J.A. Air Center has been in operation at Aurora Municipal Airport for little more than two years, and the privately owned FBO’s customer satisfaction ratings improved so much from the previous year that the facility catapulted itself not only onto the list, but squarely into the number-one spot. Operating initially at DuPage Airport, J.A. Air Center
(the J.A. stands for Joliet Avionics) in 1995 sold its fuel concession rights to the county airport authority, which formed the DuPage Flight Center. Randy Fank, now J.A. Air Center’s operations manager, ran the J.A. FBO operation at DuPage, and left to manage the county owned facility. He returned more than a decade later, when the company decided to reenter the FBO business, this time at Aurora, 13 miles away, and oversaw the construction of the $9.5 million structure, which opened in December 2008.
“We took an existing hangar, kept the steel beams and the roof and then gutted everything else out and rebuilt,” said Fank. “Outside of that we put a 25,000-sq-ft arrival canopy for aircraft to park under. [The canopy] has a 29-foot tail height so it can fit [aircraft] all the way up to the G650 when that airplane comes out.” In addition to the canopy, the facility has approximately 100,000 sq ft of hangar space, and a 12,000-sq-ft terminal with a 5,000-sqft passenger lobby and 1,600-sq-ft pilots’ lounge. The company does not have landing, ramp or overnight fees, charges Fank decries as “nickel and diming the customers.”
The FBO provides aircraft charter, management and sales, a Part 145 repair facility, and one of the largest avionics shops in the country. Another offering is a separate aircraft detailing business that, according to Fank, has seen an approximately 70-percent increase in business over the last year, to go along with increases in the company’s other divisions. “The phones have been getting a lot busier, aircraft sales have been busier, the charter calls have been up tremendously, and maintenance is doing well,” said Fank. “FBO wise we were up about 12 to 15 percent over the year before.” The company saw a boost of 35 percent in FBO business in January, and despite a blizzard that buried the airport for three days in February, business for the month was up 17 percent over the previous year.
That comes as welcome news for an FBO that has had to cope with the downturn since the moment it opened at Aurora. “We have adjusted to the current environment, but have not let anyone go or had any layoffs,” Fank told AIN. “We simply have not hired when someone has left.”
The airport’s location west of Chicago on the I-88 corridor near the business centers of Naperville and Oak Brook (home of McDonald’s) serves to fuel J.A. Air Center’s enthusiasm for its growth. “We’re almost what you would call a diamond in the rough or a sleeper airport,” said Fank, who noted that the recent facility upgrades at the airport have drawn attention and even customers from DuPage. “As things continue to turn around, this airport is going to flourish over the next five years.” – Source (AIN)