When John Messenger acquired North Atlantic Air, the lone FBO at Boston-area Beverly Regional Airport, he realized he had his work cut out for him. The facility, and indeed the airport, in general, had not been kept up, with tasks such as mowing performed at very infrequent intervals, but with the injection of new energy on the airport administration side and investment at the FBO, things have changed.
“When I took over three years ago, I had a mission: to take the pig and put some really nice expensive lipstick on it,” he told AIN. “The only thing I had to do was just get in here and get knee deep in rebuilding.” That entailed gutting the interior of the 45-year-old terminal and replacing it with a new lobby, kitchenette, pilot lounge, and bathrooms, at an expenditure of nearly $1.5 million. The small terminal is now a cozy haven with a sky-painted ceiling (one of the cloud formations is said to resemble a lobster, and has visitors gazing upwards to locate it), an eclectically-decorated waiting area with heavy leather-clad Amish furniture and fresh flowers at all times, a pilots lounge, onsite car rental, and a coffee and refreshment bar. Trail mix has proven to be an especially popular snack with the FBO’s clientele, as it goes through 1,000 pounds a year.
Also available in the terminal is U.S. Customs and Immigration service with a day’s advance notice, and there is an outdoor seating area with Adirondack chairs.
Yet, Messenger noted, approximately 60 percent of his business consists of Part 135 flights, whose customers generally bypass the terminal altogether. “What’s good about Beverly is the airplane lands, the gate opens, the car is right there at the airport, the passengers get off and get the hell out of here,” he said, adding that the airport has seen a 144 percent increase in air taxi usage since 2012, and 30 percent since he took over the FBO. Last year it rose another eight percent.
Messenger also upgraded the Shell Aviation Fuels-branded location’s fueling fleet with a trio of new trucks, including a pair of 3,000 gallon jet tankers and a 1,000 gallon avgas refueler, all equipped with wireless TCS meters to transmit volumes and prices directly to the customer service desk, the FBO’s management software, and Messenger’s smartphone. They serve the location’s 27,500-gallon fuel farm, which is tended by its NATA Safety 1st-trained line staff and pumps an average of 750,000 gallons a year.
While the facility, which is open from 6 a.m. until 8:30 with after hour call out available, sees its seasonal peak during the warmer months, once Type I and Type IV deicing capability was added, winter has become a busy season as well. “The north shore of Boston is a population of very wealthy people, they’re going to the islands in the winter, they’re going to Florida, they are going out west for skiing,” Messenger explained. With the airport’s proximity to Salem and its long association with witches, October attracts visitors to the area on jets rather than broomsticks for the town’s annual month-long Haunted Happenings festival.
The city-owned airport, which opened in 1928 and was used as a naval auxiliary airfield during World War II, offers a 5,000-foot main runway and is located just 21 miles from downtown Beantown, providing an alternative to Boston Logan and Hanscom Field in Bedford. Currently, the FBO has 35,000 sq ft of hangar space that can accommodate the latest big business jets. It is home to six turbine-powered aircraft ranging from a Gulfstream G550 and Bombardier Global, to a Daher TBM 900. In the airport’s private hangars are a Cessna CJ2 and a handful of turboprops. The company expects to break ground next year on a new 17,000 sq ft hangar, which can shelter a G650 along with several other aircraft.
As far as his customer service views, Messenger believes in starting from the ground up. “My philosophy is to keep my employees happy, trust them for success and take really good care of them because they are ones that go out there, smile and treat the customers like they are gold, and its because of the way management treats the employees, they are happy to come to work and it shows with the pilots.”
Messenger developed a bias against rental uniforms when he worked for his father’s company in his youth. “I vowed I would never do that when I bought my own company,” he said adding that the company actively shops for its staff. “You just dress them up and make them feel like a million dollars, that’s what pays with customer service.” To help keep with that presentation, there is a dedicated washer and dryer for employee use in the FBO, and a wardrobe of spare clothing to immediately change into should any garments become dirty or damaged.