While its initial start may have been rocky, Luxivair SBD, the lone FBO at California’s San Bernardino International Airport (SBD) has seen nothing but smooth skies of late. SBD’s roots took hold when the former Norton Air Force base closed in 1994 after half a century of military ownership and was transferred to municipal use. Given the facility’s tired infrastructure, $250 million was spent on rehabilitation: replacing the 10,000-foot-long, 200-foot-wide main runway, bringing the control tower back on line, building a new taxiway, ramp areas and fuel farm, constructing new domestic and international terminals, rewiring the airfield and renovating hangars with new roofs and fire-suppression systems, all this coming after massive environmental cleanup, a legacy from its former owners.
The $20 million FBO opened as a Million Air franchise, part of one of the companies run by airport developer Scot Spencer, who had his hands in many of the businesses on the field. His control of the FBO lasted barely two years and ended soon after a February 2012 incident when the FBO ran out of fuel.
Authorities seized control of the airport’s fueling operation, setting up shop in a double-wide trailer, while Million Air terminated its branding agreement with the company, citing unpaid management and franchise fees. A stipulation in the lease agreement specified that the FBO had to be partnered with a nationally recognized service provider, and after a flurry of lawsuits, a bankruptcy judge ordered SBD Airport Services to vacate the facility, giving the airport authority full control of the FBO in December 2012, and it has retained control ever since.
“We are pleased to put that behind us and move forward,” said Mark Gibbs, SBD’s director of aviation. “We wanted to make sure that folks visiting the airport were not only getting the services that they needed, but were also walking away impressed. We have a great facility but we keep our prices well placed in the market, with the intent of providing a lot of value to our customers.”
Alternative to Busier L.A. Area
The 12,000-sq-ft two-story FBO terminal offers a spacious glass-enclosed atrium lobby, ramp-side vehicle access, pilots’ lounge, snooze room, a 14-seat A/V-equipped conference room, theater room with stadium seating, flight-planning room, crew cars, on-site car rental, complimentary snack bar and an outdoor lounge offering a panoramic view of the airport framed by the San Bernardino Mountains. At six years old, the facility remains in pristine condition, but the airport authority recently commissioned an acoustical study to combat one of its few flaws: the level of echoes in the domed lobby, caused by its abundance of glass and the stone floor tiles. A $50,000 investment in sound-attenuating panels provided the remedy.
Another benefit is on-site U.S. Customs, which helps international flights avoid some of Southern California’s more congested airspace and provides another option to LAX, Palm Springs International and Van Nuys. The Inland Empire region in which San Bernardino is located sits just outside the Los Angeles area and is the 10th largest metropolitan area, larger than Denver, Phoenix or Boston. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, four million people live within 25 miles of the airport.
The Epic-branded facility is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., with after-hours callout available. It has a fuel farm with capacity for 150,000 gallons of jet-A, served by six refuelers (two 15,000-gallon, two 10,000-gallon, one 7,000-gallon and a 5,000-gallon truck). On the avgas side, three tankers of 5,000 gallons, 2,500 gallons and 1,000 gallons shuttle fuel from the 24,000-gallon tank. “We’re in good shape with refuelers and sometimes we need every one of those trucks,” Gibbs told AIN, referring to this summer’s wildfires, which raged in the San Bernardino area and torched more than 37,000 acres. “We’ve got the Forest Service tanker base here, and there have been times when we moved 400,000 gallons of fuel.” Generally, he noted, the FBO pumps 1.5 million gallons of fuel a year. In high-tempo periods such as fire season, which sees constant operations from morning until dusk, the location’s eight-person staff is supplemented by the airport operations team, which has been cross trained under the NATA Safety 1st program.
According to Gibbs, normal operations at the airport averaged a steady 25,000 operations a year between 2009 and 2012, but after the airport took over control of the FBO and started marketing it, that number has climbed continuously to about 40,000 last year. So far this year, it is 20 percent over that level of activity. It also sees a lot of traffic drawn to the five Part 145 repair stations operating on the field.
Fifteen of the 50 aircraft based at the airport are turbine powered, ranging from a 90-series King Air to a privately owned 747SP. Regularly handling such a large aircraft was good experience when Air Force One and President Obama came calling earlier this year, according to FBO manager Wendy Bechtel. “There is no airplane too big or too small for us,” she said. “If you come in in a Long EZ or Cessna 150, you are going to be treated the same as if you came in in a G650.”