It appears that Tampa is flying again. So it seemed earlier this month when I spoke with Clayton Lackey of Sheltair Aviation, the private hangar at Tampa International Airport. When the country shut down in April, the company saw its revenue drop by 75 percent due to the reduction in fuel sales.
Then in May he saw half of the business return, and by June things were getting back to normal. Clayton said business is almost back to 100 percent, but customers in some segments are still on hold. However, some people are flying who have never flown private before and are switching over to private aviation instead of flying first class on commercial.
It makes sense. I mused that if I were a business owner or top-level executive who needed to fly for work, I’d feel more comfortable flying private these days, too, rather than getting on a commercial airplane with over 100 people in a confined space. Clayton confirmed that thought process.
He has seen rentals and charter companies increase by 5 percent over last year. These are being used by flyers who live in Tampa and need to travel out of town, or live somewhere else and are flying privately into Tampa for meetings. He predicts this side of the business will increase over time.
We discussed whether business owners might be flying with their kids this summer. Given that customers of some jet programs were required to buy a certain amount of hours but weren’t able to use them the last few months, July and August might be a good time to make use of those hours for a family vacation.
In talking about the private aviation market overall, he said that Tampa has fared better than some other markets. The New York market hasn’t been flying much at all, especially JFK and LaGuardia, where Sheltair has two FBOs (FBO is the acronym for a fixed-base operator, a company given permission by an airport to operate on its premises to provide aeronautical services for aircraft, passengers, and crew). South Florida has also been slow, he says; their Miami and Ft. Lauderdale FBOs, which tend to be vacation-driven, haven’t been flying. However, the Hamptons and Panama City Beach went right back to expectations and did very well in May.
He is pretty optimistic as they go into summer, which is usually a slower time. Clayton feels business will continue picking up. The Bucs will also start flying again in August as pre-season starts up, and football season continues until the Super Bowl, being held in Tampa this February.
Staying open through the pandemic, Clayton worked to have Sheltair’s employees create an extra layer of customer service to make sure that they put safety protocols in place and created a personalized experience. He wanted his employees to ask more questions, to get a sense from each of his customers what their comfort levels were as they got ready to fly, and to give them the space they desired.
One example is about ground, not air transport. When customers pulled up to the hangar in the past, Sheltair staffers would automatically valet-park their cars; now they ask customers if they want that extra service. Some people may not want an outside person jumping into their car to park it. It’s all about what makes them feel comfortable and safe.
When I stopped by last week to speak to Clayton, I was very happy to see the flight deck busy with planes being moved around and jets departing. Private aviation is taking off again!
by Tracey Serebin