There's a high-tech maxim that's been a promise ever since Intel co-founder Gordon Moore envisioned it decades ago, that the number of transistors crammed onto a chip can double every 18 months. Moore's Law wasn't meant for general aviation, that is until Redbird Skyport began co-opting the concept as a prescription for revitalizing an industry.
It's the type of out-of-the-box thinking that has aviation journalists, pilot associations and industry pundits calling a fixed base operator's business model, of all things, revolutionary, creative and transformative.
"We are dedicated to the notion that if it isn't broken, keep fixing it until it is," says Jerry Gregoire, Redbird Skyport's founder.
With computer industry thinking, commitment to technology and its contemporary, steel buildings trimmed cherry red inside and out, Redbird Skyport is making a statement at San Marcos Municipal Airport (KHYI), just down the interstate from Austin.
Everything at this Phillips 66® Aviation-branded dealer is an experiment designed to improve the aviation experience, says Skyport's General Manager John Koenreich, even the facility itself – built in just five months using advanced modular designs.
"Skyport is the apex of bringing together technology, design and people to create an enjoyable experience for our customers," Koenreich explains. "Get you in, get you out and get you what you need – with care and respect. And bring back the fun in flying. That's our goal."
The lure of San Marcos
At its core, Skyport is a multi-faceted FBO, luring corporate travelers with brand-new facilities at a rejuvenated San Marcos airport 25 miles from Austin and 50 miles from San Antonio. With uncrowded airspace, San Marcos is becoming a favorite landing spot for pilots and flight departments bringing executives into San Antonio or Austin, one of the nation's robust centers for technology manufacturers and the music industry.
Along the banks of the San Marcos River, shaded by towering cypress and bountiful pecan trees, San Marcos itself is becoming a growing tech business area. It's also home to Texas State University, one of the state's largest schools with 34,000 students. Texans consider the city a gateway to the rolling Hill Country, one of the state's prime tourist draws.
Come November, there will be a lot more pilots and airplanes headed to San Marcos when Formula One racing launches at the Circuit of the Americas, under construction 35 minutes away from Redbird Skyport. The motor racing circuit is the first in the country built specifically for Formula One. Redbird is already taking reservations, gearing up with the City of San Marcos to handle the large crowds who will be on hand for the Formula One United States Grand Prix. Helicopter service to and from the track will even be available.
And San Marcos is well-equipped to handle the increasing airport traffic, with three runways (each more than a mile long) aligned to eliminate crosswind operations; GPS WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) and ILS (Instrument Landing System) approaches; a control tower; and ample ramp space.
"Pilots are saving time with our convenient access to Skyport, but to enhance the customer experience we offer significant savings in fuel prices, with no ramp or overnight fees," explains Koenreich.
Redefining the FBO experience
Still, says Koenreich, the value proposition for the customer at Skyport goes beyond selling fuel, reliable customer service and other services. "We are offering an experience, not just fuel," he says.
"Redbird Skyport is looking to redefine what a full-service FBO means," says Rosemary Leone, Programs Director, General Aviation for Phillips 66. "They provide full service offerings – and then some. What pilot isn't looking for a place to fly to have a nice lunch in a relaxing atmosphere right on the airport? And integrating flight simulators into pilot training makes learning to fly more accessible and affordable.
"Add to this outstanding customer service and you have a winning combination," Leone says.
The entire facility and its team are built to incubate an interest in flying.
Cutting edge, full-motion Redbird simulators fill the FBO. The Hangar at Redbird Skyport serves as an events venue, hosting charity, concert, weddings and corporate events all framed by aircraft displays. They've taken corporate team-building to a new place, using full-motion simulators with instructors – while offering custom-built, full-immersion Aviation Experience Days. A two-hour program uses Redbird simulation technology to introduce people to flight before an instructor takes them soaring over the rolling Texas Hill Country.
A laboratory for transformation
"We literally see Skyport as a working laboratory, an R&D center for aviation, where new ideas are fostered and innovative solutions are tested," explains Koenreich. "We are a working, full-service FBO charged with finding solutions that we hope can be transformative for the general aviation industry."
With a shrinking pilot population, swelling numbers of student dropouts and soaring flight training costs, the aviation industry faces a challenge. So a core mission at Skyport, explains Koenreich, is to streamline the high cost, long times and difficult learning curve associated with flight training. The end game is to turn students into aircraft owners.
"We are set up as a research and development facility to figure out what works the best to get students through the flight training process," Koenreich says. "There is a dearth of flight students all over this country, the birthplace of aviation. Something's not working. We have to innovate if our industry expects to thrive in the future."
Skyport's simulator setting serves as a laboratory of sorts, where different methods of instruction can be tested and evaluated. The simulators are not a substitute for aircraft hours, rather a means to build basic skills. They also make training classes more affordable. "What you learn in a simulator, you master in an airplane," says Koenreich.
A new Piper PA-44 Seminole takes students into the skies after they've mastered the simulator. The Seminole will soon be equipped with in-cockpit video recording so Redbird's flight instructors can evaluate their students' performance post-flight. Redbird may even add biometrics to track stress during training.
"We're going to be testing and measuring some things that nobody has ever tried in this aircraft," said Gregoire.
So far, Skyport has indeed taken Moore's Law flying, having graduated 20 student pilots in the handful of months it's been open. The marriage of a multifaceted FBO to flight training rooted in advanced technology seems to be working.
"We are building this project from the ground up to redefine the status quo, to help shape the future of aviation," says Koenreich. "In the meantime, we are here to create the best aviation experience possible for pilots, passengers, flight students and the community."
For more information, visit www.redbirdskyport.com, or call (512) 878-6670.