October 3, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
Redbird Skyport of San Marcos, Texas, pumped as much avgas in the first three days of a $1-per-gallon price promotion as it would normally dispense in two full months, said the company’s marketing manager on Oct. 3.
Redbird, which is selling $1-per-gallon avgas throughout October during normal business hours, had fueled approximately 250 aircraft by the middle of day three, and expected to have served 325 aircraft by closing time. The company estimated total fuel sold since the promo began at 9,000 gallons.
Operations were running smoothly, with 30 minutes being the longest wait for gas.
With the first weekend approaching, Redbird’s marketing chief was confident that staff could keep up with the demand.
"We’re going to go for it with the plan," Marketing Manager Josh Harnagel told AOPA by phone.
On day one, low clouds over the San Marcos Municipal Airport held down sales. But as the ceiling lifted, the fuel began to flow.
Redbird had been bracing for an onslaught of demand based on an "overwhelming response" to advance publicity about its offer. But a half hour passed after Redbird opened for business at 6 a.m. on Oct. 1 before a Bonanza pilot became the first customer to buy the deeply discounted fuel.
Improving weather brought an uptick in sales, and by noon of day one, Redbird had pumped about 1,700 gallons of avgas, fueling about 30 aircraft.
Redbird slashed its fuel prices with support from several sponsoring companies and organizations as part of an experiment announced in August to study the relationship between avgas pricing and general aviation pilots’ flying habits. Customers who placed fuel orders provided data for the project by answering several survey questions posed by iPad-bearing Redbird employees, Harnagel said.
In September, as interest in the promotion soared, the company followed up with a news release setting forth the terms of the $1 avgas sale and noted concern that some aircraft operators were planning to take unfair advantage of the offer.
Anticipating the spike in demand, Redbird also moved to add a third truck to its fleet of avgas-dispensing vehicles. The company also took on eight additional workers to help administer surveys, and to bolster food-service and other FBO support functions, Harnagel said.
Because of limited fuel-storage capacity, Redbird Skyport also made arrangements with Phillips 66, its fuel distributor and a partner in the promotion, for short-notice avgas deliveries, in a hedge against shortages.
Harnagel said an early look at survey data showed that many of the pilots buying fuel had more than 1,500 hours of flight time and instrument ratings. About 95 percent of customers were completing the surveys.
Pilots had arrived in San Marcos from places as far away as Florida, Colorado, and Arizona, he said.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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