A town’s airport is often it’s gateway, a visitor’s first impression. And a fixed base operator that offers needed services plays a major role in getting a pilot to land in a community, according to Kyle Wanner, director of the State Aeronautics Commission.
One North Dakota company is aiming to help those small fixed base operators in the state and across the country attract those planes to their towns.
Father and son pair, Lynn and Mitch Hartman, operate Lav Air Portasystems Inc. in Dickinson. They make a cart for emptying a plane’s waste tank and replacing clean water.
“We’re trying to make it affordable,” Lynn Hartman said. “Fixed base operators operate on a pretty slim margin. (Lavatory service) is often a service they would like to offer but it has to be affordable.”
The company operates on the premise that, if fixed base operators are able to offer lavatory service they may be able to get more planes landing. They ultimately make more money on fuel and repair services, but, if it brings in more aircraft, it builds their business.
Wanner said, while not essential, lavatory service can definitely be an attractant, particularly for business jets, which typically want multiple services done when they land.
Watford City and Tioga did not have fixed base operators until air traffic to those towns increased with oil development. And with a runway long enough for jets, Tioga did invest in one of the Hartmans’ carts.
“Enhanced services at smaller airports is always a good thing,” Wanner said. “If we can find better ways to allow small communities to have better services, it’s definitely a good thing.”
Lav Air Portasystems has been around for a while, started by a friend of Mitch Hartman five or six years ago. The friend had worked as an aircraft mechanic in Denver and saw the need for these carts for smaller aircraft. When he moved back to Dickinson, he opened the business and Mitch Hartman helped him.
Now, with the help of the North Dakota Department of Commerce's Innovate ND program for entrepreneurs, the Hartmans are aiming to revamp the business and take it to the next level. They have the equipment now to build tanks for the cart, rather than having them manufactured elsewhere, and they’re able to offer more customization. They’re also prototyping a cart for drinking water.
Lynn Hartman said they sell 12 to 15 carts per year. With their revamped marketing efforts, they’re targeting the Dakotas, Montana and Minnesota. But they have sold carts in Reno, Nev., Arizona, California, Minnesota, Michigan and the northeastern United States.
There are smaller airports all around the county with the runway length for jet traffic and Lynn Hartman said they consider every one of the more than 3,000 fixed base operators nationwide as potential customers.
Executive Air in Bismarck is one of them, having bought one of the carts a number of years ago, said COO Paul Vetter of the new service.
“When private jets fly in many times they need lavatory services … A lot come from a long distance,” Vetter said. “It provides another business opportunity … When we get phone calls, they often ask if we have lavatory service available, so it is important … We’re a small company, so the price was a definite factor, and this unit is economical enough it makes it affordable.”
And it allows Executive Air to service its own jets.
“I’m actually thrilled there’s a North Dakota company making these,” Vetter said of the close proximity to allow for good support when repairs are needed.