First Aviation's former facility wasn't really an ugly duckling, but its new $63 million complex easily qualifies as a beautiful swan. Stretching the length of three football fields along the south side of Teterboro Airport, its multi-story glass-front terminal punctuates the New Jersey horizon.
For about two decades, the company "made do" by expanding and rehabbing its original facilities on the north side. When land became available on the south side in 2003, owners Joseph and Florence Ritorto jumped at the chance to build new from the ground up. So did Gaddis Wind Associates, their long-time Ronkonkoma, NY, design firm.
The move that culminated last spring greatly increased First Aviation's space. Transitioning from 7 to 24 acres of land and 40,000 square feet to 225,000 square feet of interior space provided ample opportunities to tailor the facilities to the business rather than vice versa. Construction spanned three full years, due largely to extensive site prep. About 90,000 tons of swampy muck was removed and 145,000 tons of properly compactable material added. The result, however, was well worth the wait.
"It's a night and day difference," reports managing director Joseph Ritorto. "Everyone is so happy with the new facility."
The most apparent improvements are visual - specifically the design of the passenger terminal and adjacent hangars.
"Passengers on private aircraft may fly in the lap of luxury, but they don't always land there," explains Ritorto.
Architect James Gaddis and interior designer Jacquelyn Wind bridged that gap by taking design cues from corporate aircraft interiors and first class lounges at commercial airports. In turn, they specified premium finish materials such as coffered ceilings, stone flooring, cherry wall paneling, brushed stainless steel accents, indirect lighting and marble and granite countertops.
"We didn't rely on elaborate wallcoverings or decorations to make it upper-end," notes Gaddis. "We kept the design simple, but elegant in form and design. We wanted it to be aesthetically interesting even if it was painted solid white. We used 30-foot windows to capitalize on the site's spectacular views of the ramp on one side and dense forest on the other."
The contiguous nature of the main complex is a particularly unique feature, allowing employees and customers with proper security clearance to walk the length of the complex without going outdoors - a major plus during harsh Jersey winters.
"End-to-end, we're 875 feet - about the length of the aircraft carrier Intrepid," Ritorto explains. "Tenants love being able to get from their hangar to the main terminal without getting in their cars and driving.
It required extra effort and expense to connect everything, but it's a real advantage." In one area, the FBO uses Disney's "backstage" approach by providing employees with separate passageways.
On a macro level, flightlines and buildings are oriented so aircraft can usually taxi into and out of position. The resulting 60% decrease in tug activity not only provides environmental benefits by reducing the use of diesel-powered tugs, it also decreases exposure to liability risk.
Operationally, the addition of a new fuel farm was a huge enhancement. Previously, First Aviation was one of three FBOs trucking in fuel from an off-airport location.
Now, it operates its own on-site farm and also provides fuel to Jet Aviation across the road. With increased speed (now 300 gallons/minute) and capacity (300,000 gallons for two businesses vs. 120,000 gallons for three), First Aviation is better able to meet surges in customer demand. The reduced transit time from farm to aircraft also allowed the company to trim its fleet of refueling trucks from seven to five.
"It's great getting the trucks off of public roads and not being dependent on a third-party fuel supplier," notes Ritorto. "Plus, it's a cutting-edge farm in terms of efficiency, containment and safety."
In the farm's first full year of operation, First Aviation pumped approximately 9 million gallons of fuel.
The addition of a four-bay maintenance shop for ground vehicles has also been a major boon. "It's separate from the main buildings and has secondary containment, so we can bring refuelers inside during bad weather or for maintenance," explains Ritorto.
The FBO That Staff Built
Interviewing a broad cross-section of First Aviation employees was a mandate for Gaddis - a mandate that yielded numerous design efficiencies.
"It's the little things that often make the biggest difference," says Ritorto. "We added a restroom and snack area for the line crew up front to complement their main facilities - locker room, showers, full kitchen, etc. - in the back, where space is at less of a premium. We also put in a mud room for cleaner winter operations."
Stainless-steel counters were specified for the areas used to make coffee for aircraft because Formica chips when the heavy containers are loaded and unloaded. Built-in gravity drains make inevitable spills much less bothersome.
Ample canopy space in front of the terminal was another pivotal employee suggestion. "When you have heavy-hitters pulling up, it really causes anxiety to have them waiting behind someone else," explains Ritorto. "Now, we have the capacity to have three vehicles side by side under the canopy."
Researching other successful FBOs prompted plans to add a fitness center. "Corporate pilots used to head straight to the golf course after they landed," notes Ritorto. "These days, many would rather stay on-site and work out."
Security's a Selling Point
With the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as a landlord, businesses at Teterboro Airport are particularly security-conscious.
In addition to FAA and airport requirements, First Aviation also took current and potential guidelines of the Department of Homeland Security into consideration. The new system represents a marked improvement over former measures and includes more than 125 closed-circuit cameras, card-accessed entries and a central electronic monitoring system that records and ties everything together.
"It's all very ‘Star Wars," says Ritorto. "We not only record traffic visually, we also track movement through various access points." Even the new refrigerators, with outside access by vendors at only one end, were designed with security in mind. In addition, the entire operation, including the fuel farm, operates on generators powered by jet fuel; so the facility can stay fully functional during power outages.
"Passengers and tenants are increasingly interested in FBO security," says Ritorto. "We highlight our systems during tours with prospective tenants. They're great selling points, but they haven't made things cumbersome. Passengers can be picked up by our bus in the reception courtyard and ride through our tunnel out to their plane without, if they wish, ever setting foot in the terminal."
Having designed the initial improvements to First Aviation's original 14,000-squarefoot facility in 1987 (and all upgrades since), Gaddis is particularly pleased with the results of the FBO's latest project. "They started in the smallest and oldest hangar on the airport," he recalls. "The first winter, weather prevented us from getting the new roof on and we were literally plowing snow out of the hangar. It's gratifying to see them enjoying such a beautiful and functional space."
Gaddis credits the Ritortos for much of the project's success: "They're really hands-on owners. They wanted everything to be just right, and they made sure we considered the best approach to every last detail."
Throughout the years, the trio became good friends. "They gave me some wonderful opportunities when I was a young architect just starting out," recalls Gaddis. "I often say that I went to the University of Joe Ritorto, and there's no better grad school out there."