Charleston, South Carolina-based Hawthorne Global Aviation Services, which recently opened a third fixed-base operation in Chicago, is hoping to add its next locations shortly as it continues toward its goal to add about three or four locations a year.

While the company is not yet ready to discuss its next move, a possibility would be Atlanta. The board of commissioners on June 10 signed off on a proposed sale of Atlanta Executive Jet Center to Hawthorne, pending the completion of a deal between the two companies.

The Chicago and Atlanta bases, should a deal conclude, would join Hawthorne’s initial base in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., as well as a second facility in New Orleans.

Investment firm Moelis Capital Partner teamed with Hawthorne Corp. in late 2010 to form Hawthorne Global Aviation Services with a vision of building a nationwide network of FBOs. "Hawthorne and Moelis believe that further consolidation in the fragmented FBO segment of the general aviation services industry creates a compelling value proposition for customers and airport sponsors," the company said at the time.

The company dedicated a page on its website to its acquisition aspirations, outlining ideal candidates as those having annual fuel uplift in excess of 1 million gal., long-term lease rights at its airport location and strong core line services.

ExcelAire, based at MacArthur Airport on Long Island, N.Y., became Hawthorne’s first acquisition in early 2012. The acquisition not only gave Hawthorne a foundation just outside New York City, but also an active charter and management fleet that numbers more than 20.

New Orleans followed in July 2012. The company acquired the former Aeropremier facility, which had recently opened after years of renovations from Hurricane Katrina damage. But shortly after Hawthorne acquired the base, Hurricane Isaac forced the company into temporary quarters while repairs were made. General Manager Jay Taffet said at the time the repairs enabled the company to make some upgrades to the base that it may not otherwise have accomplished. Hawthorne CEO Steven Levesque notes the base has a hangar on one of the highest grounds of the airport property, giving it a safety net in case of another storm.

Following New Orleans, Hawthorne won a bid to build at Chicago Executive Airport, enabling it to build its facilities from the ground up. The company held the grand opening celebration in May for the Chicago location, which brought it 30,000 sq. ft. in hangar space and a new state-of-the-art fixed-base operation. The location also gives it a base to support its growing charter and management fleet, and is an important anchor in the Midwest at a city that Levesque notes is among the top five business aviation markets.

While greenfield additions are always welcome, there are fewer such opportunities, Levesque notes. Most of the growth more likely will come through acquisitions. Geographically, Hawthorne now has bases in the East, South and Midwest. An Atlanta facility would provide a key location in the Southeast.

Growth opening up the West would be attractive, he notes, saying the company is actively looking there. While the company is currently in major markets, Levesque notes that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a Tier 1 airport, though "we like growth markets," he says.

Key to any acquisition will be the ability to maintain a "customer centric" chain, one where the FBOs still know all of their customers by name rather than by account number, he says.

That approach is central to the Hawthorne vision, Levesque adds, because the company sees a scarcity of hangar space and quality FBO services. "Anyone with a license can pump fuel," he says. But few provide the high level of service required in today’s business aviation market. Moelis strongly backs this approach, he says, adding that the company understands the business.

The market is primed for growth, slowly emerging from the economic downturn. But there is still good value available for growth. Acquisition activity has picked up, he notes. Major chains such as Signature Flight Support, Atlantic Aviation and Landmark have all been actively looking for opportunities.

While the economy slowly recovers, so is business. "Business is doing well, but it could be better," he says. The growth in business is not as "robust" as it was in the past. But the fundamentals of the industry remain strong, he says, stressing that the market has a bright future.