Sanford Health is getting into the aviation business.
The health system’s subsidiary, Sanford Frontiers, bought Maverick Air Center, a fixed-base operator on the west side of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport.
Maverick was formed in 2011 by McGowan Capital Group and employee investors as a competitor to Landmark Aviation, the fixed-based operation that used to be Business Aviation.
“Usually, it’s better for the customer if there’s more than one provider,” CEO Gene McGowan said. “We did what we set out to do. We built a successful, sustaining company. Sanford is going to move in and probably take it to a higher level, and that’s terrific for Sioux Falls to have two credible FBOs at an airport this size.”
Sanford’s interest stemmed from its overall growth in aviation.
The health system owns 11 aircraft at five bases, from Sioux Falls to Fargo, western North Dakota and Bemidji, Minn.
Its AirMed transport service has been in place 35 years and grown to transport 3,300 patients annually.
“We’ve had a lot of growth in the last five years with all the expansions,” said Mike Christianson, enterprise executive director of air transport.
Aircraft maintenance is done in Sioux Falls, out of two small hangars at the airport about one mile apart. It isn’t streamlined or efficient, Christianson said, so Sanford is building a hangar next to Maverick. It will be done next spring.
“This move created an opportunity for a unique relationship with an FBO that would allow us to enjoy some cost savings,” he said. “Our fuel savings alone can save in excess of $250,000 a year, and that’s what prompted this whole move with us and Maverick.”
Sanford Frontiers, the new owner, is Sanford’s taxable nonprofit that was created to help commercialize research. It also owns the Profile by Sanford weight-management concept.
Maverick’s 18 employees will stay, and the business will continue to serve the public and airlines as it has, Christianson said. Its services include contract fueling, baggage handling, aircraft de-icing and washing, catering and a lounge for pilots. It also helps customers book charter flights through a network of providers.
Sanford also does “a significant amount” of charter flying for its outreach programs through Landmark and plans to continue to use the services, Christianson said.
“We don’t currently have our own charter service,” he said. “We haven’t explored that.”
Sanford Frontiers sees opportunity to grow Maverick, however.
“It’s a business, and we’re interested in seeing it grow and thrive, so we will be involved,” Christianson said. “I think there’s very good potential. Sioux Falls is a strong economy, and we’re seeing more air traffic and airline service coming in, and we want to be part of that, making sure those services are well taken care of.”
“We believe there was plenty of opportunity to grow and expand the business, and Sanford obviously believes that as well,” he said. “We’re delighted to see it in their hands.”
Dan Letellier, executive director of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport, said he’s encouraged by the purchase and glad competition will continue in general aviation services.
“I’m also hopeful they will continue the growth of Maverick by adding on to their fuel farm and possible hangar extension,” he said. “I see this as a very favorable aspect to air service in and out of Sioux Falls.”