significant gap in the general aviation market. According to Lang, the Hamptons is one of the world’s premier destinations for business aircraft owners, yet essential services such as a certified repair station or hangar space suitable for a Global or G550 were unavailable.
When the company made the move to West Hampton it entered into a lease agreement with Sheltair. That agreement stipulated that the FBO build a facility to Sunrise Jets’ specifications. In March 2011 Sunrise Jets moved into the new 20,000-sq-ft hangar facility and its 5,000 sq ft of office space. The company began providing aircraft management services to aircraft owners and on-demand charter for a large base of both corporate and private travelers.
The Hamptons attract many wealthy and famous people…and their aircraft. However, there was a dearth of maintenance operations, Lang said. “During the summer months both West Hampton and East Hampton airports are full to capacity with business aircraft,” he said. Before Sunrise Jets arrived, he said, “When aircraft had mechanical issues maintenance was trucked in from repair stations based in New Jersey and the New York Metropolitan area. On any given summer Friday it could take six hours or more to get personnel out here to solve a problem.”
The company received its FAA repair station designation this past March.
Currently Sunrise Jets manages seven turbine-powered aircraft: two King Air 350s, a Citation V, two Citation Excels and two Citation Sovereigns. The company has 29 employees, including seven full-time maintenance personnel, five of them A&P mechanics. The MRO works on the Citation 560, 560XLS and 680, King Airs, Gulfstreams, Challengers and Hawkers. It also stocks a large inventory of parts. Sunrise Jets also offers air charter and an aircraft management service.
In addition to its West Hampton facility, the company has a mobile repair unit that serves East Hampton airport. It uses a Cessna 182 to fly maintenance people to aircraft that need service because summer ground traffic can become a major impediment to rapid response, Lang said.
“We want to expand our maintenance business. On any given summer day there are 15 NetJets aircraft sitting on our ramp and we’re the only maintenance facility here and at East Hampton,” Lang said. “We also have the only hangar that will accommodate a Global Express or G550. We see this area as a serious growth opportunity with a wealthy and mobile customer base to support it.”