New Castle Airport’s proximity to major metropolitan areas may be making it difficult to keep commercial carriers.
But the small airport’s geographic location is exactly what has made it so attractive to the corporate aircraft owners that support most of the businesses at airport.
And it’s those businesses that employ the bulk of the 1,600 people who work at the airport, which generates a $240.5 million economic impact for the state, according to a 2013 study released by the Delaware Department of Transportation.
“This airport is really well-suited for corporate aviation because it can pull clients from Washington, D.C. to New York City,” said Regis de Ramel.
His company flyAdvanced recently purchased AeroWays, one of four fixed-based operators at New Castle Airport, along with Aero Taxi, Atlantic Aviation and Dassault Falcon.
“As the largest airport in Delaware, New Castle also is really attractive because the state doesn’t have a sales or use tax, which makes keeping aircraft here a less expensive option,” he said.
The company provides a full slate of services to corporate aircraft owners, from management and maintenance to fuel sales, rental and charter services.
After a nationwide drop off in corporate fleets during the recession, de Ramel said the market is quickly regaining steam. And the opportunities provided at New Castle Airport are what convinced flyAdvanced to acquire AeroWays late last year, he said.
The company, which also operates fixed-based operators at two small Pennsylvania airports, has moved its corporate headquarters to the New Castle Airport and plans to double its operations here in the next three to five years, he said.
“Right now, we’re leasing two-and-a-half hangars, but we could easily use two more,” de Ramel said, adding that the added space would allow the company to expand from 48 employees to “more than 100.”
In addition to fixed-base operators, the airport leases space to Flight Safety International, which provides high-performance aircraft training in simulated environments. In 2012, Hawker Beechcraft Services opened a regional aircraft maintenance facility in a hangar at the airport. That facility is slated to employ 100 people by 2017.
Several corporations, such as DuPont, also maintain their own hangars at the airport.
“Right now, we’re doing quite well with respect to occupancy,” said Stephen Williams, director of airports for the Delaware River & Bay Authority, which operates the New Castle Airport. “All of our hangars are practically full.”
But by drawing in commercial carriers, the airport may be limiting the growth potential of the companies that serve corporate clients, according to sources familiar with operations at the airport.
Williams said he believes that airport can serve the needs of those corporate clients, while also providing commercial service to the public.
“The key question airports like ours have to deal with is, ‘What is our market niche?'” he said. “We see commercial service as an enhancement to what we do here. An airport is many things to many people and it’s our job to provide the best balance we can.”