By S. Clayton Moore,
You might call it St. Somewhere, this little aviation paradise tucked away at Fort Lauderdale International Airport (FLL). Jetscape Services is the brand new fixed base operation led by an inspired and experienced team of aviation professionals. It’s quickly becoming a brilliant addition not only to the Florida aviation market but also a boon to aircraft flying clients off to Caribbean beaches and resorts.
“This is just a stopping point,” says Troy Menken, Jetscape president. “It’s really the gateway to the Caribbean.”
The Jetscape team truly moves to its own rhythm. During the rare times you might find yourself on hold with one of its well-trained staff, you’ll find the hold music is not the traditional Muzak but a grin-inducing set of Caribbean steel drums.
In fact, if you wander down to the company’s cool 10,000-square-foot hangar on the last Friday of the month, you’ll find Menken firing up the grill. The company throws “Caribbean Fridays” most months of the year, when up to 400 people come down to the airport’s northeast corner for a party. The picnic, open to anybody on the airport, is where you’ll find its president serving up his famous Jamaican jerk chicken.
They do like to have their fun but it’s taken a lot of hard work to get this far.
Back to basics
The company is the culmination of the vision of two aviation professionals who remembered what a good time general aviation can be.
Its biggest financial supporter is John Evans, who had his greatest success with Indigo Aviation, which he joined as president and CEO in 1995. In just five short years, Evans built Indigo into a major player in the commercial aircraft leasing industry. Eighteen months after it went public, the company merged with AerFi Group PLC in a deal that valued Indigo at $150 million. A year later, the merged group was purchased by a subsidiary of Daimler-Chrysler for $750 million.
You’d think that would be enough success for a lifetime, but Evans quickly jumped back into the airplane business, starting Jetscape, Inc. as an aircraft leasing company in 2002. Today, the company owns and manages 22 commercial aircraft on lease to 15 airline operators in 13 countries.
But Evans also wanted to get back to his beginnings in the general aviation world. To co-found an FBO under the Jetscape brand in Fort Lauderdale, he recruited Menken, a gifted aviation professional who has consistently led a series of companies to success. He was instrumental in the rise of America West; Morris Air, which was later sold to Southwest Airlines; Champion Air, which was sold to Northwest Airlines; Winair; and finally as vice president of technical operations for the enormously successful launch of JetBlue.
Menken retired from the commercial airline business a week before 9/11 wreaked financial havoc on the industry. He was thinking about moving to Florida anyway, so when Evans called, Menken was ready for the challenge.
“It’s a different version of the aviation world,” said Menken. “John and I had both started out in FBOs early in our career. He worked out at Denver Stapleton pumping gas and I was in a small airport in Waterloo, Iowa. That was where our roots were, so we really felt like, ‘Yeah, we can do this.’ We’re having fun with it, too.”
As president of the small company, Menken wears a lot of hats but is finding the FBO world a little more welcoming than the corporate environment.
“It’s similar in some ways but it’s not as large a scale, dollar-wise,” he said. “What we were able to do here, with a smaller team, is to start up in a friendlier environment where everybody helps each other out, no matter what job needs to be done. It’s a much more controlled environment.”
It hasn’t always been easy. The shining facilities that are home to Jetscape today were abandoned, derelict buildings when Menken and Evans purchased the lease hold in September 2002.
“We’ve gone from having nothing here in Fort Lauderdale to having a facility of which we can all be proud,” Menken said.
But it took nearly two years of renovation to get to this point. First, they pulled up the entire ramp and replaced it with a stronger structure that is stressed for larger aircraft. Now Jetscape can handle aircraft as large as the Boeing 757 the San Diego Padres frequently fly to their facility.
The hangars and offices were the next challenge.
“It was basically only being held together by termites,” Menken laughed.
The main two-story facility was gutted all the way down to cinder blocks so construction could virtually start over, but the transformation is startling. The building now has a 3,000-square-foot lobby with all the standard pilot and passenger amenities including a lounge, weather room, sleep area, showers and a conference room. Not to mention, it’s very cool compared to the traditional FBO lobby.
“It’s all styled back to the retro sixties, with kind of a stainless steel interior,” Menken said. “The stairs are custom-made in stainless steel with old aircraft cables for handrails. We have all the old Pan Am posters up. It has that look and feel of back in the old days when they were flying float planes and DC-3s.”
With about eight acres and 45,000 square feet of facilities, there were hangars to renovate as well. Menken and his team repainted all the floors and hangar walls inside and out, ending up with a paint hangar, a storage hangar, and a third that is leased out to a Part 135 charter operator. Jetscape was finally able to open its doors in February 2004.
The Jetscape Blueprint
The company is focusing its efforts by staying away from maintenance for the time being and offering finely-tuned concierge services, ramp operations and fuel sales. What the company might lack in diversity of operations, it more than makes up for with first-class customer service. Jetscape’s diverse family of 16 employees is ready for any challenge a client might face.
With about 60 percent of Jetscape’s business coming from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and some Spanish-speaking residents of Florida, the company has staffed its facilities with a strong team of mostly bilingual employees.
“They come from all walks of life but they make up a phenomenal team,” Menken said. “I think I’m most proud of the team and the friendships they’ve formed with each other. These people are our biggest asset and they can take care of everything. We do try to listen to the employees and help them out, but if I never came into work, they could run this operation flawlessly.”
The company has gained about 14 percent of the market share at the airport, which is significant considering there are four FBOs sharing its business and the 1.2 million gallons of fuel being pumped each month.
That’s largely due to what Menken calls the “Jetscape Blueprint,” a company-wide value system where safety and customer service are paramount.
“We’ve been quoted as having the personal touch, and it’s definitely one of the advantages we have,” Menken said. “I know the owners personally or I talk to their pilots. I meet almost every airplane that comes through here. We really want to stay in touch with our customers and give them that personalized service.”
That level of service has been a draw for a range of customers from corporate CEOs to regular Joes looking for a great place to park their planes.
“Lots of these aircraft owners are multimillionaires who either have homes here in Fort Lauderdale or down in South Beach but prefer to come into our facility,” Menken said. “This niche market we’re going after has found us, basically. We’re a little more remote and the area we’re in is a little less public, but that privacy is attractive to millionaires and movie stars trying to get in and out of the airport with some ease.”
Some big names have come through the FBO in its first year of operation, among them actor Gene Hackman, country singers Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and John Kerry on his presidential campaign. Some are drawn by Jetscape’s discretion and professionalism but others have come for the ride of a lifetime. The small FBO has such a great reputation that it’s now the home base for flights by the Zero Gravity Corporation founded by space entrepreneur Peter Diamandis.
“Peter is just a phenomenal guy,” Menken said.
Zero-G runs parabolic flights that simulate weightlessness on a converted KC-135 aircraft that takes off from Jetscape’s facility. Coarsely known as the “Vomit Comet,” the flights were originally designed to help with Hollywood productions like Apollo 13 and the Matrix films.
Today, they attract superstars like astronaut Buzz Aldrin and celebrity chef Martha Stewart. SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan raves about the experience.
“The ZERO-G Experience was ten times better than I expected,” said Rutan. “I highly recommend it for those who want to experience a suborbital flight. It was really amazing, unbelievably cool!”
Back to the future
Jetscape has its challenges, among them the hurricane-prone climate of Florida, but luckily the company has weathered the storms so far.
“Last year was worse than normal, but other than that it’s been a pretty good time for us,” Menken recalled. “We shut down maybe two days last year but otherwise, it’s a 24/7 operation.”
There are opportunities emerging, but for now Jetscape is focusing its efforts on providing services that are better and more expansive than ever. Its next project is to further improve the facilities and expand its ramp space, and pump higher volumes of fuel sales.
Beyond those plans, Menken and Evans may expand the Jetscape brand beyond its roots in Fort Lauderdale.
“We’ve been approached to manage other FBOs in some of the Bahamian Islands,” Menken said. “We will likely move into that business under some management arrangements and establish some additional Jetscape Services facilities. We’ve also been offered some opportunities from investors who would like to get involved in franchise chains that have solicited our participation in their programs.”
But for now, Jetscape Services will continue offering their professional and progressive services with the laid-back style that makes them unique. Just make sure you pack your Hawaiian shirt and your flip-flops.
For more information about Jetscape’s aircraft leasing operation and Jetscape Services’ FBO operations, visit [http://www.jetscape.aero].