Up, Up and Away: As economy booms, so do local aviation services companies
Much of the recent news coming out of Cherry Capital Airport has been about the expansion of commercial passenger service to new locations, including cities in California, Florida and Texas.
But there is a lot of activity happening in the private business travel and personal aircraft segments.
“People are seeing the growth of northern Michigan and the strength of the economy and they’re investing in it,” said Cherry Capital’s Director Kevin Klein. “There’s more opportunity to sell fuel and service aircraft.”
Among those companies expanding operations in Traverse City is 45 North Aviation. The company recently added four new jets to its charter fleet of 11 aircraft, with plans to add larger business jets. The company also employs 22 pilots.
In October, 45 North Aviation acquired Evans Avionics, a 30-year-old Traverse City business that sold and installed electronic flight instruments on aircraft, including communications, weather and navigation displays. 45 North has added that business to its portfolio of services.
“We’re been growing quite a bit,” said Michael Terfehr, 45 North’s owner and president. “I attribute that to providing good service and to more opportunity in Traverse City. We’re at the right place at the right time.”
45 North offers clients a broad range of aviation services, including aircraft management, charters, full-service maintenance and aircraft sales. The company was formed in 2015 through Terfehr’s acquisitions of Cherry Capital Aviation’s maintenance businesses and hangars and Cherry Capital Flight.
“We buy, sell and service everything from the tip to the tail,” Terfehr said. “We’re growing all the time.”
Terfehr said the company also has seen business growth at its Kalamazoo and Pontiac locations and plans to make more acquisitions in the region as opportunities arise. “We’re definitely looking to grow,” he said.
Air Services Inc., a flight charter service operating out of Cherry Capital, has been sold twice in less than two years. Its new owner is Terry Boer, who also owns fixed-based operations (FBOs) in Muskegon and Holland.
FBOs contract with airports to provide a variety of services including maintenance, fueling and hangaring. Klein compared FBOs to marinas for boats.
Boer’s FBOs were known as Executive Air in Muskegon and Tulip City Air in Holland. All three operations are now operating under the name Vision Air Center. The company is based in Muskegon.
Boer said Vision Air is in the processing of expanding Air Services’ charter flight business model into an FBO that will offer maintenance and fuel services. A new fuel farm under construction will have the capacity to hold 45,00 gallons of jet fuel and 10,000 gallons of other aviation fuel.
The FBO will be fully operational by April, Boer said. The company has plans to build a second hangar as demand for its services increase.
Vision Air has 15 employees in Traverse City and has plans to add as many as 20 new employees over the next year or so.
“Traverse City is a fast-growing market,” Boer said. “We’re excited to be in the market and see where it goes.”
Air Services was founded by Roy Nichols in 1994 and moved into its 27,450 square-foot twin hangar and offices in 2007. Omer ErSelcuk and a group of investors known as 1100 Holdings, LLC bought the business in 2018.
In acquiring Air Services, Boer said he determined that there was room for a second FBO at Cherry Capital to compete with Ann Arbor-based Avflight, which has operated locally since 2014.
“We’re seeing a lot more business activity in the Traverse City market. Airline activity has increased,” he said. “There was only one FBO. We thought the time was right to bring in more competition and additional capacity to the market.”
In addition to offering FBO services, Vision Air manages a 20-aircraft charter fleet and is licensed to fly to 5,000 locations in North and South America, Boer said.
Avflight announced in October that it had been selected to provide all ground handling for new Allegiant Air flights out of Cherry Capital to Phoenix and several Florida cities.
“The Cherry Capital Airport is a vital transportation and economic asset to the region and Avflight is deeply committed to supporting its success,” said Joe Meszaros, Avflight’s vice president of operations. “Ground handling is much in line of the scope of services we provide in the Avflight network.”
Avflight has three hangars and two fuel farms with the capacity for 60,000 gallons of jet and other aviation fuel at Cherry Capital.
Klein said Avflight has long-term expansion plans at Cherry Capital, including operating airline ticket counters. The company has 21 FBOs and other service sites in the United States and Europe.
“We just have a lot of great partners,” Klein said, including the flight operations of Munson Medical Center, the U.S. Coast Guard and Northwestern Michigan College. “Our goal is to help them grow.”