Bohlke International Aviation provides FBO, charter, management, and maintenance services at its STX (St Croix VI), SJU (San Juan PR), and NRR (Ceiba PR) bases.
By Rafael Henríquez
In 1959, Bill Bohlke Sr left Spring Valley NY to start an airline in the Caribbean. He was an aviator who owned an airport in Spring Valley. When he moved to the US Virgin Islands in the late 1950s, he started flying fish out for a family of fishermen from the Florida Keys.
That’s how his son, Bill Jr, would meet his wife Ruth Ann “Tuddy.” Sixty-four years later, it’s their son, William “Billy” Bohlke, who leads Bohlke International Aviation (BIA) – a business that has expanded to charter, aircraft management, maintenance, and FBO operations in STX (St Croix VI) and 2 locations in Puerto Rico.
Billy grew up in aviation. He remembers his mother running the business while his father flew customers and worked his way to #2 in seniority with American Airlines (#1 in Miami). “When my dad was out flying, my mom ran the show and kept the operation going,” he says. “She was kind of the glue of the organization.”
Billy shows a great deal of pride in his dad’s accomplishments, too, pointing out that he is the recipient of the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, among other recognition in the industry.
Billy started learning how to fly with his father in 1989, at the age of 11, in a 1946 Ercoupe, which still sits in the Bohlke hangar. He went to the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen TX, and then to Louisiana State University (LSU), where he earned a degree in finance and ran Div I track.
But this kept him grounded, and he wanted to fly, so he joined the US Air Force after graduating from LSU. When he came back from the USAF, he made a conscious decision that he wanted to fly for a living. “I liked the dynamic nature of corporate aviation,” he states. “Flying for the airlines just wasn’t for me.”
In addition to his duties at BIA as a pilot and CEO, Billy served as a Lockheed C-130 Hercules pilot at Muñiz Air National Guard Base in San Juan PR, and is presently a Lt Col at Fort Buchanan in San Juan. He is an ATP/CFI pilot with 11,000 hours TT – more than 4000 of those hours in Mitsubishi MU-2s.
He’s also type rated in the company’s Dassault Falcon and Cessna Citation jets, as well as Astra and King Air aircraft.
President Sam Black is also an avid pilot. He attended an aviation program with focus on business management at Louisiana Tech University.
“I got into aviation following my dad’s footsteps, who was a pilot for American Airlines” he relates. “I ended up doing an internship with American Airlines, but after college, I learned about a school up in New Hampshire that allowed me to be a faculty staff member and actually teach classes while also flight instructing.”
After that, Black moved to Cape Cod to fly Cessna 402s for Cape Air, a piston aircraft operator that would eventually open a base in the Caribbean. He moved to the company’s US Virgin Islands base to fly during the winter, and did that for some time before relocating to Florida.
But his connection to the Caribbean was undeniable, so he moved back to St Croix looking to make professional progression flying jets. One day he walked into BIA to introduce himself, and found Billy and his father having a conversation about needing a copilot for a charter flight. “Black said, ‘I’d like to help fly the Citation with you,’” remembers Billy. “So he started flying the Citation with me. But at the time I had no idea of his business sense.
Since he joined us, he has really helped grow the business. We went from just 1 MU-2 and a Citation to a mixed fleet of 10 turboprop and jet aircraft.” Black adds, “BIA has indeed grown into a multi-brand company.
What started as Bohlke International Airways has transitioned to Bohlke International Aviation, encompassing air charter, FBO services, maintenance, and air ambulance pilot and aircraft support.
Our company includes MN Aviation SJU (San Juan PR), a part 135 aircraft management and air charter company that has been in business for going on 30 years; and Tradewinds Flight Services NRR (Ceiba PR), a part 145 repair station authorized to sell fuel and provide FBO services.”
BIA has 10 aircraft based at its STX and SJU locations, which are operated under the company’s charter, management, and medevac certificates.
The current fleet consists of 2 Dassault Falcon 900EXs, 2 Cessna Caravans, 3 Citation Bravos, a Citation VII, a Gulfstream G150, and a Mitsubishi MU-2. “We’re also adding a Gulfstream G280 to our management certificate in San Juan,” says Billy. “The twin jet has already been purchased and our pilots are ready to fly it.”
Since BIA has 2 separate certificates at STX and SJU, the company has pilots based at both locations. When hiring pilots, in addition to traditional methods such as word of mouth, BIA uses a 3rd party company and pilot recruitment websites to look for new talent.
Pilots in command (PICs) have to have ATP license, and time in type is preferred, while seconds in command (SICs) need to have at least multi-comm-inst ratings.
Billy points out that pilot turnover is a big problem, especially with SICs. But once on board, BIA tries to retain them for at least 2 years. “We understand that the airlines may be offering higher pay, or pilots don’t want to live in the Virgin Islands,” he says, “but we’ve created a schedule that allows for them to be home-based.
So we have pilots who live in the mainland and commute to STX.” Director of Operations Reynold Modeste oversees crew scheduling in his department. “I have someone who puts the BIA pilots schedule together,” he explains. “Then I review it and make sure it looks good.”
Some pilots work 2-weeks-on, 2-weeks-off shifts. Other pilots work 1 week and are off 1 week. And there’s pilots who work 5 days and are off 4 days. “We have to make employment with us a little more interesting so we don’t lose our pilots to the airlines,” remarks Modeste.
“We have increased salaries for captains, we get them free housing and a company car, and we fly them home if they don’t live on the island.”
Destinations depend on the type of mission for which the aircraft are used. Medevac flights usually go to south Florida, the surrounding islands, and the US west coast.
And common destinations for aircraft flying Part 135 are North, Central and South America, and Europe.
Among the many features of Bohlke’s new 4500-sq-ft FBO facility are a lobby with island-inspired decor, a pilot and crew suite, a conference room, and a modern kitchen. The 30,000-sq-ft hangar has plenty of space to store aircraft. Both the hangar and the ramp are monitored 24/7.
Head of FBO operations at BIA STX is General Manager William Kraft. Before he joined the team, he was the contractor who helped rebuild the facilities after a couple of bad hurricanes hit the island, but he has known the Bohlkes for years.
“I was a professional athlete, and they used to sponsor me for paddle board racing,” he relates. “I came around to help rebuild the airport after the hurricanes, and that’s when I started as the property manager, and I became general manager later on.”
Kraft oversees 60 employees at the FBO. He works with the line crew, fuelers, front desk, CSRs, and building maintenance personnel, and is in charge of trucks and equipment maintenance, buying and selling company vehicles, hiring employees, and dealing with port authority on a daily basis to maintain a good relationship with them. BIA STX is an Avfuel-branded FBO.
It offers US Customs clearance, catering, transportation services, hotel assistance and concierge services, lav service, GPU, aircraft detailing, and hangar and ramp storage.
Bohlke International Aviation’s fleet is ideal for business or leisure travel. Pictured from left to right are the company’s Falcon 900EX, Gulfstream G150, and Cessna Grand Caravan.
BIA aircraft are enrolled in service plans offered by their respective manufacturers. Likewise, engines and avionics are covered by OEMs, although coverage varies from plane to plane.
The company has a team of highly experienced A&P mechanics on duty in St Croix to assist with AOG maintenance needs, with a 5-year plan for Tradewinds to be a repair station that is capable of taking care of most maintenance needs for private jets, especially now that Puerto Rico is seeing an increase in bizjet traffic.
Director of Maintenance Michael Bird oversees everything related to maintenance at STX, and makes sure that everything gets done correctly. He and his team of mechanics take care of the aircraft owned and managed by BIA, but they also have other regular customers who come to the shop requesting maintenance for their planes.
“We have 3 medevac-configured Citations that we take care of here,” explains Bird. “Being in the islands, logistics may be problematic, but Textron and FedEx have done an extraordinary job, and we receive parts overnight most of the time.”
The STX maintenance shop is authorized to work on life-limited parts. “We can do any kind of stuff that my A&P certificate can sign off, like parts removal and installation” adds Bird. But I cannot do pitot/static checks here, because we’re not a Part 145 Repair Station.”
Tradewinds General Manager Luis Vega is responsible for BIA’s subsidiary at NRR. “We have a 28,000-sq-ft hangar, and we offer FBO services, there’s office space for rent, and we’re working on permits to start selling fuel in a couple of months.
And we’re only 36 miles away from SJU, where we also have a base that does light maintenance and AOG services,” he explains.
The Part 145 division is capable of working on Citation 500 series, Falcon 900 series, Gulfstream 100 and 200 series, and King Airs. Vega adds, “We’re also sending 2 mechanics to Gulfstream for G280 training since BIA is going to manage one for a client that will be based at SJU. Overall, we’re looking to expand the repair station here in Ceiba.”
MN Aviation SJU
Omar Carle is vice president of flight operations at MN Aviation SJU. He is an ATP/CFII with 9 type ratings. Carle started flying when he was 17 at Interamerican University in San Juan PR, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Aircraft Management and got his pilot licenses at the same time.
He went on to work as a flight instructor, and later on as a cargo, airline, and corporate pilot before settling at MN. His duties include overseeing the San Juan base, making sure things are done according to regulations and in a safe manner.
“I also work as a liaison with TSA,” he adds. “I’m in charge of our safety program, and making sure that we’re a profitable company as well.
We have a charter sales department, a maintenance shop, and of course the flight department.” Carle supervises 12 pilots and manages 5 aircraft at SJU – 2 Cessna Caravans, a Falcon 900EX, a Gulfstream G150, and a Citation VII.
The Gulfstream and the Falcon are managed by MN, but all 5 airplanes fly under the Part 135 certificate. Carle adds, “The SJU fleet logs between 400 and 600 hours each year, depending on inspections or maintenance events. We do most of our maintenance here.
For heavier maintenance, we send our aircraft to Tradewinds in Ceiba, because they have the equipment and infrastructure there. And if the airplanes cannot be flown there, they send their mechanics to SJU, where they also have a base.”
With increased business aircraft traffic coming to the Caribbean, especially to Puerto Rico because of its appeal as a destination, the future is promising.
Carle has noticed more bizjets coming to the island requesting full FBO and maintenance services. “We are a reputable company in the Caribbean, and there’s a lot of opportunity to grow here.
There’s an uptick in business in Puerto Rico due to tax breaks. There’s also more people moving to the island, and many others wanting to buy aircraft, so we receive a lot of requests to have those aircraft based at MN.
I see the company adding more aircraft to its management and charter certificates, and hiring more pilots in the next few years,” Carle concludes.