Golden Isles Aviation, the lone FBO at Georgia’s McKinnon St. Simons Island Airport (KSSI) debuted its new terminal earlier this year. But visitors have found that isn’t the only new thing at the airport. There is also a new 88-room Hilton Home2 hotel, built on the FBO’s leasehold. The entire complex was designed and built at the same time, according to Golden Isles president Larry Wade, who came up with the plan with his friend, pilot and hotelier Gaines Sturdivant, CEO of the MMI Hospitality Group, which owns and operates hotels throughout the South. Golden Isles covered the FBO construction and MMI paid for the hotel.
The old FBO terminal, which occupied most of the airport’s former commercial terminal, was leveled along with its parking lots to make room for the new multimillion-dollar facility, which shares a porte cochere with the hotel. Indeed, while the two businesses have different ownership, the concept embraces the hotel as an integral part of the complex. “The pilot loves it when he can come down in the elevator, and when the door opens at the bottom, he’s at the airport,” noted Wade. “He doesn’t have to worry about a taxi or renting a car.” The aviation themed hotel’s suites even offer a television channel that allows them to monitor two cameras on the ramp.
That close association also provides some unexpected benefits for the FBO’s customers. “I wanted our aviation guests to have access to and use of the pool and fitness center and day rooms, if they wanted,” explained Wade, who has owned the FBO for three decades.
St. Simons is a resort destination, and golf is major draw to the location. It is a stop on the PGA Tour with an annual tournament, and many corporations use it as the venue for their annual meetings. In recognition of that fact, the FBO offers a large putting green and maintains a membership in a local golf course. FBO customers can pick up a bag of clubs from the front desk, jump in a courtesy car and play a round of golf for just the cart fees.
The new 6,000-sq-ft terminal offers an atrium lobby complete with a restored Baby Great Lakes sport biplane suspended from the ceiling. Other features include a pilots’ lounge with views of the ramp, snooze room, crew shower facilities, a full kitchen area with bistro seating, flight planning room, a 10-seat A/V-equipped conference room, and a covered rampside wrap-around porch with rocking chairs for plane watching.
During the course of the two-year project, while the former terminal was being demolished, the FBO set up shop in one of its renovated hangars, which was climate controlled. Rather than turn it back into a hangar once the project was complete, the FBO now uses the space as an event facility, and for aviation functions. A DC-3 owned by one of Wade’s friends can serve as a party backdrop.
The FBO maintains 70,000 sq ft of hangar space, which can accommodate aircraft up to a Falcon 2000. For larger jets, the company has agreements with other hangar-owners on the airport. It is home to a lone Hawker bizjet, a pair of Pilatus PC-12s and two King Airs. The local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Associationuses part of one hangar as a clubhouse.
The development at the Phillips 66-branded facility also included a new fuel farm, which can store 20,000 gallons of jet-A and 12,000 gallons of avgas.
The FBO is open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. every day, in line with its resort gateway status. The location can even provide U.S. Customs service with agents dispatched from an off-airport office, with several hours' notice.
Golden Isles, once a member of the long-defunct Avitat FBO network, formed part of the nucleus of the current World Fuel-sponsored Air Elite Network and the service provider participates in both the Phillips 66 WingPoints and World Fuel FlyBuys rewards programs.
“We just hope to be a great front door, and home away from home for the flying community,” said Wade. “It’s a southern hospitality environment. People liked us before the new facilities, just because they liked our folks. We were able to put new facilities with that, but to me that’s second tier to the customer touch.”