With a new 30-year lease at New York’s Westchester County Airport (HPN) in its pocket, Million Air is set to launch a major FBO construction project there this summer. Last year, the company acquired the franchise location in full, exercising its contractual right of first refusal, despite a purchase offer from Signature Flight Support parent BBA Aviation, which currently controls two of the five FBO properties there.
In May, the Houston-based service provider, which has 23 locations in its U.S. network, plus another six in foreign lands, received unanimous contract approval by the Westchester County Board of Legislators. “Million Air has ambitious plans to expand its operations and gear its operations toward a growing segment of the general aviation business in our region,” said Mary Jane Shimsky, county legislator and chairwoman of the infrastructure committee. “I think it will be a good thing for the airport.”
“That means we will have a good solid FBO at that location for the next 30 years that’s going to take care of our business and corporate aviation along with our light general aviation,” echoed Peter Scherrer, manager of the airport, which sees 400 operations a day, the vast majority of them general aviation.
The former franchise location was one of two properties on the airport operating under a lease restriction dating from the late 1990s, initially intended to protect small general aviation aircraft from being squeezed off the airport. It artificially limited the weight of aircraft that could be serviced on the FBO’s ramp to 50,000 pounds, and the facility was not permitted to conduct refueling away from its ramp.
The new lease, which took effect on June 1, was the culmination of nearly eight years of negotiations with the county legislators to remove those restrictions on the leasehold, leaving the former Panorama Flight Services property (which was bought by Landmark Aviation and then in turn by private-equity firm KSL Capital Partners, when Signature was forced to divest the two Landmark FBOs at HPN as part of regulatory approval of February’s Landmark purchase) as the only property at HPN still operating under the restrictions.
Indeed, according to Million Air White Plains general manager Pam Day, the facility handled its first large business jet, a G450, that very first day and serviced a dozen more in the first week it was eligible to do so.
The new agreement on the 23-acre property paves the way for Million Air to embark on a $70 million building project at the New York City-area gateway. According to company CEO Roger Woolsey, it will start construction on a 54,000-sq-ft hangar by the end of the summer, with an expected completion date of spring next year. The structure will accommodate the latest big business jets and bring the location’s storage space to 69,000 sq ft. Woolsey told AIN the hangar, which will have heated floors, is already more than half pre-sold, before the first shovelful of dirt has been turned.
“We’ve got a pretty strong waiting list,” he said. “There are a lot of aircraft that have been ferrying into and out of White Plains that they have to house elsewhere just because there has not been adequate space.”
He noted that fact during the lease approval process, claiming the additional hangar space would help reduce those repositioning flights for tenants, trimming the overall number of takeoffs and landings at the airport. Included in the $70 million is funding for more hangars to be built within the next three years.
Before year-end, Woolsey expects to get approval to break ground on a 20,000-sq-ft terminal built to Leed specifications, with an enclosed climate-controlled four-lane porte cochere. Designed in the Adirondack style, the building will feature stone, timber and fireplaces, resembling a grand park lodge. “When people arrive and depart on the aircraft, we want them to feel relaxed,” said Woolsey, adding he wants customers to view the new FBO as an integral part of their travel experience. “I will know if I am successful or not [by whether] they actually come into the FBO, get a drink and sit by the fireplace for a few minutes before they depart. If they go straight to their jet, I’m going to feel like I didn’t do my job right.”
In 2014, Million Air sparked a building war among service providers in Houston with the opening of its flagship FBO at William P. Hobby Airport. Scherrer believes the project’s hefty price tag could spawn a similar reaction at HPN, which last saw an FBO added in 1999. “Like anything else, you want to meet or exceed the competition,” he said, regarding the potential for escalation among the three service providers. “We appreciate it and we like to see money invested in our airport.”