Pahan Ranasingha stands Monday in the hangar of his building at Avionics Installations at the Spruce Creek fly-In in Port Orange, Florida.
PORT ORANGE —With more than 600 flying machines based at the Spruce Creek Fly-In, it's no wonder several aircraft businesses choose to call it home.
With a 4,000-foot runway as the community's centerpiece and about 13 miles of taxiways leading to homes — some where you can almost slide out of the cockpit into your dining room — the gated community is one-of-a-kind and a natural fit to aviation businesses that have discovered the benefits of a home-grown customer base.
The land under the Port Orange-area community was originally a U.S. Naval Air Force training facility during World War II, but after the war ended the property was left vacant and it attracted vagrants and teenagers looking for a party spot.
A group of five investors became interested in the property back in the late 1960s and decided to purchase it in the mid-'70s with the intent to create an airplane-friendly community. Another developer, Jay Thompson of Thompson Properties, bought the Spruce Creek Fly-In when it was for sale in the late '80s.
Now, the once-abandoned air park has become a haven for what residents call "toy enthusiasts," and that concentrated interest makes for a business niche like no other.
IF YOU CAN'T BUILD OUT, BUILD UP
Pahan Ranasingha, owner of Avionics Installations Inc., opened up his firm in 1991 and works out of a Fly-In hangar on Cessna Boulevard.
Since that time, the firm's seven employees have had a constant stream of work at the two Fly-In commercial hangars he owns. So much so he was running out of space, but since the taxiways prevent a build-out, Ranasingha hired local contractor Mike Ceralosi to custom build an office inside the hangar that would still allow planes in.
Ceralosi came up with a design to make the office space at 212 Cessna Blvd. look like part of the fuselage of an old Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet and anchored it to the wall diagonally — 16 feet off the ground and out of the way of his employees.
Ranasingha, who incorporated his digital avionics, navigation and communication installation company in 1993, says being at the Fly-In has been the perfect location for him, in part because of his proximity to other aircraft machinists like Michael Collier, who operates an aircraft composite construction firm called Fibercraft in the Fly-In, across the taxiway from Avionics Installations.
A BUILT-IN CONSUMER BASE
Collier employs five workers who work with composite materials to build experimental aircraft, many of them one-of-a-kind. Case in point: one mock-up he and his crew designed included a fishing dock.
Collier started his business in Oregon in 1999. He relocated it to the Fly-In in 2012. The location just made sense, he said.
Most of my customers travel along the East Coast and the Fly-In is more convenient for them, he said.
In addition to building machines and kit planes from scratch and making body modifications, Collier has added inspections to the list of services offered. But before each of those inspections is made by Collier's company, Federal Aviation Administration rules state they have to be spick-and-span.
Enter Talon Rayne.
A ROLL OF THE DICE
Rayne started a detailing business in the Fly-In two years ago when he realized all aircraft had to be cleaned before each annual inspection and every 100 hours of flight as part of the FAA's maintenance and safety regulations. While there is no rule against cleaning your own plane, it's a time-consuming process, which gave Rayne the idea to open up shop in the community.
Rayne's company, Aerodyne Detail LLC, cleans, polishes and restores aircraft and business has been booming. His firm takes care of more than 150 aircraft on a revolving basis, but it didn't start out easy.
Rayne went to school to get his license to become an aircraft mechanic a few years back. Since it takes at least three years to become certified to do inspections on aircraft and his mechanic work wasn't exactly taking off, Rayne said he was keeping his eye out for other avenues to keep the bills paid and he came across the FAA inspection regulation. He said that was the catalyst for deciding the Fly-In would be his niche.
At the time, since money was pretty tight, getting into the community to start his business was a leap of faith.
"When I got there I didn't know anybody," Rayne said. "It was kind of a roll of the dice to get in there and really see if I could make the business successful."
But now that he's spent time in the Fly-In, "Now it's happening," Rayne said. "We get new customers every month. It just keeps growing and growing."
Commercial space or hangar space can be rented at the Spruce Creek Airport or you can be mobile. But while you don't have to own property within the super high-security community to do business there it certainly helps. Rayne says having that network surrounding him where he lives is the main reason his firm is so busy.
"We know each other more than the average community does," said Rayne, who said that while 90 percent of his detailing work is done within the confines of the community, the other 10 percent is done at large air shows like the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada, and the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where he follows his clients.
"We're supporting people that are our neighbors," he said.
"Being inside Spruce Creek (Fly-In) really does lend a lot to your credibility," Rayne said.
On the other hand, "You've really got to bring your A-game if your going to be doing business in there," he said. "People will just basically ignore you if you're no good."
Rayne said he has customers bring him airplanes to detail from as far away as New Hampshire and considers that an honor and gauge of his success.
"If you're doing business and you're doing business well inside the Creek, then you're doing alright," he said.
Original article can be found here: http://www.news-journalonline.com