Cover Story – Flight Rules

Posted on Jul 6, 2015 :: Cover Story
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer
CEO Al Timmerman, former Green Bay chief of police and recreational pilot, leads the fixed-base operator with 30,000-foot-view for growth. Photo by Shane Van Boxtel

CEO Al Timmerman, former Green Bay chief of police and recreational pilot, leads the fixed-base operator with 30,000-foot-view for growth. Photo by Shane Van Boxtel

Sometimes you need a different perspective to see an opportunity.

For Al Timmerman, the view is almost always best a few thousand feet in the air.

An experienced pilot whose latest passion is flying a helicopter — he commutes daily from Shawano — Timmerman says there is no better stress reliever than a short hop to clear the mind so he can recognize new opportunities for JetAir Group, a flight services and fixed base operator at Green Bay’s Austin Straubel Airport.

Even if those opportunities have little to do with flying.

“When they say build it and they will come, they are not kidding,” Timmerman, CEO of Jet Air Group, says of the unique opportunities that have enabled Jet Air to thrive over the years. “Some of the things we did were just to offer a convenience. We never expected them to be business opportunities.”

One of those conveniences arose when Jet Air received certification to work with U.S. Customs for clearance of private international flights into Green Bay. In addition to its standard fixed-base operator services such as refueling, the company also earned a special certification from both U.S. Customs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to handle and sterilize the trash — including food — from those flights.

Because it holds that certification, and has acquired the specialized equipment to handle the trash from these flights, Jet Air now finds itself providing the service all across the state, from the Port of Green Bay to Volkman Field in Milwaukee.

“When the cruise ships came into Green Bay from Germany a few years ago, we did all of the trash once they docked,” Timmerman says. “It’s not something we ever planned for, but it’s an interesting opportunity.”

The flexibility to chase those unique opportunities has enabled Jet Air to grow from its 1969 founding in Clintonville as a small maintenance shop to a major FBO at Austin Straubel, providing fuel, maintenance, aircraft conversions, charter services and flight lessons.

“They are a jewel for Northeast Wisconsin,” says Dr. Ashok Rai, president and CEO of Prevea Health and president of the Greater Green Bay Chamber of Commerce. “They are a key gateway to our community for business leaders coming into Green Bay.”

While Rai does not himself fly, he has utilized the company for charter flights and says the level of service never disappoints.

The company is an affiliate of the worldwide Signature Select FBO group and is the official FBO of the Green Bay Packers, with special facilities allowing players, team personnel and other celebrities quick and discreet entries and exits from the airport.

First flight

It all started with a tourist flight Timmerman took over Wisconsin Dells when he was 14. He was visiting the summer tourism mecca with his grandparents, who asked him what it was he really wanted to do for the day, Timmerman recalls. His answer: “I wanted to take a ride on one of the float planes.”

Courtesy: Margaret LeBrun

Courtesy: Margaret LeBrun

It was just a small, four-seat float plane, and Timmerman wound up in the front seat next to the pilot. During the flight, the pilot offered the controls to Timmerman and let him fly the plane for a few minutes. He was hooked.

“I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he says.

While flying became Timmerman’s fancy, it was not his first choice for a profession.

Instead, Timmerman would go into law enforcement, eventually holding the postions of chief of police in Green Bay and director of public safety in Ashwaubenon. On a wall in his office at Jet Air are all the badges and insignia that Timmerman — and only Timmerman — has worn throughout his law enforcement career.

The only exception: the badge worn by the dog from his K-9 unit.

Throughout his entire law enforcement career, he continued to fly, using it as an escape from the stresses of the job. Nothing clears your head better than a hobby that demands your full attention and a dedication to detail.

“It was my passion and my stress relief from police work,” Timmerman says.

Eventually, the passion won out.

After a 32-year career in law enforcement, Timmerman retired. With that career out of the way, he then joined a group of investors in the purchase of Jet Air in 2003.

Growth mode

Prior to that acquisition, what is now Jet Air Group had already shown the flexibility and dexterity that continues to drive its growth. Within a year of its founding in 1969, the company became an authorized Mitsubishi service center — it is the oldest authorized provider in the world — and soon added Fairchild aircraft to its scope of service.

In 1980, the company relocated to Austin Straubel and continued to add other aircraft manufacturers to its service capabilities. It also launched a full-service avionics shop and began doing avionics refits for a wide variety of aircraft. By 1984, the company’s growth pattern enabled it to purchase an existing FBO and provide fueling and maintenance services to the airport as a whole.

After the purchase in 2003, charter air services were launched. A new facility was constructed in 2010 so that all of the company’s operations would be housed under one roof. By then, the company was not only a full service FBO and maintenance shop, but was supplying new avionics,flying charter flights, training pilots and operating a certified calibration laboratory.

Next up was a partnership with Lakeland College to support the college’s aviation minor.

As 2012 turned into another banner year for the company — it became the official FBO for the Packers, received the Aviation Business of the Year award from the Wisconsin Aviation Trades Association, added FAA flight simulators and became a certified FAA testing center — it was pretty clear another building expansion would soon be in order.

“We were always booked up,” Timmerman says. “It’s great for business, but not so much for customer service — people don’t want to wait.”

That was also the year Timmerman took over as CEO and Jet Air became a Signature Select FBO, tying the company into the world’s largest FBO referral network for pilots and aircraft owners. Clint Kummer, an area director for Signature Flight Support says Jet Air was a natural affiliate.

“They run a great operation with the highest standards of professionalism,” says Kummer. “Al is very entrepreneurial and always involved in the community.”

In October of 2013, construction began on a 36,000-square-foot hangar, which opened in September of 2014, making Jet Air the largest FBO at the airport and giving it the most heated hangar space as well.

“We are quite fortunate as Austin Straubel to have two first class FBOs,” Airport Director Thomas W. Miller says. “What Al has done is take an FBO that wasn’t doing so well and turn it into a great success.”

The standards maintained as a member of the Signature Select network are not lost on those who utilize Jet Air for flight services.

“They have been expanding their capabilities constantly since I began flying,” says Jeff Mason, CEO of Valley Integrated Physicians, a recently formed physician association. “They offer a broad array of services and they do a great job with all of them.”

Mason has been flying for about six years and received his flight instruction at Jet Air. He has also used the charter services the company provides. He cites Packers games as an example of the precision and professionalism of the Jet Air crew.

“It’s amazing what they do when the Packers play,” Mason says. “They really scramble to make sure people can get in and out. It’s really a quality operation.”

And nerve-wracking, Timmerman says.

For one game during the 2014 season, more than 85 aircraft utilized Jet Air’s services. In addition to assisting fans with their game day plans — and hosting a buffet for pilots not attending — Timmerman and his staff kept watch over more than $1 billion worth of aircraft parked on the ramp.

“When I realized what all was out there, I have to admit I got a little nervous,” he says.

The weather cooperated and the departures went off without a hitch.

Well grounded

While flying is at the heart of Jet Air’s business, a lot of what they do takes place on good old terra firma. On any given day, there might be a half- dozen or more aircraft inside the maintenance hangar where Jet Air service technicians are either providing routine maintenance or perhaps upgrading aircraft to new digital avionics — an area of rapid growth the past few years. On one bright summer morning, aircraft spilled out onto the ramp awaiting service and avionics overhauls.

Inside one aircraft, a technician was pulling out what appeared to be miles of wires from the cabin, preparing it for a new, all digital avionics package. The owner had already done one side of the plane and liked it so much he wanted the other side completed immediately. Several other planes were waiting on deck.

“We already need more space,” Timmerman says, looking at the planes outside on the apron. “We can’t work on planes outside in the winter and we can’t afford to be booked up two months out.”

While the planes are getting updates in the hangars, the pilots can update their skills at the same time. As part of its flight training center, Jet Air Group boasts two flight simulators, one of which can be programmed with the flight information for every airport in the world. If a pilot’s next stop is an airport they have never flown to before, they can practice the approach in the simulator before making the flight.

Or, there just might be something going on that has nothing at all to do with aviation.

Kids_HangarAlmost as soon as Jet Air finished the construction of its new hangar, the company immediately opened it up for the Runway for Life fashion show created by Prevea Health that features cancer survivors modeling the latest fashions from area boutiques. This year’s event, held in May, benefited Families of Children with Cancer.

“Not only do they operate a great business and invest in the community and create jobs, but they are always giving back,” Prevea Health’s Rai says. “I think we were the first non-flying event when they completed the new hangar. They helped make it a great fundraiser and one of Green Bay’s best parties.”

Jet Air is also a host of the Prevea GRB 5K, a run/walk event held on the runway at Austin Straubel Airport. This year’s event will take place Sept. 19.

Miller says this year’s event could host double the number of runners that took place in the inaugural event. While it took reams of paperwork involving three federal agencies, he credits Timmerman for pushing ahead with the idea.

“Al is incredibly community minded,” Miller says. “He’s not only interested in getting exposure for Jet Air, but for the airport as a whole.”

Turbulence ahead?

But there could be some rough air ahead. Given its current rate of growth, Jet Air will need to expand its space soon if it is going to keep up with demand for its services. Unfortunately, Timmerman says he has not been able to reach an agreement with Austin Straubel officials on the costs of that expansion.

Timmerman is matter-of-fact that if an affordable deal can’t be reached, Jet Air will have to consider moving to a more cost-effective location at another airport. And he means the whole operation.

“At some point, there are only so many airport fees you can pay,” Timmerman says. “I’d hate to see the lost jobs at the airport, but I can’t have delays in our service.”

Miller says there is no impasse. The fees are the same for everyone, he says, and he sounds optimistic Jet Air will continue to contribute to the airport’s operations.

“I know the hangar is already full and he is looking at developing additional space,” says Miller. “The ground rent fees are the same as any other building.”

Certainly, there is a challenge there. Then again, Timmerman is used to challenges.

After years of flying airplanes, Timmerman took up flying a helicopter several years ago. Indeed, he keeps his Enstrom Helicopter at the ready and Jet Air recently became an authorized service provider for the Menominee, Mich.-based company.

And he’s got challenges to keep him busy for the next few months, perhaps allowing time for a fresh perspective on those plans to expand.

In addition to the September 5K event, Jet Air will be hosting a tailgate party to celebrate Brett Favre’s induction into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in July, which will be quickly followed by events related to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture.

Austin Straubel is an alternate airport for the event and Jet Air will host aircraft and provide shuttle services to Oshkosh. No doubt Timmerman will be working tirelessly to make sure visitors have the best experience possible.

“Who wants to go to a place where you have to wait around for three hours?” Timmerman says. “I want to make sure this is a place where you are greeted by someone with a smile.”