Surge in private jet traffic leads to new construction at Vero airport
Corporate Air, one of two flight service companies catering to Vero’s jet set, has bet big on the Vero Beach Regional Airport as an increasingly popular destination for business and leisure travel – probably a good bet since the airport handled more than 200,000 takeoffs and landings last year.
While much of that traffic was accounted for by flight school students practicing takeoffs and landings, Corporate Air CEO Rodger Pridgeon said he’s seen an 18 percent increase in jet traffic into and out of the airport over last year – a trend that shows no signs of abating. Nearly all of those disembarking are headed for Vero’s barrier island communities, he added.
Pridgeon said traffic has been so heavy he has been turning away pilots radioing to come in for fuel, maintenance or hangar space. As a result, he is building a second private terminal at the airport and has worked a deal with the federal Department of Transportation to expand ramp space adjacent to his hangers.
The DOT provided $1.2 million for the ramp project to increase private jet capacity at the airport while Corporate Air kicked in $500,000 for the expansion, which turned a grassy field into a 100,000 square-foot paved ramp where pilots can safely maneuver their planes to offload at the new terminal or roll into service and storage hangers after landing.
Pridgeon says he currently serves about 40 percent of the private aircraft using the Vero airport, but the new ramp and the new building, which he hopes to have completed by August in time next season’s snowbird traffic, will allow him to accommodate more clients, with aircraft up to and including the Boeing 757-size planes used by visiting government dignitaries and the private Boeing 737 that part-time Windsor resident Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos flies into Vero.
The new terminal is designed to handle planes in town for short periods – a week or less – while Corporate’s existing terminal will service planes that operate regularly from Vero.
“I’m not trying to take business away from anybody,” Pridgeon said of his only onsite competition, Sun Aviation. “I just haven’t had the space [for the business coming my way]. It’s been too crowded for people to come in. They don’t want to bring very expensive planes into a crowded area, and the expansion will give them the space they need.”
Airport Director Eric Menger said of the ramp project, "This was a public-private partnership that worked very smoothly. This helps the budget, it helps the community, and it helps the economy. So I think it's going to work out really well."
The airport is a self-sufficient enterprise not supported by property tax dollars. It makes money by leasing land to companies like Corporate Air and Sun Aviation, which are known as fixed base operators. It also charges a $0.07 per gallon fee on aviation fuel pumped at the airport and takes in a two-percent gross receipts concession fee from aviation businesses, so any increase in fuel usage and other business bolsters the bottom line.
The expansion is exactly the type of increased activity the city is hoping for as part of its Airport Master Plan to grow a variety of aviation and non-aviation businesses at the airport complex.
Corporate Air provides aircraft fueling, servicing and maintenance, hangar space, jet charters and jet management.
"We started with one hangar and grew over the years to 4 hangars," said Pridgeon, who founded the company in 1985. "We have leased additional land for the past several years in the hopes of expanding our services. Finally, we got the grant to pave the ramp.”
"I am really happy to celebrate this moment with Rodger and his family to expand the private jet fleet capacity at the airport," said County Commissioner Tim Zorc at the groundbreaking. “They will be able to service more planes for many of our barrier island residents which will make it much nicer for them. Being an aviation enthusiast, I love the smell of jet fuel in the morning! I can't wait to be here for the ribbon cutting” when the new terminal opens.