The airport was abuzz with activity as a fuel truck moved from one jet to the next with fuel while FBO staff scurried from plane to plane carrying bags of ice.
“This is something we never saw at Hardwick Field,” said Newman, Crystal Air president and operations director.
The Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority selected Crystal Air as the Hardwick Field FBO in April 2007. From then until January when Cleveland Regional Jetport opened for business, jet fuel was not a product it provided.
There was not much demand for any services or products at Hardwick. Most of the time, he and his staff waited like the Maytag Repair Man for the phone to ring.
“The phone’s ringing today,” he said. “It’s still feast or famine, but now there is more feast than famine.”
Whirlpool Corporation executives and the board of directors flew to Cleveland Monday for a board meeting and began departing at about 1 p.m. Tuesday.
“Hosting these big corporate meetings is recognition of the caliber of airport we now have in Cleveland,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for us as the FBO, the airport, the city of Cleveland and Bradley County.”
Newman said some corporations have already had meetings in the conference room inside the terminal building while others have had meetings at their plant sites. Merck and Co., Renfro Corp. and now Whirlpool have utilized the airport for their executives. A Wacker construction team has weekly flights in and out of the airport and Newman expects executives of other large corporations will soon make use of the new general aviation facility at 251 Dry Valley Road N.E.
Mark Fidler, CRJ general manager, said there is more to the logistics of being a good host than just simply landing and parking planes. It’s also about good customer service.
“You’ve got to be prepared to service the planes. We have to have adequate fuel and the ability to deliver it and other service products to the customers, whatever their needs might be,” he said. “It can be something as small as a newspaper or bag of ice, to accommodating them if they have mechanical issues. Basically, we have to be prepared for any issue that might arise and offer them quick and courteous service.”
After that, the airport must help the pilots make on-time departures and make them feel welcome to Cleveland.
Fidler said the weather was bad enough Monday to force all seven planes to make instrument approaches. The Federal Aviation Administration published the Instrument Approach Procedures for the new airport on June 27.
The executives flew in aboard six Gulfstream G550’s and one smaller Learjet.
Fidler said he did not think the Whirlpool board meeting would have been in Cleveland if not for the new airport.
“They wouldn’t have had the ability for everyone to congregate here and show off their new plant,” he said. “At the same time, we were able to show off our new airport to the board members, and from all indications they’ve been very happy with us.”
Whirlpool Chief Pilot John Butler has flown all over the world in 23 years of flying and six years with Whirlpool.
“We have operations all over the world,” he said. His impression of Cleveland Regional Jetport is, “This facility is incredible. It’s one of the nicest FBO’s I’ve been to, to tell you the truth.”
He said the 5,500-foot runway was “great” and the 500-foot extension in the early phases of development will be a big help with helping to get aircraft in and out during inclement weather.
“Definitely,” he said when asked if the runway extension would make a difference. “The longer the better. It’s a great facility and it’s great for our passengers because it’s close to the operation they’re looking at, so it helps us out a lot.”
He said having an airport so close to the plant greatly shortens the travel time to the plant. Instead of flying into Chattanooga then taking ground transportation to Cleveland, passengers can get to the plant much quicker by landing at the jetport.
“It’s much closer for them. It shortens their day. They can do multiple stops. It helps them do what they need to do and get back to work,” Butler said.
Rich Belisle, director of the Business Travel Center for Whirlpool, said, “We couldn’t be happier with what we found down here in Cleveland, from the customer service, to the state of the facility to the welcome we received from everybody. It’s been top notch.
“From the beginning, it’s been more than we expected. It started with Mr. Fidler who reached out to us very early on and with the people here at Crystal Air, it has been wonderful.”
Belisle is a World War II history buff and for that reason, Europe his favorite destination, but the long history and tradition of appliance manufacturing in Cleveland is not lost on him either. He believes the airport only strengthens the company’s ties to the community.
“There is a good partnership already between Whirlpool and Cleveland. We’re glad to be here,” he said.
He has not done a comparative study between the monetary costs between Chattanooga and Cleveland. But right away, anyone can recognize using the jetport is less time consuming.
“Especially when you’ve got something going on at the plant where they need resolution right away. The closer we can be for our people, the better.”