published Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Chattanooga region ‘poised’ for more, airport operator says

Wilson Air Center President Bob Wilson says his company always tries to exceed expectations.

Wilson, whose Memphis-based business is a new fixed-base operator at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, tells the story of how his Charlotte, N.C., operation helped woo NASCAR to place its hall of fame in that city.

When the search committee flew into Charlotte, Wilson Air officials brought in a pace car and dressed all its personnel in the uniforms of different NASCAR teams, he said. When Charlotte was picked, the search panel cited Wilson Air as making a favorable impression, said Wilson, whose father, Kemmons, started the Holiday Inn chain.

“The first impression is the one you remember,” Wilson said last week at the Chattanooga airport’s new $5 million general aviation terminal and hangar, which his company will operate.

Airport officials say the facilities are the new business front door to the city in terms of corporate aircraft and general aviation and an economic development tool.

Wilson, who started his company in 1996, spoke to Mike Pare, deputy business editor of the Times Free Press:

Q: Why did you come to Chattanooga?

Wilson: We’ve looked at Chattanooga over the years. Only within the last three to four years has Chattanooga really shined. I think it’s a shining star in the state of Tennessee by far. With the influx of Volkswagen, Amazon, Wacker, we started seeing a change in how Chattanooga operated. We think Chattanooga is poised to do a lot more.

Q: From a business sense, how do you see Chattanooga shaping up in terms of other places you do business in?

Wilson: They’re all different animals. Charlotte has been up and now it’s down a little bit with the banking debacle. Houston’s been hanging in there from the petroleum side. Memphis is probably struggling as much as any. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe what Chattanooga stood for and what we think can happen in the future.

Q: What about when the president says we need to tax companies, corporate jets — that’s something that hits your business, isn’t it?

Wilson: If I told you it didn’t bother me, I’d be lying. You’ve got to remember one thing, he flies in a private jet, period. He’s the one banging it the most. It’s just talking out of both sides.

Once you lost time, you’ve lost it for your life. A business jet is a tool that saves time. If you figure it out what the cost of a chief executive is an hour, and what he can do and what he can bring and how many people he employs, it does it. What’s the value of being home at night to your family?

But, there’s another side to corporate aviation — what does it give back to the community? They fly cancer patients, they do veteran’s airlifts. They do all sorts of things.

Q: You’re aware of the business environment we’re in now. Is this a difficult time to start a venture like this?

Wilson: You make your decision based on what’s happening when you do it. Who would have thought our economy would have done what it has done when this thing was started originally? Not in anyone’s wildest imaginations. These things don’t happen overnight.

Q: What do you hear about phase two [which includes about $5 million in added hangar space]?

Wilson: Everything is predicated on filling up. You buy fuel, we fill hangers, space is here. I think it could come real quick.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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bobbyt said...

Mike, here is a follow up question: If Chattanooga is 'poised to do a lot more,' as he says, then why didn't private investment come into Chattanooga to build this new terminal instead of it being built with taxpayer dollars?

August 14, 2011 at 1:44 p.m.
FactsChecker123 said...

Well this article today certainly looks to be an aggressive attempt by the Chattanooga Metro Airport Authority’s contracted public relations division (Waterhouse Public Relations, largest agency in Tennessee Valley) using their connections with the Times Free Press to create the appearance of separation in this waste of taxpayer’s (grant) money. This article, in the second paragraph states “Wilson, whose Memphis based business is a new fixed based operator at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.” This is not the case! The Airport Authority is the fixed based operator and Wilson is the contracted manager of daily activity. The building, furniture, aircraft servicing equipment, maintenance of facilities and all aircraft contractual agreements for storage space with ‘new’ customers, are with the Chattanooga Metro Airport Authority. The 20+ page lease agreement for aircraft storage space does not even have Wilson’s name on the document. The Airport Authority will be responsible for all expenses and receive all revenues. Mr. Landguth will give an account to the airport’s board of commissioners monthly. Wilson will receive a monthly contract payment from the Airport Authority plus a percent of revenues above the budget for the Authority’s FBO. The decision to proceed with operating this government infringement on the existing private business at the airport was approved by the airport’s board of commissioners last year. Newton & Associates of NC presented the recommendation on behalf of the Authorities President, Mr. Landguth. An additional note for transparency… the Chattanooga Airport Authority currently receives a monthly leasehold payment from TAC Air that includes 2% of gross revenues, $0.13 flowage fee (highest in TN) on every gallon of fuel distributed by the private company and an ability to audit their accounting records at least once a year. The CMAA (Government Corporation) is the landlord competing against its tenant and the tenant (TAC Air) is required to subsidize the effort. This goes against everything our country has been founded upon.

August 14, 2011 at 4:19 p.m.
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