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October 9, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
Redbird Skyport will call an early end its much-publicized experiment selling $1-per-gallon avgas on Oct. 15 as it struggles to avoid being swamped by demand for the fuel, which normally sells in the $6-per-gallon range.
The San Marcos, Texas-based FBO had forecast an eight-fold surge in demand for avgas during the promotion which was originally planned to run for the entire month of October. But that 32,000-gallons-per-month sales scenario was shattered when Redbird pumped 48,000 gallons of avgas in the first eight days, said Redbird Flight Simulations Chairman Jerry Gregoire.
"The response has been so overwhelming, in fact, that simply meeting the demand for fuel has become nearly unmanageable. We have three trucks running full-time and wait times might still approach two hours, and we are having difficulty getting fuel delivered fast enough from our suppliers to guarantee we don’t run out. Further complicating things, our people are getting very worn out," he told AOPA.
"To continue this the entire month is physically impossible," he said.
Before the $1-avgas sale began, signs of pent-up demand appeared in a flood of calls and messages that followed the August announcement of the deal. Concerned, Redbird took steps to address the inquiries in a news release restating the deal’s terms and limitations. Redbird also added a third fuel truck to its fueling fleet.
That seemed to do the trick—and waits for gas were reportedly no more than 30 minutes during the first three days of the deal. Redbird had pumped 9,000 gallons of fuel at that stage.
Gregoire took responsibility for the decision to terminate the offer early, and provided a blunt assessment of the situation: "We completely screwed up on our estimates and no one was prepared for what has happened. I expect we’ll take quite a bit of criticism for not anticipating this and I have to say I deserve it," he wrote in an email message.
Redbird will fuel aircraft pilots use to attend the Redbird Migration Flight Training and Design Conference at the end of October for a $1 per gallon, Gregoire added.
Redbird considers the project successful from the point of view of learning from the data about general aviation activity that the promotion was designed to gather through avgas customers’ responses to surveys. The company also claimed success in its goal of "stirring an infusion of activity in the GA community."
Preliminary survey data indicated that 30 percent of pilots buying fuel were came from outside Texas, from as far away as the east and west coasts. Thirty percent of aircraft served were piston twins, and by day eight, some 20 percent of buyers were "repeat visitors." Instrument-rated pilots with more than 4,000 hours who own their aircraft were “the most common visitors,” Redbird said, describing the figure as "far off the norm for GA."
Redbird reaffirmed its commitment to handling the demand for fuel through Oct. 15—which includes the period when AOPA Aviation Summit is in progress in Fort Worth from Oct. 10 to 12—said Redbird Skyport spokesman Jeff Van West in a news release. But after Oct. 15, it will be time to give the line staff a break from pumping avgas.
"They’re icing their joints through the day due to the unrelenting workload," 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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