Striking it rich at Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Cirrus Flight Operations

If you're fortunate enough to refuel your aircraft with the neighborly folks at Cirrus Flight Operations, serving Anoka County Airport (KANE) just outside Minneapolis-St. Paul, it may be your lucky day.

For if Randy Cross, General Manager for Cirrus, has his wish, you might end up topping off your bank account, too.

Many pilots fueling at this family-run Phillips 66 Aviation-branded dealer do so for some down-home, personalized attention and the fixed base operator's (FBO) highly competitive fuel prices. The fact they might become multi-millionaires is mere icing on the cake. That's because for every 25 gallons of retail fuel purchased, Cirrus Flight Operations hands out a lottery ticket.

"It's a bit of a surprise for people," says Cross. "They really enjoy the experience. They remember it and come back."

If that sounds more like a familiar corner convenience store than an FBO, there's good reason. How brothers Randy and Dick Cross operate Cirrus Flight Operations is partly inspired by their dad, who owned a full-service gas station when they were kids.

"It helps keep us grounded so that when customers come into our FBO they're like friends and neighbors, and we treat them that way," explains Randy Cross. "I don't care if it's talking about their kids, the weather, dogs, horses, hunting or whatever, we try to find something to relate with them."

But then this FBO, one of the first locations in Minnesota to sell lottery tickets, doesn't leave anything to chance.

A haven in the night

Cirrus Flight Operations is the longest-running FBO on the Anoka Field, a place where nearly 500 aircraft are based – from a host of homebuilts, recreational planes and restored World War II warbirds, to sleek corporate jets and helicopters.

Long offering 24-7 self-service avgas, the Cross family goes far beyond the C-store approach, embracing the full-service gas station model they grew up with. At Cirrus, the word "full" is taken literally with the FBO offering 24-7 full-serve refueling, maintenance, in-house charter, catering, corporate jet storage, overnight tie-downs, flight planning, satellite weather services and a pilot shop with charts and supplies.

"Service and fuel pricing set us apart," explains Dick, a former commercial pilot and flight instructor. "Then we try to do everything that people need from A to Z, you name it. We've worked hard at being here 24 hours a day; our customers know they can count on us day or night."

Even during the graveyard shift, pilots and passengers can get family service from Cirrus Flight Operations. Dick's son Damon Cross manages the nightshift and is being primed to one day run the FBO, along with Dick's son-in-law Doug Brown and Randy's son Heath Cross.

Being open 24-7 just 15 minutes from downtown Minneapolis helps support freight operations, corporate customers, air ambulances and medivac helicopters.

"They know we're here to provide support and a comfortable place to use the bathroom, relax and sip some hot coffee," says Dick Cross. "A lot of corporate pilots come in after midnight to have their aircraft fueled and ready to fly out early in the morning without rushing. Being open 24 hours provides flexibility to our customers. They know we're here for them."

Line crews are NATA Safety 1st-trained, highly skilled and able to hot-fuel medivac helicopters safely. In the summer, Minnesota Mosquito Control contracts with a helicopter company based at Cirrus Flight Operations to battle what is known as the state bird.

"They kill mosquitoes all summer long, but we make sure they take care of us first," laughs Dick.

One of the most unique things Cirrus Flight Operations offers is its FAA Computer Assisted Testing Service (CATS) center, in place since 1989.

"Pilots find it convenient," says Randy. "We started out doing FAA testing and now do a lot of non-aviation testing, including crane operators, post office, as well as many other different types computerized testing."

How to grow an FBO

"I've always been interested in aviation," explains Dick, who cut his teeth building his business with flight instruction and fuel sales. "You could say I started from the ground up and kept going."

Randy Cross joined him soon after, and the brothers grew their FBO, adding services, selling bulk fuel and buying up competitors on the field before becoming a Phillips 66 Aviation dealer in 1980.

Phillips 66's Partners-Into-Plane bulk fuel pricing program has become a competitive advantage for Cirrus and a staple for its high-volume customers, explains Randy.

"We're active with the Into-Plane program and push it pretty hard," Randy says. "There are no credit card fees, it's online and so simple to operate and monitor your annual fuel prices. It's a smooth-flowing program."

As a lure beyond free lottery tickets, Cirrus Flight Operations promotes WingPoints®, a program that rewards fuel purchases at participating Phillips 66 Aviation-branded dealers with points that can be immediately redeemed online for gift or debit cards.

"We were one of the first independent FBOs to offer WingPoints," explains Randy. "We keep working it because we really believe in that program."

Like a good neighbor

To connect with the local community – and maybe inspire interest in aviation – Cirrus Flight Operations is one of the sponsors of Discover Aviation Days, May 31 - June 1, 2014. They've done this for years, drawing several thousand people to experience Anoka County Airport.

It's an aviation-packed day featuring a pancake breakfast and lunch; airplane and helicopter rides; tours of the Golden Wings Flying Museum; homebuilt and experimental planes on display next to World War II, reconnaissance and restored vintage aircraft; model airplanes; a military veterans' meet-and-greet; and tours of a new education center, all with free admission. A big band, World War II-era hangar dance tops it all off.

Embracing aviation's legacy, but looking to the future, Cirrus Flight Operations is planning a fifth hangar, while preparing for visitors to baseball's all-star game at Minneapolis's brand new stadium in July.

"If there's anything you want, Cirrus Flight Operations will get it for you," says Randy. "Every visitor to our FBO is very important to us. We're not perfect, but we're always looking for better ideas."

Maybe so, but it's hard to beat "Randy's Free Tickets," as pilots fondly call their chances to cash in on Cirrus Flight Operation's good old-fashioned, full service approach.

For more, visit cirrusflight.com.

For more about Discover Aviation Days, visit DiscoverAviationDays.org