New FBO Starts Houston Hobby GA Redevelopment

 - May 3, 2014, 5:10 AM
Million Air’s flagship FBO at Houston Hobby also serves as the company’s headquarters.

In the opening salvo for FBO bragging rights at Houston Hobby Airport, Million Air unveiled the $15 million flagship facility that also serves as its corporate headquarters. The 22,000-sq-ft terminal provides twice the space of the former building and features a three-story glass-clad lobby atrium spanned by a “sky bridge” that connects the building’s two wings.

Among the amenities are a pair of 12-seat A/V equipped conference rooms with illuminated glass-topped tables fashioned from aircraft stabilizers, one of which can be served discretely through an attached pantry, a pilot lounge with private shower facilities and snooze rooms and a theater room with stadium seating. The 800-sq-ft “Million Air Sky Lounge” on the second floor opens onto a sweeping balcony overlooking the ramp, which has grown by six acres at a cost of about $1 million an acre. Also on the second floor are several tenant suites, each with its own balcony. The former FBO terminal will be repurposed to house the company’s administrative personnel and provide more tenant space. The perennial shortage of customer car parking has been remedied with the conversion of a row of unused T-hangars on the road into a glass-fronted parking garage.

The facility has 115,000 sq ft of hangar space, but Million Air–like most other service providers at Hobby–is at 100-percent capacity, with 47 based turbine-powered aircraft, and company president Roger Woolsey said he plans to break ground on another 25,000-sq-ft hangar at the facility this summer. “The economy in Houston never got whipsawed really hard in the downturn,” he told AIN at the opening event, but the FBOs on the field are dated. “They’re old, their buildings have been here many years, and we needed to invest in a facility that properly reflects this great city.”

While many areas in the U.S. are seeing hesitant gains in traffic, in Houston things are nearly back to the halcyon days before the downturn of 2008. According to industry data provider WingX Advance, Houston Hobby logged nearly 33,000 business aviation departures last year, only a thousand short of its record count in 2007. Since 2009, traffic at the airport has rebounded 23.6 percent. For the airport, which will soon host international airline traffic, things are good. The five FBOs on the field (Atlantic Aviation, Jet Aviation, Million Air, Signature Flight Support and Wilson Air) pump a combined 1.2 million gallons of fuel a month.

More FBOs Plan Renovations

While Million Air currently has the newest FBO on the field, it won’t hold that distinction for long. Atlantic, whose 12,000-sq-ft terminal has occupied a former Eastern Airlines maintenance hangar since 1972, expects to break ground August 1 on a new-build 16,000-sq-ft terminal and a pair of 32,400-sq-ft hangars in an $18 million project. Once complete, the old terminal, adjacent to the new one, along with an old 43,000-sq-ft hangar, will be demolished to restore lost ramp space, while an existing 40,000-sq-ft hangar will undergo a $1 million refurbishment. Once the first phase of reconstruction is complete, the FBO will have 105,000 sq ft of hangar space, and if demand continues to rise, Atlantic will add another 32,400 sq ft hangar on the former terminal site. The location is currently oversubscribed, serving as base for 38 turbine aircraft ranging from King Airs to a G450.

The company renewed its lease on the property in November for another 40 years, while at the same time adding 3.6 acres to its leasehold for a total of 16.4 acres, according to general manager Rhonda Davis. Also in the works is a new 1.5-acre fuel farm consisting of a pair of 30,000-gallon jet-A tanks, a 10,000-gallon avgas tank and smaller tanks for diesel and motor gas for the facility’s vehicles.

Across the field, Wilson is planning to break ground within the next year on its own 10,000-sq-ft terminal, which will triple the size of the former Fletcher Aviation facility the company has occupied since 2005. Wilson’s 35-acre lease encompasses virtually the airport’s entire south side with the exception of several private hangars, according to Jonathan Garms, the location’s general manager. With its FBO currently occupying only half of the 32-acre leasehold, the company is one of the few at Hobby with room for significant future expansion. Wilson plans to add another three acres of ramp as well. A 20,000-sq-ft hangar currently under construction will house a corporate flight department consisting of a G650, Falcon 900 and Learjet 55, and will take hangar space on the site to 110,000 sq ft, enough to shelter the approximately 45 private jets and turboprops that call the location home. A veteran at Hobby for more than a dozen years, Garms has never seen the rush for hangar space that he is currently observing at the airport. “Out of all the years that I’ve been here, I’ve never seen it where everybody is at 100 percent,” he told AIN during a recent visit to his facility.

Jet Aviation acquired a modern 28,500-sq-ft six-year-old terminal facility when it purchased the former Enterprise Jet Center in 2012, and while it has no plans to replace its FBO any time soon, it recently added 30,000 sq ft of tenant hangars and 15,000 sq ft of office and shop space. The company will begin refurbishing its 85,000-sq-ft clear-span hangar soon, and the company has space at Hobby for more ramp area and hangars if necessary.

It has been reported that Signature Flight Support plans to upgrade its facility at Hobby, but the company would not confirm or comment on any plans for the near future.

While Houston has always been synonymous with oil, and with business aviation for nearly as long (Texaco had one of the first company flight departments), of late the city has attempted to diversify its businesses. “If you look at Houston’s economy, it’s better than that of most of the country,” said Dan Bucaro, president and CEO of Landmark Aviation. He pointed out that the oil bust during the 1980s “really woke everybody up, so today oil is still a big part of the city, but so is health care, so is the computer industry, so is advertising.” The city has a robust economy, and “I think that’s why you are seeing the growth now,” he added. Landmark, whose headquarters is located in Houston, has a small FBO that serves transient customers at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. “The business environment is good, pro business, and Houston is a solid place to be in the country right now,” Bucaro told AIN, alluding to his competitors’ “all in” attitude toward the city. “While I can’t speak for anybody else, I think they can justify the investment because it’s a good market, it makes sense and it touches an awful lot of customers.”

On top of all this development at Hobby, Galaxy FBO recently opened a new facility at nearby Lone Star Executive Airport with a 17,000-sq-ft terminal and a pair of 50,000-sq-ft hangars that can accommodate G650-size aircraft .The 22,500-sq-ft Henriksen Jet Center at Houston Executive Airport was completed last year. That facility has a 32,000-sq-ft arrivals canopy large enough to shelter a pair of Boeing Business Jets side by side. Other choices in the area include Ellington Airport–home to more than 50 based jets, served by Southwest Airport Services–and Sugar Land Regional Airport with its city-owned Global Select FBO.

In addition to its growing regular business aviation traffic, Houston will be hosting the NCAA Basketball Final Four in 2016 and the Super Bowl in 2017, two major sporting events that are no doubt in the minds of the service providers and the timelines for their upgrades.