The name first brings to mind sunny beaches on the French Riviera, Monaco Air Duluth, but the lone service provider at Minnesota’s Duluth International Airport (DLH) was not named for the yacht-set playground on the Mediterranean, but for owner Don Monaco. He purchased the former North Country Aviation a decade and a half ago, and the company thought it was important to identify its home city in the name, as well.
While Duluth might not register as a major destination on its own, the airport is an important tech stop on the Europe-West Coast and Asia-East Coast routes, handling several hundred international arrivals a year around the clock carrying everything from heads-of-state to cargo. “We never close,” said company president Michael Magni, who has been with the company since it changed hands in 2005. “In fact, I’m pretty sure we haven’t closed in the last 15 years, ever.” All international tech-stop aircraft depart the facility with boxes of golf balls and packages of cookies, freshly baked at the FBO.
In addition to business and general aviation flights, the company, which has a staff of 31, handles all aircraft at the airport, commercial and military. Duluth is home to two major trauma centers, so medevac flights, some hailing from international locations, can arrive at any time of day or night.
Four years ago, the company tore down its aging terminal and constructed a $3.5 million replacement. To service all those international flights, it included an in-house, fully-equipped 2,500-sq-ft U.S. Customs station, built to the agency’s specifications. A point of trivia: through its Great Lakes connection, Duluth is the westernmost port of the Atlantic Ocean, and it has a significant seaport to handle international shipping. That includes a large local Customs office that can dispatch agents to the airport facility after hours, on short notice.
As part of that seaport background, Monaco Air is quite possibly the only aviation service provider that has ever performed regularly-scheduled ground handling for ships. When a cruise line added the port as a stop on one of its routes several years ago, the port director requested the FBO conduct the handling for its service culture and familiarity with handling international passengers and their baggage.
A member of the Air Elite network, the World Fuel-branded FBO owns and operates the airport’s fuel farm, which holds 100,000 gallons of jet-A and 25,000 gallons of avgas. It pumps three million gallons of fuel a year, distributed by the company’s six 5,000-gallon jet-A trucks and a pair of 1,500-gallon avgas refuelers, which are handled by the location’s NATA Safety 1st-trained staff. A self-serve avgas pump is also available. The company also owns two defuelers and three deicing boom trucks that provide Type I and IV deicing service to all departing private, commercial, and military aircraft.
The FBO’s 14,000-sq-ft, two-story terminal on the south side of the airport near the commercial terminal includes multiple passenger seating areas, a comfortable pilot lounge with widescreen TV and a quartet of recliners, a pair of snooze rooms with full beds, shower facilities, equipment and storage lockers, business center, flight planning area, two A/V-equipped conference rooms with seating for 20 and 8 respectively, a fitness center, crew cars, and onsite car rental. VIP catering is sourced from local eatery Black Woods Grill.
“We get everything from BBJs to [Cessna] 172s, and every single customer that comes on to our ramp is treated with our VIP customer service,” Magni told AIN. “Every single aircraft receives a red carpet and every single customer is treated like they’re walking off that BBJ.”
Home to 10 turbine-powered aircraft ranging from a Hawker 900 to a Daher TBM 900, the company has 50,000 sq ft of heated hangar space that can accommodate aircraft up to a Falcon 900. It has plans to build a 25,000-sq-ft hangar with a door height possibly taller than 28 feet to accommodate current and future ultra-long-range business jets, but before commiting to a design, the company is waiting for the results of the National Fire Protection revision for Standard 409 that covers aircraft hangars, due out next year.
The airport itself has existed since the 1920s as a civil facility. During World War II, the military moved in and paved the runways, and it has operated as a dual-use airport ever since. While the Air Force base there was closed in the 1980s, it is still home to several squadrons of F-16’s from the state's Air National Guard. DLH has a 24/7-staffed control tower, onsite ARFF, and a 10,591-foot main runway along with a 5,719-foot crosswind runway that will be expanded to 8,000 feet in the next few years, according to Magni. Cirrus Aircraft is also headquartered there, and Monaco Air Duluth has fueled every single Vision Jet that has rolled off the production line.
The company has a maintenance division that is a Cirrus authorized service center. It works on the Vision Jet, turboprops and piston aircraft, as well as providing AOG service to the airlines operating at DLH.