Sun Air Jet: In the Right Place at the Right Time

Sun Air Jet: In the Right Place at the Right Time

By Lance Gurwell

Steve Lassiter is president and COO of Sun Air Jets.

Steve Lassiter is president and COO of Sun Air Jets.

In the business world, two things are critical to success: location and timing. Sun Air Jets, LLC, headquartered at Camarillo Airport, is a perfect example. Along with finding a great location at the right time, it helps that the company’s operation is first-rate, with a fleet of top-notch business jets, and new, architecturally striking buildings. The company is also nearing the end of a major expansion that will, among other things, increase its hangar size by about 52,000 square feet.

According to Steve Lassetter, president and COO, Sun Air Jets primarily provides fixed base operation and ground handling services mainly geared to corporate jet aircraft.

“We also offer aircraft charter service and operate several jet aircraft,” he said. “We have a pair of Hawkers, a 700 and an 800XP, and a Gulfstream III, and we’re in the process of adding some other aircraft through our Part 135 certificate.”

Lassetter said that out of three FBOs on the field, they do the largest percentage of business. When it comes to its location at Camarillo Airport, a general aviation reliever airport for the Los Angeles area, Lassetter said that growth in the LA area is headed their way, which accounts for his belief that they’re in the right place at the right time. He added that Camarillo, once a “sleepy little airport,” on the north side of LA, is also in close enough proximity to benefit from the activity at Bob Hope (Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena) and Van Nuys airports.

“Sun Air Jets is growing along with the region,” Lassetter said. “Our executive terminal has about 12,000 square feet; we have 26,000 square feet of hangar space, and we’re in construction for another 52,000 square feet, along with another 7,000 square feet of office space.”

The oldest building at Sun Air is only three years old. Expansions are expected to be completed by April or May.

“We’ve got a significant outlay, about $15 million, in everything we’ve built here,” Lassetter said. “So, we’ve got a real investment in this place, and certainly believe strongly in the future of Camarillo.”

Among Sun Air’s FBO features are its luxurious terminal and crew lounge and its modern pilot center. It also features multimedia conference rooms, guest services concierge, gourmet catering, quiet rooms with beds and private showers, as well as that all-important perk, nearby, year-round golf.

A Gulfstream III in front of the company’s headquarters at Camarillo Airport.

A Gulfstream III in front of the company’s headquarters at Camarillo Airport.

Pilots enjoy a lounge with high-speed Internet and satellite television, along with a flight planning room with WSI weather feed. Equally important to owners and insurance providers of jet aircraft costing millions of dollars is a state-of-the-art fire suppression system and 24-hour digitally recorded surveillance services.

Lassetter said another important service Sun Air Jets provides is a maintenance department with a collective 50 years of combined maintenance experience working on corporate and business jet aircraft. Additionally, Sun Air Jet is qualified to work on avionics and jet interiors.

The company’s proximity to Hollywood offers an additional benefit; it has served as the location for feature films, television shows, commercials, music videos and print ads.

“We like to think of ourselves as a viable option to Van Nuys, Burbank and Santa Barbara,” Lassetter said. “We’re not terribly far from Malibu and the folks that live there. In fact, we’re easier to reach than Van Nuys or Burbank.”

Sun Air Jets emerged from Ventura Aviation Inc., a flight school formed in 1992. The principal owner of Sun Air purchased that business in 1999. None of Sun Air’s current infrastructure existed at the time.

“We had the opportunity to build the FBO on the field, and felt there was an opportunity because the area was growing,” Lassetter said.

Presently, he said, they do over a million gallons a year in retail fuel sales.

“There are no airliners here, so that’s all corporate jet fuel sales,” he said. “That’s a pretty good volume.”

Without a doubt, world events, including and since 9/11, have made charter flights more desirable than ever. Naturally, charter flights cost more than commercial airline fees, when measured in just dollars and cents. But according to the National Business Aviation Association, the cost to go from point A to point B is more than just the cost of a commercial aviation ticket.

Sun Air Jet’s award-winning corporate jet center at dusk.

Sun Air Jet’s award-winning corporate jet center at dusk.

“Two-thirds of the charter firms polled said that a significant portion of their new business comes from travelers who had stopped flying the airlines due to the productivity penalty associated with that mode of aviation,” the NBAA reported in its 2004 fact book.

Lassetter said their charter business has grown dramatically.

“Our revenue is about five times what it was a year ago,” he said. “We’ve been very active in promoting our charter business. This is a good market for these kinds of airplanes.”

Lassetter said Los Angeles is one of the strongest charter markets in the country.

“There are a lot of airplanes here, but there is a lot of business as well,” he said.

Among the benefits of flying charter is that itineraries can be changed instantly, and business aircraft can be flown to thousands more destinations than are served by the scheduled airlines.

Lassetter said the company has its share of high-visibility customers, including actors, musicians and high-level corporate travelers.

“A lot of our charter business is geared to the entertainment business, because we’re so close to Los Angeles, Malibu and Hollywood,” Lassetter said. “So, the location both for the FBO side and the charter business is well suited to that industry.”

Lassetter spent his entire career in the aviation industry, including many years with AMR Combs, the executive aviation affiliate of American Airlines. While at AMR Combs, he spent several years in Hong Kong, where he built and ran the FBO at the new Hong Kong Airport for a consortium of partners including AMR Combs.

The 30-year-plus veteran of the industry said Sun Air Jets’ FBO is among the best he’s ever seen.

“I’ve been in this business a long time, and it’s truly one of the nicest facilities around,” he said. “It’s world-class. We’re extremely proud of it, and we do have a substantial investment. In this business, in which we’re catering to corporate jet aircraft, you really have to meet their expectations.”

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