Flying Just Below the Radar
Private jets of varying size and descriptions are a familiar site on the Colorado Springs Airport’s west side where they deliver or pick up passengers and refuel.
It’s been challenging to say the least,” he says of the last decade’s difficult economic head winds. The cost of fuel as well as maintenance, insurance and aircraft storage only compound the situation.
Janitell’s companies include JHW Investments, Pikes Peak Flyers and Pikes Peak Aviation which lease land from the airport for a 65-hangar facility and servicing operation and sell private aircraft. All depend on the health of the broader economy.
“Our industry has been caught in the political crosshairs. Most owners I meet are out there just scraping by like everyone else,” he says, adding that owning a turboprop plane, helicopter or jet for business are usually time and cost savers.
Unpredictable commercial flights often result in limited connections, delays, long security lines and costly hotel stays.
“Private aircraft can fly to any of 5,000 domestic airports–all within a day. Commercial airlines only fly to 376,” he explains, adding that many still believe only “fat cats” like Donald Trump, Harrison Ford, Oprah Winfrey or Google’s Larry Page own private jets.
Turboprop, helicopter or jet owners know there’s more to the story.
Here in the Pikes Peak region, aviators include a broad array of active duty and retired military who build and pilot their own flying machines or business owners like auto dealer Bob Penkhus who pilots both a corporate jet and helicopter.
“Some need to check long stretches of pipeline or work in rural locations. They’re only real option is private aircraft,” says a local airport official.
Others like GE Johnson CEO Jim Johnson buys time on planes owned by other investors to do business in surrounding states.
“It’s great to be able to fly our team in and out in the same day – a real time and money saver,” he notes.
Compared to commercial aviation, general aviation–covering the ownership, maintenance, storage, fueling and repair of private aircraft–accounts for almost two-thirds of FAA “towered” aviation business at U.S. airports in 2011.
Last year the Colorado Springs Airport reported just over 58,000 general aviation “operations”–an industry term for business services–almost double combined commercial carrier and air taxi operations for the year.
Jessi Rowden runs the Cutter Aviation on the west side of the Colorado Springs Airport. The company provides avionics, maintenance and travel/concierge services for both passengers and pilots.
“We often also see special folks, celebrities and politicians come in,” she says, adding that when city economic developers are wooing relocation prospects, activity picks up.
Like Janitell, she sees Colorado Springs as a great facility that is underutilized with one of the longest runways in the country.
“If we can get (corporate) flight departments here, then their growth is our growth,” she says.
Like other fixed base operators on the west side of the main airport terminal, Rowden hopes for a return to the heights of a decade ago.
Nearby, Colorado Jet Center President Aaron Woods sells jet fuel to private aviators, the U.S. government and the airlines. His customers include vacation travelers and corporate executives. Some will overnight their Gulfstream or Global Express jets at his facility
“The airport is diversified, giving us an edge. The downturn didn’t affect us as much,” he points out. “Business aviation has been flat and sleepy since West Pac closed, but government and leisure has been steady.”
Fortunately management at the state’s second busiest airport is supportive.
Unlike Denver International which sees 12 times the commercial enplanements, Colorado Springs is classified as an FAA-certified “medium-size” mixed-use airport, serving both commercial and general aviation companies.
DIA has no general aviation component. In fact private aircraft are discouraged because of the impact they’d have on air carrier traffic flow, say airport officials, noting that reliever airports such as Centennial or Jeffco are strictly used for private fliers.
Today a dozen companies lease land on the airport’s 350-acre west side.
Janitell is the local airport’s longest-running tenant–on site for more than 40 years. He negotiated land leases and owns improvements on 32 acres, including a recently expanded ramp for client FedEx.
Because FedEx wanted to bring in bigger planes, he requested permission to make additional improvements.
Upgrades like this type of project are what Colorado Springs like to see.
“We’re not looking for new operators, just for the sake of having more. We’re more concerned about having a broad range of services available to the general public,” an airport official says.
“What we’d really like is to see an economy that drives more demand. That makes general aviation investment even more profitable.”