Ronson Aviation has serviced aircraft at the Trenton Mercer Airport since 1961. “In the early days it was called Trenton Helicopter, it was where the State Troopers learned to fly,” says Wolcott Blair, general manager of the facility, which is known in the aviation industry as an FBO, or fixed based operator.
The “Ronson” name is most commonly associated with cigarete lighters, and in fact the company is a subsidiary of the Ronson Corporation that makes those lighters. The Somerset-based company has branched out into a number of other industries, but now it is facing credit problems and has decided to draw back and concentrate on its consumer products business. As a result, Ronson Aviation must be sold.
Its parent company is under the gun, as Wells Fargo, one of its large creditors, has given it a moratorium until April 24 “during which the bank will not assert rights relating to existing events of default,” the company wrote in a recent press release.
The good news, says Blair, is that new buyers for Ronson Aviation have been found. He doesn’t want to say much more than that because he is deep into the final stages of negotiating the deal. But he is confident that the sale will close before the end of the second quarter. Furthermore, he says that there will not be significant changes in the operation of the facility.
“There will be small changes,” he says, “but there are always small changes in any business, whether or not it is sold.”
Business is down across the board in private aviation. “This is a challenging time,” says Blair. “It’s not last year, or the year before. Business is down, but we’re not down by half. We’re down by maybe 15 to 20 percent.” He has been able to hold the line pretty well, retaining nearly all of the company’s 37 employees. He did not replace two employees who left, and has had to lay off one mechanic and one maintenance worker.
Informed by the Ronson Corporation several months ago that they wanted to sell the division that he heads, Blair lost no time in seeking a new buyer. “I started in January,” he says. “I’ve been in the industry since 2001 so I knew most of the FBO players. I started there.” He also took calls from private investors.
Blair says that he found a lot of interest. “This is a good business,” he says, “and this is a good area. The economic engine is a good engine. We’re halfway between New York and Philadelphia. We have Princeton University, the pharmaceutial industry, the life sciences, Rutgers University, and all of the graduates who stay around to start companies. Ronson benefits from that.”
Ronson’s customers fall into three categories — corporations, charter companies, and individuals. Ten percent of its business comes from planes for which Trenton Mercer Airport is home base, while 90 percent comes from planes whose passengers are flying in to do business in the area.
It is a surprisingly specialized business. The FAA demands that mechanics obtain separate certifications to work on different makes and models of planes. “We work on Hawker Beechcraft,” he says. “One of our mechanics is a King Air 300 master mechanic. He is one of only 17 in the United States, and the only one in the Northeast.”
Ronson Aviation’s history includes rebuilding hangar facilities at Trenton Mercer Airport after they burned down some 35 years ago. The project cost more than $1 million. “It was a big risk,” says Blair. “That was a lot of money back then.” The company further invested in the airport far more recently. It built a brand new facility late in 2007.
Commercial airlines have come and gone from the county’s airport — but mostly they have gone. No airlines have scheduled flights into or out of the airport now, despite vigorous attempts to lure one or more to touch down here. But Ronson, under various names, has been a constant, and Blair is confident that it will remain.
Ronson Aviation (RONC), Scotch Road, Trenton-Mercer Airport, West Trenton 08628; 609-771-9500; fax, 609-771-9512. Wolcott R. Blair, vice president general manager. Home page: www.ronsonaviation.com.