Banyan Air Service
FXE-based award-winning fixed-base operator supports business aviation with aircraft acquisitions, hangar space, and MRO services.
By Rafael Henríquez
Located at FXE (Executive, Fort Lauderdale FL) since its inception, Banyan Air Service was cofounded by Don Campion in 1979, when he realized that charter operators in south Florida flying smaller aircraft always struggled with maintenance.
While their FAA Part 135 certificate certainly demanded that their airplanes had acceptable maintenance done, they didn’t have enough work to hire a full-time director of maintenance, and they really didn’t have the budget to go to larger MROs.
Recognizing an opportunity, Campion asked the owner of the company he was flying for if he could do the maintenance on the Piper Aztec and the Cessna 402 that they were operating at the time. The owner agreed, they rented a hangar at FXE, and started Banyan Air Service as a small maintenance shop catering 100% to charter operators who had 3 or fewer airplanes.
Success followed almost immediately. Consequently, Campion started hiring technicians who were just out of A&P school, along with senior techs who would come to Banyan to sign off work and help with maintenance in the evenings.
Charter operators loved Banyan because they could call at 9 pm on Sunday and techs would come in 20 minutes to assist with their needs as if they were their own employees.
Word spread like wildfire, and around 1985, Campion and his partner approached Jerry Holland from Sheltair, who was also Banyan’s landlord at FXE, to lease more hangar space from him. “I had always dreamed about having the ability to sell fuel,” relates Campion, “so we asked Jerry if we could have a little terminal that he was leasing to a fixed-base operator (FBO) that was having difficulties to fill its hangars.
He gave us the incredible opportunity to move to those hangars, and now we called ourselves an FBO, because we actually could fuel and repair airplanes.”
Campion continues, “Within 6 months, we had all of Jerry’s hangars full, and that was the beginning of our 40-plus-year relationship.”
Now serving FBO customers, Banyan had to keep up with its customers’ demands. “As we got to know our customers and built relationships with them, they drove us toward additional capabilities,” explains Campion.
“When they needed avionics, we added an avionics shop. And when they requested turbine service, we added that, too.
These 2 areas really complemented our maintenance services, and that’s how Banyan grew – it was trust and teamwork. We truly are a team- and customer-driven company.”
Evolving with its customers’ needs has always brought bigger challenges for Banyan. Eventually, clients flying King Air turboprops were ready to upgrade to Citation jets, while others wanted to move up from Citations to Bombardier Challengers or Gulfstreams.
But one thing is certain – when operators have expressed their need to use larger equipment, they’ve also made it clear that they want Banyan to work on their new aircraft, which means more hangar space is needed.
To Campion, these types of challenges represent opportunity. “We were running out in space where our FBO was, but there was a run-down bordering property that was under the 30-year lease that they give at FXE,” he says.
“So Banyan bought the assets of that FBO, and together with Jerry Holland went to the City of Fort Lauderdale and requested a new 30-years lease.”
The City allowed the transaction, and Banyan took over. Banyan has completed similar transactions 4 times now, where it has bought the assets of an FBO, and then Holland Builders comes along to build new hangars.
Because of these expansions over the years, Banyan now has enough space to offer maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO), avionics installation, and FBO services. In addition, it has established a parts department and a pilot shop, and ventured into aircraft sales and acquisitions for its customers. And 8 years ago, Banyan became a HondaJet dealership.
However, those services not offered at Banyan can still be found at FXE in the Banyan complex, since the additional leases acquired were meant to create a better environment for business aviation users at the airport, building hangars to suit the needs of tenants that would offer services that Banyan does not.
For example, although the company doesn’t do charter, air ambulance, helicopter repair, flight school, or paint, there are hangars within this complex that meet the requirements of these activities. “I believe there’s more products offered in the Banyan complex than anywhere else in the world,” adds Campion.
Banyan Air Service Founder, President, and CEO Don Campion was born and raised in Nigeria, where his parents served as medical missionaries.
His passion for aviation sparked early in his life, when he reached the age to go to school and was sent by plane to an American boarding school 500 miles away.
“I remember the little Piper Aztecs and Comanches that would land on the grass strip and take us off to boarding school,” he says. “That’s where I got my love for aviation, seeing that an airplane could take us there in 3 hours, instead of 2-plus days by car.”
When he finished high school, Campion moved to Toronto, Canada, where he completed his pilot and aircraft maintenance trainings. And since his parents were still living in Africa, he used to visit Florida on vacation. “I had a friend who was a flight instructor here with whom I also grew up,” he remembers.
That friendship cemented the idea of aviation and moving to Florida even more, so Campion relocated to the sunshine state, had his multi-engine, instrument, and commercial ratings validated by FAA, and then got a job flying for a small charter company that operated a few airplanes back and forth from south Florida to the islands.
Campion would go on to do maintenance work for his company aircraft and other flight activities on the field, and eventually started selling fuel, establishing an enterprise of his own at FXE – Banyan Air Service.
Keeping the FBO part of business at the top of its game is VP of FBO Services Jon Tonko. Before joining Banyan 18 years ago, he worked pretty much every position at FBOs in DLH (Duluth MN), FCM (Flying Cloud, Eden Prairie MN), FAR (Fargo ND), and DAL (Dallas TX). “I’ve been in the industry for 30 years, and I got to see a little bit of everything,” says Tonko. “I started out as a as a line tech, and grew up to where I’m at now.”
Tonko has also seen significant changes since he joined Banyan. “When I started here in 2005, we were at the old facility, which was a 3000-sq-ft building with a small ramp,” he says. “Yet, it was extremely busy, pumping up to 6 million gallons of fuel a year.
And only 18 months later, we moved to our new facility, which allows us to serve customers more comfortably.” In addition to having an ampler operating space, the facility has a more customer-centric terminal.
Currently, Tonko oversees a team of 50 technicians, including managers and supervisors, plus 10 CSRs. And the team is growing constantly, so he has some 65 employees under his tutelage, most of whom have been with Banyan for more than 20 years.
“We’ve been blessed by having longevity within the organization,” remarks Tonko. “We have 2 teammates who have been here 35 years. There’s multiple teammates who have worked here more than 20 years. And I’d say half of the line service team has been here at least 5 years.”
Having employees who’ve been there for a long time means that customers see familiar faces when they visit the FBO, whether it’s at the front desk or out on the line.
“We’re in the business of building relationships,” adds Tonko. “And it’s not just building the relationship with the pilots, but also with the aircraft owner and their family members. We even know their dog’s name.”
However, with approximately 450 customers who call Banyan home, getting to know them on an individual basis is not an easy task. That’s why the company invests in its employees’ professional development to ensure they make a career there. “For our CSRs, we have an in-house training program with 2 trainers on staff,” says Tonko.
“And new employees will sit with senior staff members for the first 30 to 45 days just learning our operating systems.” Banyan knows its strongest assets are its people, and that it can’t grow without them. “We do a really good job of promoting from within,” adds Tonko, who is an example of this company policy, as he joined Banyan as a line manager and is now part of the executive committee.
John Mason is the director of FBO sales and client relations at Banyan. He describes his job as identifying customers, bringing them into the facility, and doing all the necessary leasing contracts for items such as office and hangar space, and services required for the aircraft. His duties harmonize with Tonko’s. “I bring the customers in, and then Jon (Tonko) works the operational side, taking care of their wants and needs,” says Mason.
Because of this team effort, client retention is high at Banyan. “Once we bring new customers into our facility, we really work hard to personalize our service to them, so we don’t lose them. Banyan promotes a caring type of attitude that makes them want to stay with us.”
With all these new customers coming in, and existing customers demanding space for bigger aircraft, Banyan has big plans for expanding its footprint at FXE. “There are a lot of projects on the board right now, and we’re working with Sheltair to get them built,” explains Mason.
“We’re going to build 2 large hangars to accommodate the Bombardier Global 7500, and the Dassault Falcon 10X when it comes out. We’re really trying to accommodate all the new aircraft types that are coming out.”
Mason continues, “We’re also growing dramatically in technical services with Gulfstream and Global maintenance. So, at the same time, we’re building to accommodate the maintenance side, technical sales, and storage for corporate flight departments that are relocating to south Florida whose owners want to come to Banyan.”
Plans to support larger business jet operators also include a runway extension and 24-hour US Customs services. “We are going to have 24-hour US Customs clearing on an as needed basis,” remarks Mason. “We’re in the final process of getting approval. We have customs now from 8 am to midnight, and soon we’ll be able to call for overtime on customs from midnight until 8 am to clear our tenants who travel overseas.”
Mason concludes, “I think FXE is still an underutilized airport which has plenty of room for expansion. But with the runway extension, new projects on the board, and 24/7 customs, I think we have most of it covered.”
VP Director of MRO Services Charlie Amento leads the way in the maintenance division. He joined Banyan as an A&P mechanic in 2006, and assures that the company’s take on MRO is unique because it’s a single-base, family-owned activity.
“While the company has grown substantially over the past 40-plus years, and the MRO division employs 110 people who work in about 90,000 sq ft of hangar space, it still feels like working with family here,” he says.
Banyan technicians work on a variety of airframes. Over the years, as younger leaders have joined the company, and newer and larger aircraft with advanced technology have entered into service, the dynamic of the department has also changed. But one thing remains constant – customer service.
“We focus on customer service,” remarks Amento. “We try to do it better than anybody else in the industry. And our success on the MRO side is apparent because customers keep coming back.”
However successful the MRO department has been, Amento knows there’s always room for improvement, for example, streamlining processes and procedures. “Having a very friendly environment helps a lot,” points out Amento.
“It’s all about the team and company culture. I think our main focus right now is finding additional employees to grow the department, but good employees are difficult to find, because the main quality we’re looking for is that they fit our culture.”
Banyan is an FAA Part 145 Repair Station approved to work on Bombardier Challenger and Learjet; Dassault Falcon; Gulfstream; HondaJet; Piaggio; Pilatus, and Textron Citation, Hawker, and King Air aircraft.
Director of Avionics Danny Santiago started working in the maintenance department 13 years ago. He took over his current position during a challenging period for the avionics division. “At the time, the department was losing money,” he relates, “so I took the same principles by which we worked over at maintenance and applied them to the avionics side. Almost immediately, we stopped bleeding financially and started making money.”
Once the administrative corrections were made and the avionics division was profitable, personnel performance evaluation was next on the list in order to identify who was the right fit for the team, focusing on how to improve customer service.
Banyan has earned avionics and maintenance repair station approvals from many other countries, including Argentina, Aruba, Brazil, Cayman Islands, Chile, Colombia, EASA 145.4235, and Mexico. And works closely with OEMs such as Honeywell, Collins, Garmin, and Gogo.
Aircraft sales and management
For many years, Banyan’s aircraft sales division focused on turboprop and light jet aircraft. However, the company was nominated as a Honda Aircraft dealer, and that was a game changer. “
Being a HondaJet dealership has become a very unique niche for us,” declares Banyan Senior VP Michael O’Keeffe, who takes care of aircraft sales and management.
“We’re probably the largest HondaJet service center in the world. So between sales and maintenance, we feed off each other in ways that benefits both divisions. We’re proud to represent that product line.”
Since most other bizjet manufacturers have their own sales staff and/or factory representatives, Banyan doesn’t really sell new business jets.
On the pre-owned side, however, it works with every major OEM if there’s a client looking for a particular aircraft type.
Once they purchase an aircraft, operators hire Banyan for their hangar space, fuel, and maintenance services. “They touch a lot of different people within our company, and every one of those relationships is very valuable,” says O’Keeffe.
With more than 1 million sq ft of hangar space available, Banyan can accommodate large managed aircraft. “We have a BBJ on one of our ramps,” adds O’Keeffe. “We can manage any aircraft for any individual, as long as they are Part 91 operators. Since many of our good clients are Part 135 operators, we’ve elected not to compete with them.”
The Banyan Pilot Shop
The Banyan experience wouldn’t be complete without The Banyan Pilot Shop, where guests can find something for everyone. “I love to see how customers react when they come in for the first time and they just see how much we have here in the store,” says Shop Manager Abby Self. “This is the world’s largest pilot shop.
We’ve got everything from models hanging from the ceiling to a Gulfstream fuselage with a real flight sim setup,” says Self. “Customers can purchase luggage, watches, sunglasses, life vests, headsets, and apparel.”
The shop also sells online to reach its customer base away from FXE. “We really want to reach the customers all over, especially those in South America and the Caribbean,” adds Self. “So we’ve done a pretty good job at expanding our online store.”
Serving in legendary ways
In 2008, Don Campion and his wife visited the hospital his parents had founded in Egbe, Nigeria, only to find run-down buildings where there had been no missionaries for about 8 years. So in 2011, they worked with several organizations to send a missionary contractor over there to start refurbishing the buildings.
“Over the past 12 years, with support from Banyan customers and employees, we’ve built 22 houses, a water system, and completely rebuilt the hospital and a nursing school,” he says. “Today, we’re serving 300 nurses in training, we’re training 6 Nigerian doctors, and receiving about 1800 patients a month.”
Banyan’s story is one of passion for service, from Campion’s parents serving as medical missionaries in Nigeria, to his ongoing altruistic work in Egbe, to the company’s customer-centric mindset.
At Banyan, employee satisfaction is paramount to building long-lasting relationships with clients, and making them feel like Banyan is their home away from home.