Photos (top to bottom): The lobby at Stevens Field. Avjet has a cozy new facility. A herd of cattle greet passengers as you enter the new FBO at Stevens Field. The Avjet hangar stands empty while they wait for a certificate of occupancy. The new FBO building at Stevens Field
PAGOSA SPRINGS — Getting to the new airport at Stevens Field now involves a 1.3 mile trip on Cloman Boulevard, a dirt road that meanders through pastureland where cattle roam, the valley is lush, and the view of Piedra Peak spectacular. At the end of the road, after crossing two cattle guards, I reach the airport — a large metal building —and pull into the unfinished parking area. Aherd of heifers and their calves drink from a puddle along the fence. At the side of the building is a wood and glass door with the recognizable Avjet logo.
Once inside I forget I am in a metal building. The walls are painted butter yellow and all the windows are trimmed with cherry-colored wood. The concrete floor is stained and glazed and the rooms along my right are filled with rustic wooden furniture and oversized leather chairs. The main lobby is like a living room: A fireplace, a decorative rug, leather sofa and chairs. A stack of boxes sits outside of a storage area. The view from the building is amazing. The mountains jut into the cerulean Colorado sky and the new black asphalt tarmac seems to glisten in the sun. There are three planes sitting on the ramp.
A smiling Robert Goubitz, the manager of the facility, greets me. Goubitz is Dutch and speaks with a very slight accent that makes him even more appealing. A former private pilot, Goubitz relocated to Pagosa Springs three months ago from his home in Camarillo, Calif. Goubitz has worked for Avjet since 1991. He knew he wanted to manage a Fixed Base Operation (FBO) and thought he would start his new career in Camarillo, but when Avjet CEO Marc Foulkrod learned of Goubitz’s retirement from flying and his desire to work at an FBO, he asked him to stay on with Avjet and take over their Pagosa Springs facility.
“I knew about Pagosa Springs from my travels and flying,” Goubitz said.
Goubitz is a consummate professional and his years of flying corporate jets and Hollywood stars provides him with an insight into what is important at a full-service FBO. Goubitz takes me on a tour of the new facility. We visit the pilot planning room, the pilot resting room, the conference room, the information area, his office, the kitchen. Everything is not quite complete. There is still painting touch up to be done; the boxes in the lobby are awaiting linoleum in the storage closet so items can be put away. Goubitz’s office is incomplete. The spotless hangar remains empty. No planes, no tools, no equipment. The county has not yet issued a certificate of occupancy (CO) for the space. Avjet is unable to function as a full-service FBO. But as of press date, it appears that Avjet will finally be able to move into their building.
“We believe they will get a CO. We had a favorable water test today,” County Administrator Bob Campbell said.
Avjet was supposed to move into their new facility a year ago.
“It’s been a long, tough road with many unforeseen obstacles,” Goubitz added.
“Some transitions at the county level caused problems with the overall management of the project,” Campbell said. “We did not stay on top of things as we should have.”
The biggest issue is water: The facility needs 1,500 gallons per minute for fire safety, which it didn’t have. An auxiliary pump station was installed at Industrial Circle, then the county had to enclose the pump station in a housing. Next they needed to provide a power supply to the pump station. Now Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation says not to turn on the pump station because they can’t regulate the flow of water.
“For the past two months we kept hearing just a few more weeks,” Goubitz said, clearly frustrated. “It’s sort of like buying a car and you go to pick it up and they say, no I’m sorry, you’ll have to come back because we need to put an engine in, and then when you come back they say, no, now you need a gas tank, come back again.”
Goubitz said the problems stem from a lack of oversight and improper planning from previous county administration, including former airport manager Rob Russ.
Campbell acknowledged that: “Key components were missed in the original pump station design.”
“I’m extremely disappointed in the mismanagement of the airport,” Foulkrod said from his office in Burbank, Calif. “Bob Campbell is a godsend. He is exactly what the county was lacking. He’s a businessman. He’s logical.”
Foulkrod admitted he considered selling off the Pagosa FBO in January, but then significant changes at the county — the hiring of Bob Campbell, changes in working with the commissioners — changed his mind. “Some people shouldn’t be in the capacity to make decisions because they have no background and no experience.”
Foulkrod believes that his decision for Avjet to manage the FBO is proving to be a good decision. He dealt with the previous FBO as a private pilot with a second home in Pagosa. “I’ve been flying in there for 10-12 years,” Foulkrod said. “It was not good.”
Campbell speaks highly of Avjet. “Working with them is very, very favorable. With their expertise and professionalism, they can bring business to the airport that we may not have been able to get without them. They have experience running FBO’s.”
“I do think this will be great,” Foulkrod said. “Avjet’s commitment hasn’t changed, which is evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of dollars we’ve lost during this process.”
“We don’t want to do a (less than good) job for our clients,” Goubitz said. “Our goal is to provide full FBO services, but we are limited by the county because we don’t have proper tie downs and fuel storage yet. The county has not given us the tools to provide what the airport was meant to provide. Avjet is investing in the community. This is not a typical county atmosphere, but we represent the county as well.”
Goubitz pointed out that Avjet is available seven days a week. They are the ones who greet all incoming planes. County staff only works five days a week. And the delays impact negatively not only on Avjet, but on the county and the airport and the community.
Right now, corporate pilots are hesitant to fly into Stevens Field because the correct information about the new runway and the weight bearing capacity is just now getting out. The AWOS (Automated Weather Observing System) is scheduled to be installed in July. With AWOS installed, the airport designation will change and pilots will know they can land at Stevens Field. Business will automatically increase.
“It will be several years before we will be profitable,” Goubitz explained. “We have to recoup some of our investments. Everyone po
ints out that we are getting a great deal on our lease, but there is much more to this business than just a lease. It’s all about customer service.”
As we chatted in the pilot resting room, a Pilatus PC-12 landed and came to a stop on the ramp. Goubitz jumped up and went to see why his fueler wasn’t ready and waiting for the plane’s arrival. As the Pilatus’ single prop stopped spinning the fuel truck arrived. Goubitz went out to meet the pilot and passengers. Four people disembarked, one with a camera around his neck. Goubitz talked with them and then returned. The pilot was a second homeowner.
“It’s important, even for locals, to keep our fuel prices under control. That pilot could have landed in Colorado Springs to refuel, but he came here.” Goubitz explained that fuel and aircraft servicing are the main business for Avjet. Keeping fuel prices competitive means that their margins are very low.
“We want to do our part to help the county manage this airport efficiently and we can. We have a good future here. But there is still a lot of unfinished business — the road, basic services such as catering, that will not happen overnight. That is our challenge as a full-service FBO. There are some limiting factors,” Goubitz said, adding: “Pagosa absolutely needs this facility. We have to make the extra effort to make it special for aircraft to come here.”