FBO Profile: Monterey Jet Center

 - March 1, 2014, 2:05 AM

Between California’s major cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco sits Monterey, which has had an airport since 1936, nearly a decade before the city was memorialized in John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row. Today tourism has replaced sardines as the city’s number-one industry, according to Michael Heilpern, operations manager at the Monterey Jet Center (MJC). Established in 1997 in a newly built facility at Monterey Peninsula Airport (renamed Monterey Regional Airport in 2011), the FBO is the largest complex on the field, eclipsing even the airline terminal, with more than 200,000 sq ft of hangars and office space spread over 16 acres. The three largest hangars are approximately 60,000 sq ft each and can easily accommodate the latest class of ultra-long-range business aircraft, and its 10-acre ramp can fit jetliners the size of a 767. While the facility is home to seven jets ranging from a Citation Mustang to a Global Express, and a trio of turboprops (a King Air 90, Conquest and Twin Commander), its hangars are filled several times a year with aircraft carrying passengers to the city’s major events.

Last month, Monterey’s Pebble Beach Golf Course hosted its annual ATT Pro-Am Tournament, which attracted several dozen private aircraft to MJC, one of two providers on the field.

In August, attention turns to “motorweek,” a celebration of all things automobile, highlighted by one of the most famous events in the car collecting realm, the Concours d’Elegance, a competition among historic and meticulously restored vehicles. During that week, it is common for rare and expensive automobiles to be shipped to the airport, and Heilpern remembers one occasion when he was pressed into service by a customer to shuttle a Maserati–one of a trio of exotic cars brought for auction–downtown, when one driver failed to materialize. While he described his turn behind the wheel as fun, Heilpern later learned the car sold the next day for more than $1 million. “It’s a good thing they told me that afterwards,” he said.

In one of the kick-off events of the week, MJC each year gives up one of its cavernous hangars to host the McCall Motorworks Revival, a gathering where the cars on display are sometimes faster than the aircraft normally found there.

Customer Comfort

The FBO’s terminal measures approximately 10,000 sq ft and features a passenger lounge, espresso bar, 10-seat A/V-equipped conference room, crew/catering kitchen, pilot lounge with showers, flight-planning room with WSI weather, complimentary Wi-Fi, onsite car rental, crew cars, personal-vehicle ramp access and free passes to a local gym. With golf looming large over the area, MJC offers free use of golf clubs and discounts for several courses. It also has mountain bikes for customers to enjoy the city’s scenic 17-Mile Trail.

The facility is open seven days a week, 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., with after-hours callout available. It has 22 employees, including its NATA Safety 1st-trained line staff. “A customer is a customer, and whatever we can do to make their stay enjoyable, that’s really what we’re here for,” Heilpern told AIN. “It doesn’t matter if you are in a single-engine homebuilt or a Boeing Business Jet.” In fact, he noted that despite its name, MJC is propeller friendly and often hosts touring WWII-era warbirds from organizations such as the Collins Foundation, the Commemorative Air Force and the Experimental Aircraft Association.

While its customer service employees perform concierge duties, they can also add the unexpected credential of wedding planners to the list. Last year a pair of self-described “airplane nuts” staged their wedding in one of the hangars, supported by MJC’s employees. This wasn’t the first time the CSR staff had assisted in nuptial plans, but on other occasions the facility merely served as the gateway for wedding guests.

Heilpern describes the FBO as pet friendly, noting that a grass area on the edge of the ramp caters to four-legged customers. The staff will occasionally even “babysit” dogs at the facility while their passenger-owners attend business meetings in town.

Traffic at MJC–which claims upwards of 65 percent of the GA business at the dual-use Part 139 airport–can vary from six operations to 20 a day; high season is in the summer and early fall. MJC’s fuel farm consists of a 20,000-gallon jet-A tank and a 12,000-gallon avgas tank, served by three 5,000-gallon and one 3,000-gallon jet-A refuelers and two avgas tankers (1,200 gallons and 750 gallons). MJC is an Avfuel-branded dealer.

Among aircraft transiting the U.S. and heading for Hawaii, many consider Los Angeles or San Francisco for a tech-stop destination, but Heilpern, who has been with MJC since it opened, promotes Monterey as a viable alternative. “We do offer Hawaii discount pricing, and with 7,600 feet of runway we are clearly a great alternative to the higher priced Bay-area airports or Los Angeles,” he said. “There are no traffic delays and we specialize in quick turns.”