ST. THOMAS — With a new contract as the preferred provider of general aviation fuel and services for three major fractional/charter operators, St. Thomas Jet Center is expanding with a new VIP building and doubling its fuel storage capacity.
Michael and Susan Hancock both have decades of experience in the aviation business. Susan Hancock at one time negotiated fuel contracts with governments and petroleum companies on behalf of the private jet industry worldwide. The bulk of Michael Hancock’s experience is with commercial airlines. In 1995, he decided to go into business on his own with locations on the mainland and St. Thomas.
The Hancocks bought St. Thomas Jet Center from the Boehlke family in 2002, with an eye toward expansion. The company provides aviation services such as fueling, maintenance, catering, transportation arrangements and other concierge services for flight crews.
In addition to their executive terminal, St. Thomas Jet Center includes an aircraft maintenance and storage hangar. A fuel farm and a U.S. Customs facility were built for private jet use. They added a maintenance staff and fueling for commercial airlines, and opened a rental car company, Jet Set Auto Rentals, to accommodate their customers’ needs. Next, they ventured into bulk and marine fuel distribution with Tri-Island Energy. In 2008, they also started a small charter airline, Capital Air.
In 2018, the Hancocks announced the sale of 49% of St. Thomas Jet Center’s stock. At the time of the stock sale, a joint venture company was incorporated as Signature-STT-LLC. This company is jointly owned by the Hancocks and BBA Aviation, Ltd., under its Signature Flight Support brand, with Michael Hancock serving as president. Signature Flight Support is a multinational corporation with FBO (Fixed Base Operators) in 200-plus locations worldwide.
Starting Dec. 1., St. Thomas Jet Center was awarded a three-year contract to provide fuel and handling services to three of the world’s largest fractional/charter operators when on St. Thomas. The three companies were recently bought by a venture capitalist/hedge fund and are still operating as separate brands, but they wanted a single preferred provider to consolidate services in each location.
One major reason for selecting St. Thomas and St. Thomas Jet Center is to pre-position aircraft in a U.S. territory, and to do so with an organization with many decades of experience and a flawless safety record.
“Fractional/charters flights will come down and drop somebody off, in say, St. Maarten, but they don’t necessarily have a trip in the Caribbean or somewhere else, so they need a place for the airplane, and they are dotted all over the place. What they wanted is to have them accessible in one place,” explained Hancock. “We’ve got good air service here on St. Thomas and the air crew can easily jump on a plane from major cities and the airplane is here waiting for them to take it back to St. Maarten. They wanted it to be in a U.S. territory and they preferred St. Thomas over Puerto Rico.”
There were some caveats to the deal, according to Hancock. First, they wanted assurance that there was always enough fuel to accommodate their clients. Caribbean islands, including St. Thomas, can often experience fuel shortages during the busy season between December and the end of April. When that happens, fuel is reserved for commercial flights and may be cut off for general aviation. In 2010, Hancock built his own fuel farm, and is now in the process of doubling its fuel storage capacity to cater to anticipated greater demand, one of the primary factors in receiving the awarded contract.
Private general aviation Customs clearance facilities and a private area for VIP clients were two other factors in the contract decision. Hancock had already built a general aviation Customs building in 2012, providing a seamless experience for international and U.S. pre-clearance flights. Just yards away, a new VIP/dedicated concierge lounge facility is being built to facilitate high net worth, private jet guests. The two-story, 2,000 square-foot building is separate from the Jet Center’s current 10,000 square-foot building. Constructed by Bayside Construction, it is scheduled to be completed by the end of January.
Hancock anticipates that this expansion will ultimately bring more money into the local economy.
“Those airplanes are going to sit here. Those operators bring traffic in anyhow. The additional money will come from additional landing fees and additional parking fees for the Port Authority, fuel sales, gross receipts and fuel flow fees. The crew usually comes in the night before, so that’s two or three hotel rooms, plus restaurants, ground transportation and other goods and services,” said Hancock. “We’re very excited about it. As far as general aviation goes, we’ve come a long way over 20 years.”