On February 7th 2016 Super Bowl 50 comes to the San Francisco Bay Area in California, to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, home to the San Francisco 49ers. Unfortunately for local fans, the 49ers have zero chance of being one of the two teams lining up for the 2015 grand final, having been eliminated in Week 14 of the season. However, as KaiserAir General Manager Otto Wright knows, this simply guarantees that even more out-of-town private flights will be coming through KaiserAir’s Oakland FBO. (Oakland Airport is one of three major airports in the Bay area.)
Q: You are currently gearing up for Super Bowl 50, but before we get there, tell us a bit about the history of KaiserAir?
A: KaiserAir has come a long way from the days when it was the flight department of Kaiser Industries. With companies all over the world doing everything from building ships for the US navy during World War II, to manufacturing jeeps and getting into construction and building. KaiserAir grew from being the in-house flight department, KaiserAir became one of the first aircraft management businesses and today we are still recognized for having one of the best safety records in the business. . The company opened its first FBO, at the Oakland Airport, in 1982, which is still our home base. Nine years later the company moved to a larger terminal and shortly afterwards, opened a second FBO at the Sonoma County Airport.
Q: The whole Bay area is gearing up for Super Bowl 50. What do you expect the impact will be at your Oakland FBO?
A: We’ll be seeing a huge spike in traffic. Through the week leading up to the Super Bowl, which extends from the 1st of February through to match day on the 7th, we expect to see up to 1,000 jets. A good portion of these will be part of the NetJets fleet, but we are also the preferred handler for the CAA and many others. At any time during that week our staff could be seeing around 200 to 300 aircraft on the ground. Clearly, this presents a number of challenges since our aim is to provide all customers with the highest quality of service, no matter how crowded the ramp gets! What I can say is that we are well prepared for this and all my team are looking forward to Super Bowl week.
Q: Competition for ramp space is going to be pretty intense isn’t it? How do you deal with the mechanics of parking the jets so that owners have the freedom to come and go without massive disruption to parked aircraft when there are so many jets on the ramp?
A: Fortunately, Oakland has a great deal of space available, so the parking challenge is not as acute as it would be at a FBO that was much tighter on ramp space. My staff will handle the logistics so that owners that expect to leave early can get to the departure line with the minimum of fuss and can meet their slot schedule.
Q: How does Oakland stack up against the other airports in the Bay area?
A: There is no doubt that Oakland has several advantages over our two rivals, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and San Jose International. First and foremost, we are closer to downtown San Francisco than the other two. Second, we have three runways available for GA flights. Passengers can be out of the aircraft and into downtown San Francisco within 25 minutes of landing, which is much faster than crowded SFO. Silicon Valley, which is obviously a prime destination throughout the year for a good deal of the VIP passengers going through our FBO, is just 40 minutes away with a lot less traffic.
Then there is the weather. San Francisco International is notorious for fog delays and it gets really congested when there is a blanket of fog over the area. If you are a private jet owner when that happens you’ll find yourself in a long queue behind commercial airline traffic. We don’t have that problem here. Our weather is pretty good.
Q: How much has the business aviation industry changed, in your view, since the early days of KaiserAir?
A: One of the most obvious changes is that there is now much more competition at virtually all the major metropolitan-type airports as far as FBOs and support services are concerned. General aviation has really mushroomed in the Bay area since the 1980s. I couldn’t put a figure on the increase in the number of jets over that time but it has really grown – and would have grown even faster, of course, if we had not had the 2008 crash. However, we seem to be getting back to pre-crash levels again. On the competition front, GA and business jet customers now have a choice of FBOs. They can come to us at KaiserAir or they can use the Landmark Aviation facilities. We have a greater than 50% market share on the field, but the competition is healthy and keeps us both on our toes. From our standpoint, the argument we make to prospective clients is, your choice is between going with a national chain like Landmark, or with a local company, KaiserAir, that can provide a rich array of services in addition to our FBO facility.
It is important to realize that we are a Part 145 MRO shop and we also continue our tradition of providing aircraft management services – plus we now have our own airline. We think we provide a great alternative to a large FBO chain, and, given that we have a larger share of the business going through the airport, it looks like the customers believe that too, which is very encouraging.
Irrespective of which FBO clients choose, Oakland is a very well regarded airport. It has a great history to it. This is the airport that Amelia Earhart flew out from for Hawaii on the start of her famous 1935 transoceanic flight. We are still considered the best stop on your way to or from the Hawaiian islands.
Q: Are you restricted as to the size of aircraft that can make use of your facilities?
A: We are well able to handle large jets, up to and including Boeing 777s and 747s, and we are definitely seeing a real increase in the number of large cabin, long range jets arriving at our FBO. Our charter business on the aircraft management side, is also seeing strong demand for larger cabin aircraft. A number of owners of smaller jets use our services when they want to take several family members or a party of executives with them. They’ll charter one of our 737s.
In fact, demand is so strong that we are going to expand our facilities at Oakland. We have a $10 million investment in the FBO planned that will see several of our buildings redeveloped, enabling us to create an enhanced GA terminal here.
Because we are seeing more and more large groups coming in, we are also going to create a separate terminal to handle large groups. This will enable us to accommodate TSA screening of large groups in a manner suited to ViP groups. In addition, we are adding to our hangar space by taking on two more hangar bays and will be extending one of our existing hangers to enable it to take more of our 737s.
We are looking forward to 2016. Super Bowl will get the year off to a flying start, no pun intended, and with the US economy picking up, we are anticipating a solid and perhaps even a spectacular 2016.