Jeff Ross Climbs the Mountain Again

 - July 17, 2016, 4:35 AM

Less than two years after selling off his 19-location FBO chain to Landmark Aviation (which was then acquired by Signature Flight Support this past February), Jeffrey Ross is back in the FBO game. As part of Signature’s absorption of Landmark, the U.S. Department of Justice required the BBA Aviation subsidiary to divest six FBOs in places where it already had facilities. Those six locations were packaged by BBA and purchased by KSL Capital Partners, a private-equity firm specializing in luxury leisure and travel companies, which tapped Ross to lead them as a reconstituted Ross Aviation.

For Ross, this marks his third time assembling an FBO group, having sold off four individual FBOs before starting the first Ross Aviation in 2004. The chain, which kept the original names of companies as it acquired them, grew to become the fourth largest FBO network in the U.S. by the time of its sale to Landmark.

FBOs Rebranded as Ross Aviation

This latest iteration of Ross Aviation starts off with a strong nucleus, consisting of the two former Landmark locations at New York Westchester County Airport (HPN) and a facility at Washington-Dulles International, as well as locations in Scottsdale, Ariz., Thermal and Fresno, Calif., and Anchorage, Alaska. Since Signature acquired the Landmark Aviation name in the deal, the six locations have been rebranded as Ross Aviation. Yet, as Ross noted, old habits die hard: “If we are able to acquire an FBO where there is a real reason to keep the same name, there’s no rule against that. We will do that.”

At HPN, one of the two facilities acquired by Ross is the lone FBO there still operating under an artificial weight restriction for aircraft it is allowed to service, a regulation enacted during the 1990s, initially intended to protect general aviation at the airport. Million Air, which operates the other such FBO, recently had that restriction repealed as part of its commitment to build a $70 million complex at HPN. Since one of the new Ross facilities at the airport carries no such restrictions, Ross is uncertain whether he will pursue having it removed at the second FBO.

At Dulles, where it is now one of two service providers, the company will continue with the original Landmark plans for a multimillion-dollar total refurbishment of the facility, and has relocated to a temporary structure as the work progresses. “We want to make sure we get completed by the end of the year, so it’s ready for the [Presidential] inauguration,” said Ross. “First of all it’s a whole lot of business, but it’s also a great time to showcase your FBO.”

Ross returns to Scottsdale Airport, where it previously operated the other FBO on the field. As part of Landmark’s Ross Aviation purchase, it was required to divest the Scottsdale Air Center, bought by Signature, which in turn was required to divest the former Landmark location, essentially bringing Ross full circle. “Now we’ve moved across the field,” noted Ross. “Landmark did a significant renovation to its facility. It wasn’t ever bad, but it looks much better now.”

In Thermal, Ross reacquired the same FBO it owned before the Landmark purchase, while at Fresno it will renovate an existing facility at the airport over the next six months and relocate upon completion. Signature will retain the existing FBO facility to house its maintenance operation at the airport.

Ross bolstered his staff with industry talent such as Cy Farmer, most recently Landmark’s vice president of European operations and special projects, as COO; Steve Gampp, CFO with the former Ross Aviation, returns to the same position; and Steve Lee, a former president of Signature Flight Support and industry consultant who has joined as director of business development.

Ross started his last chain in 2004 and over the course of a decade, in a reference to his penchant for not branding locations, built it into the “largest FBO chain nobody has heard of.” Since Ross has been through this exercise twice already, it is safe to wonder when he will once again sell. “It depends on how successful we are in expanding the portfolio,” he told AIN. “Our plan would be to hang around for a long time if we’re able to make attractive investments.” Despite the extinction of Landmark and the legal elimination of Signature as a player at the six locations at the heart of the new Ross Aviation, Ross is not concerned about finding an eventual buyer for another substantial FBO consolidation.

“There are some other players out there,” said Ross, noting that Ross Aviation is KSL Capital Partners’ first foray into the FBO business. “There are private-equity firms that would find a portfolio such as ours attractive.”

But such end-game strategies lie far in the future. “Our first project is to operate these facilities to the best of our ability,” Ross noted. “Once the operations are in a comfortable stage, then we are going to move to stage two: negotiating additional acquisitions.”