Well Grounded To­day’s high-de­sign busi­ness avi­a­tion ter­mi­nals are ex­ceed­ing ex­pec­ta­tions

Once upon a time, not ter­ri­bly long ago, gen­eral avi­a­tion ter­mi­nals were, at best, func­tional and friendly. The cof­fee pot be­hind the counter was al­ways on and the Nau­gahyde fur­ni­ture squeak­ily com­fort­able. Gen­eral avi­a­tion air­ports are home to fixed base op­er­a­tors, those providers of es­sen­tial ser­vices like fuel, air­craft park­ing and main­te­nance cater­ing to busi­ness and pri­vate air­craft. They were ready to fuel you up, fix a few “squawks” (prob­lems) and get you on your way again.

Fast for­ward to the present and things are de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent. To­day’s new crop of busi­ness jet ter­mi­nals are ‘brass and glass’ en­claves, ever more dra­matic oases in the fast-paced, high-fly­ing pri­vate jet world that for an in­creas­ing num­ber of cor­po­ra­tions is a sig­nif­i­cant fea­ture of busi­ness travel to­day.

With in­creas­ing fre­quency busi­nesses need to put their peo­ple in places off the route maps of com­mer­cial air­lines. “The US has about 5,000 pub­lic use air­ports,” says Dan Hub­bard, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Na­tional Busi­ness Avi­a­tion As­so­ci­a­tion. “Of those, about ten per­cent – or 500 – have some ser­vice by the air­lines. Gen­eral avi­a­tion can use nearly all 5,000 of those. Busi­ness avi­a­tion is a part of that.”

Tim Obitts re­fines the num­bers fur­ther. The ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Air Trans­porta­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, an in­dus­try trade group that rep­re­sents gen­eral avi­a­tion in­ter­ests in­clud­ing FBOs, says 3,537 of those pub­lic use air­ports sport paved run­ways that are 3,000 feet or longer. Some 3,384 FBOs serve th­ese gen­eral and busi­ness avi­a­tion fields.

Those fields are fer­tile th­ese days. Look around the coun­try and you’ll see FBOs at work erect­ing strik­ing busi­ness avi­a­tion fa­cil­i­ties that are any­thing but friv­o­lous – de­spite their el­e­gance.


Hard­headed facts of eco­nomic live drive the rush to con­struct new busi­ness avi­a­tion ter­mi­nals. “Start­ing back in the early 1990s there was a de­sire by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, by air­ports, to cre­ate a min­i­mum stan­dard [for FBO fa­cil­i­ties],” says Obitts.

Ter­mi­nals, in essence, “would be a show­case, a first im­pres­sion for the busi­ness traveler com­ing into the com­mu­nity,” a lens through which busi­ness guests, like ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists and com­pa­nies on the look­out for new eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties, view the city. Air­ports “want to make a good im­pres­sion to make sure they come back,” he says.

FBOs serve two au­di­ences: pas­sen­gers and pi­lots. Fa­cil­i­ties have to ap­peal to both. The pas­sen­gers’ cor­po­ra­tion may be pay­ing the ul­ti­mate bill, but it’s pi­lots who get them there and back safely.

“I’ve heard [of ] FBOs spend­ing up to $30 mil­lion for their fa­cil­i­ties,” says An­drew Perry, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Hous­ton Ex­ec­u­tive Air­port, a biz­jet mecca for the Bayou City lo­cated 28 miles west of down­town. “They’re spend­ing that kind of money to ser­vice pas­sen­gers and crews.”

Busi­nessJetCen­ter, an FBO at archri­val Dal­las Love Field, has with ex­ec­u­tive con­fer­ence rooms and a spe­cial events room. Cat Clay, man­ager of sales and mar­ket­ing, says there’s even a bucket of ca­nine treats and an ap­pro­pri­ate grass patch for four-legged fliers.

But pas­sen­ger pam­per­ing can go well be­yond C-suite con­fer­ence rooms and doggy com­fort sta­tions. “I had an air­craft call us in­bound one time,” re­mem­bers Betsy Wines, vice pres­i­dent of cus­tomer ser­vice and hu­man re­sources at Merid­ian’s Teter­boro, NJ, FBO. “The boss had for­got­ten his ten­nis stuff. He wanted to play ten­nis while he was here.” The in­bound busi­ness jet called Merid­ian

and said, “’We need sneak­ers this size, shorts this size.’ They needed to be a par­tic­u­lar brand. We went out and got them for him be­fore they landed.”

One of the most im­por­tant pas­sen­ger needs is an ar­rivals canopy to ward off sun and rain. In fact, canopies have be­come the hall­mark of an in­creas­ing num­ber of FBO ter­mi­nals.

Busi­nessJetCen­ter’s can ac­com­mo­date a Gulf­stream G-450. Hen­rick­sen Jet Cen­ter boasts what Perry la­bels “the world’s largest ar­rivals canopy. Hous­ton is a hot place, espe­cially in the sum­mer.” Pas­sen­gers and crew are in the shade when they ar­rive or de­part. The Hen­rick­sen canopy is com­modi­ous enough to shel­ter an MD-87 and a pair of Gulf­stream G-650s side by side at the same time.

Ameni­ties not­with­stand­ing, cor­po­rate busi­ness jet travel is pred­i­cated on speed. “In real­ity, pas­sen­gers shouldn’t spend much time in our ter­mi­nal,” says Wines, “They ex­pect to ar­rive curb­side or plane­side, to be able to move quickly, ei­ther from the car to the plane or the plane to the car.”

At Merid­ian Teter­boro, she adds, “For most of our pas­sen­gers who are trav­el­ing through it’s the bare es­sen­tials – be­ing able to walk through a well-main­tained fa­cil­ity, get to their car quickly, use a clean re­stroom, have a cup of cof­fee and maybe grab a bot­tle of wa­ter.” Many of Merid­ian’s busi­ness trav­el­ers are bound for Man­hat­tan, 12 miles dis­tance from the New Jer­sey FBO.


TEB is the East Coast an­chor for bi­coastal busi­ness jet travel; Van Nuys (VNY), lo­cated in the LA Basin, is the West Coast linch­pin.

Bi­coastal busi­ness itin­er­ar­ies of­ten start or end up at one of th­ese air­ports. So too in­ter­na­tional trips, which are made pos­si­ble by a new breed of large cabin, long range jets such as the Bom­bardier Global Ex­press. It sports a non­stop range of 7,077 miles. The ri­val Gulf­stream G650 can fly 8,053 miles with­out hav­ing to re­fuel. Both th­ese rapier-like time ma­chines are mak­ing both TEB and VNY in-de­mand con­nect­ing points

Van Nuys boasts an 8,001-foot run­way ca­pa­ble of launch­ing the right kind of biz­jet to Asia. Teter­boro’s main 7,000-foot strip can han­dle non­stop Euro­pean and Latin Amer­i­can flights.

As the “legs” get longer and the air­craft larger, it’s af­fect­ing the way FBOs de­sign their fa­cil­i­ties. At Van Nuys “we’re see­ing larger cabin-class air­planes,” says Curt Castagna, pres­i­dent and CEO of Aero­plex/Aerolease Group, which just fin­ished an $8-mil­lion, 50,000-square­foot fa­cil­ity at the air­port. “It’s im­pact­ing air­port fa­cil­ity de­sign.” Han­gar size is di­rectly in­flu­enced. The norm used to be 10,000 square feet. Now, he says 40,000 square feet is “not un­com­mon.”

The pas­sen­ger en­vi­rons of ter­mi­nals are also af­fected. Castagna says the im­pact is com­pa­ra­ble to what’s hap­pen­ing at com­mer­cial air­ports “that are de­sign­ing their fa­cil­i­ties for the A380, the Dream­liner and the 777. You’re see­ing the same sort of re­ac­tion at the larger gen­eral avi­a­tion air­ports.”


One of the prime sell­ing points of busi­ness air­craft is that they pro­vide air­borne pri­vacy, a place where can­did con­ver­sa­tion about, say, a clas­si­fied busi­ness deal can be held with­out fear of be­ing over­heard. “The clien­tele based in the [Long Beach] fa­cil­i­ties are ei­ther-high-end in­vestors or pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als,” Castagna says. “We cater to lots of peo­ple in the movie in­dus­try. Those folks want pri­vacy

Busi­nesses need to put their peo­ple in places off the route maps of com­mer­cial air­lines

and se­cu­rity. That’s the num­ber one con­sid­er­a­tion for them: They want a fa­cil­ity that pro­vides pro­tec­tion.”

Curt Castagna says his com­pany lis­tened to the clien­tele when it de­signed the new Van Nuys en­clave. Con­fer­ence rooms, se­cu­rity sys­tems, ac­cess con­trol sys­tems – “we’re build­ing them in.”


In large cities small air­ports dom­i­nate the cor­po­rate avi­a­tion skyscape. “At the largest US hubs, gen­eral avi­a­tion is al­ways a sin­gle per­cent­age user,” says NBAA’s Dan Hub­bard. “Be­cause the air­line pres­ence is so pro­nounced that gen­eral avi­a­tion air­craft have every in­cen­tive to use smaller and sec­ondary air­ports.”

Harts­field-Jack­son At­lanta In­ter­na­tional, the world’s busiest air­port, is a clas­sic case-in-point. Busi­ness jets fa­vor DeKalb-Peachtree Air­port (PDK), just north­east of town and a 15 minute drive from up­scale Mid­town and Buck­head – as­sum­ing At­lanta’s no­to­ri­ously bol­loxed ground traf­fic co­op­er­ates. Af­ter ATL, PDK is the state of Ge­or­gia’s sec­ond-busiest air­port.

On the west side of the city lies Ful­ton County Air­port (FTY), known to lo­cals as Charlie Brown Field. It’s lo­cated near the junc­ture of In­ter­states 20 and 285.

Like­wise Chicago O’Hare In­ter­na­tional, the world’s sec­ond busiest air­port, isn’t fa­vored by busi­ness air­craft. As with At­lanta, ORD has a cou­ple of so-called “re­liever” air­ports, busi­ness jet sanc­tu­ar­ies.

The larger of the two is DuPage Air­port, lo­cated in West Chicago, IL. With a main run­way stretch­ing some 7,570 feet, DPA can han­dle just about any air­craft. The air­port fea­tures a $10-mil­lion ter­mi­nal and a $14-mil­lion Robert Trent Jones, Jr. golf course. Chicago Ex­ec­u­tive Air­port (PWK) is 18 miles north­west of Chicago in Cook County. It too is a mecca for busi­ness air­craft. Its main 5,001-foot run­way is ca­pa­ble of han­dling jets up to the 20-seat range.

Th­ese are “pure” busi­ness and gen­eral avi­a­tion air­ports. They are lo­cated in or near ma­jor cities with lots of com­mer­cial air­line ser­vice at ma­jor air­ports. That said, some big city air­ports co-ex­ist nicely with gen­eral avi­a­tion, espe­cially the tur­bine-pow­ered jet va­ri­ety. One of them is Dal­las Love Field.


South­west Air­lines flat out dom­i­nates DAL.

It’s the head­quar­ters and ances­tral home of the low-fare jug­ger­naut.

Lo­cated a mere six miles north of down­town Dal­las, DAL is fa­vored by com­mer­cial and biz­jet fliers alike.

Be­cause com­mer­cial traf­fic at DAL has ef­fec­tively been capped by an agree­ment lim­it­ing the num­ber of gates at the com­mer­cial ter­mi­nal, Love Field-bound trav­el­ers aboard busi­ness air­craft aren’t be­set by the sort of lo­cal air traf­fic de­lays that im­pact other air­ports of its size and city-cen­ter prox­im­ity.

As the “legs” get longer and the air­craft larger, it’s af­fect­ing the way FBOs de­sign their fa­cil­i­ties


Seat­tle’s Boe­ing Field (BFI) lies five miles south of down­town Seat­tle and at the epi­cen­ter of avi­a­tion his­tory. Re­cently, Sig­na­ture Flight Sup­port opened a ‘glass and brass’ FBO at the air­port, one of 200-plus FBOs it has world­wide.

Sig­na­ture’s in­flu­ence on the fixed base op­er­a­tions in­dus­try is sem­i­nal. The mass trans­for­ma­tion of FBOs be­gan in the early 1990s, con­tends NATA’s Tim Obitts, when Sig­na­ture in­tro­duced concierge and VIP sta­tus to the once stolid, pro­saic world of busi­ness air­craft travel.

Obitts be­lieves this set off a chain re­ac­tion, not just with other ground-bound FBOs but with man­u­fac­tur­ers of busi­ness avi­a­tion air­craft as well. “There was more de­mand for the man­u­fac­tur­ers to have WiFi, larger cab­ins and more ameni­ties to match what they were re­ceiv­ing on the front end (de­par­ture) and back end (ar­rivals)” of the trip.

In a pat­tern that Obitts says was man­i­fested by “beau­ti­ful fa­cil­i­ties,” wait­ing limos, re­fresh­ments, restau­rant rec­om­men­da­tions, “what­ever they might want,” Sig­na­ture’s suc­cess “cre­ated this (high-end) en­vi­ron­ment and oth­ers started fol­low­ing suit.”

The cof­fee pot is still around, but now it holds cus­tom-ground brews. The fur­ni­ture is still there in the wait­ing room. But it’s not Nau­gahyde. Not any more.

Busi­ness avi­a­tion is look­ing for more from air­port ser­vices – and to­day’s FBOs are de­liv­er­ing

MAIN PRE­VI­OUS IM­AGE: Merid­ian Teter­boro, NJ ABOVE:Merid­ian's lobby

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