With an 11,000-foot main runway, Florida’s Orlando Sanford International Airport is second in the region only to Orlando International’s pair of 12,000-foot ribbons. A former U.S. Navy training facility during WWII and an attack jet base during the Vietnam War, it was given to the city of Sanford in the late 1960s and has since grown from a regional general aviation airport to the 85th busiest airport in the U.S., with more than 650 operations a day.
Since 2000, Starport, one of two FBOs on the field, has served Sanford’s private aviation customers. The 20-year-old facility occupies 18 acres and was formerly known as Jet Air. It served briefly as a Million Air location before its current family owners purchased it. The 7,000-sq-ft terminal, slated to undergo a lobby refurbishment next year, features a pilot lounge with snooze room, shower facilities, pilot shop, business center, pilot briefing room, a pair of 12-seat A/V-equipped conference rooms and a children’s play area. Freshly prepared sweet tea and popcorn are always available.
Currently the facility has 70,000 sq ft of hangar space, which can accommodate the latest ultra-long-range business jets and is home to six turbine-powered aircraft, from a King Air to a Phenom 300. According to company COO Joe Doubleday (a distant cousin of Civil War General and disputed baseball creator Abner Doubleday), Starport has already begun discussions with the airport for permission to construct another 30,000-sq-ft storage hangar, which it expects to begin within the next two years.
The location is open from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. every day, with call-out service after hours. For international arrivals, U.S. Customs and Immigration service is available at the passenger terminal’s Gate 1 with advance notice. According to general manager Geoff Lane, Starport handles approximately 60 percent of the GA business at the airport, which translates to more than 3,500 operations and nearly 11,000 passengers annually.
In addition to providing FBO services, the site is home to the company’s Part 145 repair station, which can perform heavy maintenance, inspections and AOG service on corporate aircraft, from a King Air to a Global 6000. It also offers avionics installation and repair, as well as interior refurbishment, and recently upgraded its paint and woodworking shops to meet demand.
Between the FBO and MRO businesses, Starport has a staff of 82, and its line service technicians are NATA Safety 1st trained. They draw approximately 500,000 gallons of fuel annually from Starport’s tank farm, which holds 40,000 gallons, split evenly between jet-A and 100LL, using a pair of jet fuel tankers (5,000 gallons and 3,000 gallons) and a 1,500-gallon avgas truck.
Starport, like many FBOs, is pursuing certification under the recently introduced International Standard for Business Aviation Handlers (IS-BAH). “We think this is the beginning of something we can build on for the whole company,” Doubleday told AIN, adding that he anticipates a higher assurance of safe operational practices as a result. “It certainly focuses on the FBO operation, but we see applicability across the maintenance arena as well.” The company has just embarked on the lengthy process that will see the eventual establishment of a robust safety management system. It expects to undergo its first audit next summer.
Like other Florida airports, Sanford sees a seasonal boost from Northerners seeking to escape winter. Lane noted that between November and March it experiences a 15- to 20-percent boost over normal traffic.
The location, which is a member of the Paragon Aviation Network, has hosted the last two biennial Mitsubishi MU-2 proficiency training courses, which saw its ramp inundated with more than 20 of the twin-engine turboprops.
Another event that occurs more frequently is the Kids Fly Free gatherings, which are presented in cooperation with the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program and a local flight school. Several times a year, dozens of area youngsters aged 8 to 17 arrive at the FBO, and after a breakfast cooked by its staff, the fun begins. “We take the kids and show them the aircraft and tell them how the airplane works, and then we stick them in the airplane and take them for a flight around the pattern,” said Lane. “It introduces aviation to our youth, and so far we have been successful.”
Last December, Starport was home to Operation North Pole, an airport business-sponsored charity event that collected $17,000 in donations. Approximately 130 underprivileged children boarded an airport-based MD-80 at the commercial terminal and taxied to the “North Pole” to visit Santa Claus. For the occasion, the FBO’s ramp was covered in man-made snow for the children to play in, after which they received presents.