October 17, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
Redbird Skyport of San Marcos, Texas, pumped almost 90,000 gallons of avgas during its 15-day experiment selling fuel for $1 per gallon to study the effects of pricing on general aviation activity, the company said.
A weary employee, marketing manager Josh Harnagel, said Redbird was still working to interpret data it gathered from Oct. 1 to 15, when it slashed the price of a gallon of avgas to $1, and soon found itself overwhelmed with demand for the fuel. Avgas was once again selling for approximately $5.90 per gallon after the company restored regular retail pricing 16 days earlier than it had planned. At the regular retail price, Redbird pumps about 4,000 gallons a month.
Harnagel said he found it surprising, but also encouraging, to discover how powerful an impact the price of avgas has on general aviation flying.
"It’s encouraging that people are still interested in flying," he said.
Redbird was also somewhat surprised at the lack of a predictable pattern in demand for the cheap avgas. The company expected sales spikes on weekend days, but the heaviest traffic came on a week day. Weather was only a serious factor one day during the avgas sale.
Redbird also observed that bigger airplanes were drawn by the big savings. The FBO’s "average upload" of fuel is typically 40 gallons, but jumped to 90 gallons as the "bigger twins that we don’t see a lot of in this part of Texas" showed up for gas.
The overwhelming response may have forced Redbird to end the sale early—and send tired employees home to bed—but it hadn’t dulled the corporate appetite for innovative marketing, Harnagel said.
Roundtable discussions of other ideas—not yet ready for prime time, he said—are already under way.
Looking back on the avgas experiment, Harnagel said the line crew will remember one customer who may not have known that he was participating in a grand marketing experiment. The customer complained at the prospect of a half-hour wait for service, and was given a choice: pay full retail and go to the front of the line, or wait your turn.
"For a dollar a gallon, I’ll wait all day, and wash your car," the pilot replied.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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