Standard Aviation, an FBO at St. Thomas’ Cyril E. King Airport (TIST) began in 2015, but once its permanent facility opened in October 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic, things really took off. General manager Sabina Rosario recalled the surreal ribbon cutting, with the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands in attendance, seats spread 20 feet apart, and everyone wearing a Standard Aviation face mask.
Since then, the facility has emerged as one of the pre-eminent FBOs in the region, logging more than 3,500 movements in 2022. The location’s peak season normally stretches from November through May, with many customers coming either to their second homes on-island, or their home off-island in the form of a yacht.
“St. Thomas is very much a gateway,” Rosario told AIN during a recent visit to the location. “There are 12 other islands within a 50-mile radius here so we see a lot of traffic coming for the British Virgin Islands or other islands, where we have the longest runway. We have the most hangar space, so they come to us first and then they transfer.”
The facility consists of a 3,000 sq ft, two-story terminal, including a passenger lobby with refreshment bar (the dispensers filled with chocolates have proven popular with flight crews), an upstairs pilot lounge with recliners, shower facilities, eight-seat A/V-equipped conference room with windows overlooking the ramp, customer storage space, laundry and dishwashing service, and a kitchen. Onsite car rental is available along with crew cars, and bottles of locally-distilled Botany Bay Rum are presented to favored customers.
The terminal adjoins a 24,000 sq ft hangar, the largest private aircraft shelter in the Caribbean. A game-changer when it opened, it was built to withstand 160 mph winds and is home to a based charter Pilatus PC-12 and Airbus Helicopter EC-145. With its 240-foot door span it can accommodate aircraft up to the latest ultra-long-range business jets.
A member of the Air Elite network, the World Fuel-branded location has 11 full-time and three part-time NATA Safety 1st-trained staff members. The FBO just saw the installation of its permanent fuel farm consisting of a pair of 20,000-gallon jet-A tanks and it expects to add a third in the near future. Before this, it relied on isotanks and a pumpskid to fill its fleet of one 7,000-gallon and two 5,000-gallon refuelers (all with inline Prist injection), which pumped approximately 1 million gallons of fuel in 2022.
Despite its posted operational hours of 7 am to 7 pm, the FBO is open past those hours most nights to accommodate medevac flights headed to the mainland’s superior medical care and other late-night traffic. While the island is considered U.S. territory, departing aircraft and passengers-even Americans-must still clear customs which is normally open from 7 am until 6 pm. “We have the exclusive capability to request after-hours [clearance], under the reimbursable services program,” explained Rosario. “We can get customs at any hour for a fee, they’ve never really said no, and they aren’t overly expensive.”
In terms of catering, the company contracts with an offsite private chef who can prepare gourmet meals, but for lower-end options it has relationships with many local restaurants.
After 2017’s twin devastating hurricanes Irma and Maria churned their way through the islands, the FBO expanded its cargo handling capacity, investing in forklifts and other equipment to handle large aircraft arrivals. “There’s nothing we haven’t unloaded,” said Chris Curreri, the FBO’s director of operations, adding those cargoes have ranged from live dolphins to 10,000-pound spools of cable. “The Caribbean is a funny place, everybody and their brother seems to bring something interesting on their airplane. You open the cargo hold, and they say “we’ve got a little generator in there,”-700 pounds!”
In the past, St. Thomas had carried a reputation among operators as a pricey destination but Standard Aviation has worked to change that impression. “It was expensive to come here and I don’t think there was really any reason other than that was the price,” said Curreri, noting that TIST has gone from a place to be avoided on tech stops to a preferred one. “We give out rum for sure, and a lot of love, but I think we give out good value.”
Among that value is top-tier customer care. “It’s the high level of service that people expect in the other parts of the world in major cities where it’s quick, it’s expedient, it’s reliable, it’s consistent and we deliver on that,” said Standard’s marketing director Ashley Bouzianis, citing as an example the time a customer requested sourdough bread in their catering order. The caterer did not have any available, so rather than disappoint a client, Rosario found a bake-at-home loaf at the local market, put it in the oven in the FBO’s kitchen, and delivered much-appreciated, still warm bread to the aircraft in time for departure.