The FBO terminal at New Hampshire's Laconia Municipal Airport
Sky Bright's FBO has operated out of the former airline terminal at New Hampshire's Laconia Municipal Airport. for the past three decades. (Photo: Michael Tuck/Sky Bright)

FBO Profile: Sky Bright, Laconia Municipal Airport

New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee became a refuge for many business aviation customers during the pandemic.

For New Hampshire, Lake Winnipesaukee, the largest lake in the state covering 72 square miles, has long been a place for recreation and relaxation, and during the pandemic, the area has also become a refuge for private aviation passengers looking to escape high-population areas.

According to Lee Avery, the owner of Sky Bright—one of two service providers at Laconia Municipal Airport (KLCI), less than a mile from Winnipesaukee—traffic to the airport has increased by 30 percent over pre-COVID levels. He told BJT that for 2021 airport activity totaled more than 45,000 operations, including 5,000 by turbine-powered aircraft.

Sky Bright began 34 years ago at the non-towered airport with its 5,890-foot runway and has grown to become the dominant FBO on the field, claiming nearly three-quarters of the business. Summer is the peak season for the airport, which serves the bustling resort and summer home community. Avery noted that his company earns 75 percent of its annual business between July and September.

The company currently occupies 5,000 square feet in the 6,500-square-foot former commercial terminal that it shares with the airport authority offices and the smaller FBO. The building was renovated in 2014 with an Adirondack-styled interior and offers a passenger lounge, concierge service, a pilot lounge, refreshments, business center, 12-seat a/v-equipped conference room, a quartet of crew cars, and onsite car rental. Food can be procured from a locally renowned events caterer, usually with 24 hours' notice.

The location is home to a small flock of Cirrus Vision Jets and has 37,000 square feet of aircraft shelter that can handle up to midsize business jets, including a recently purchased 8,000-square-foot hangar, which is undergoing renovation. Once that project is completed by the end of the summer, Avery will relocate the company’s maintenance operations there, freeing up space in its larger 12,000-square-foot hangar to make more room for aircraft storage as well as a new Redbird FMX simulator for Sky Bright’s flight school.

Plans call for the start of construction on a large hangar capable of handling the latest large-cabin, ultra-long-range business jets within the next year or so. Avery told BJT that he initially planned for the structure to be 12,000 square feet, driven by his desire to avoid the installation of a costly foam suppression system, but with the recent revisions to NFPA 409 Standard on fire protection for aviation hangars, he is planning on having a discussion with his local fire marshal to possibly enlarge that design. Another stumbling block he noted was the supply-constrained price of construction material. “Number one, I want the steel prices to come back down,” he said. “In order for this stuff to work you have to get some reasonable pricing.” A second phase of construction could add 5,000- and 7,000-square-foot hangars within two years, essentially doubling the facility’s aircraft indoor storage space, in addition to its more than 12 acres of ramp.

The Phillips 66–branded location is supplied by World Fuel Services and is open every day from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. with after-hours callout service available for a fee. Its staff of 11 is trained under NATA’s Safety 1st program, supplemented by World Fuel’s online training course. The line staff is known for its unofficial uniform which has become a sort of trademark. “People don’t necessarily always remember our name, but they want to go to the FBO with the red shirts,” said Avery.

The FBO’s tank farm consists of a pair of 12,000-gallon storage tanks, one for jet-A and one for avgas. They are served by a 5,000-gallon and two 3,000-gallon refuelers (in the peak months, Avery leases a third 3,000-gallon truck); and a 2,000-gallon 100LL tanker, a vestige from the days when the company’s flight school was more active. “I didn’t want to be at the [fuel] farm every day, so we had a bigger truck, and I just kept it,” said Avery. “I don’t need that big a truck today, but it works and it’s mine.” The facility deploys remote payment processing equipment on all the trucks so customers can pay on the ramp, and self-serve avgas is also available 24/7. Last year, the company pumped more than 400,000 gallons of fuel, setting a new flowage record.

In terms of customer service, Avery believes in cultivating judgment in his staff. “You give your employees empowerment enough to say, 'Look, if it makes sense to you, and it’s safe, and it’s something that you would want if you were the customer, then do it,' ” he explained. “The last thing I want to hear them say is, 'I’m sorry, I can’t do that, I have to wait for Lee.'”