Building an FBO – Mid Island Air Service with Gail Mancuso

Building a successful FBO. Founded in Deer Park, NY in 1946 by WW2 pilot instructor Louis Mancuso, Mid Island is now one of Long Island’s most recognized FBOs. Gail Mancuso shares the story of Mid Island Air Service, its beginnings, and its deep community involvement.

  • Website: Mid Island Air Service
  • Aero Camp – AeroCamp is a program designed to give young people a unique opportunity to explore the world of aviation and aerospace.

Here is a transcript of the original audio podcast.

Dave Goodwin: My guest today is Gail Mancuso of Mid Island Air Service and FBO on Long Island New York. Mid Island started out small but today has quite an extensive evaporation at MacArthur airport Islip New York and also a bit further out at Brookhaven New York.

Hi Gail, Welcome to PlaneViz.

Gail Mancuso: Hi Dave, thank you.

Dave: Gail, we were talking recently at the Mid Island Pilots Club Annual Dinner. You told me a little bit about the history of the company. Share with our listeners how Mid Island Air got started and grew over the years to be a multigenerational business.

Gail: Sure. Back in the early 40s when the war broke out, my dad was a flight instructor, Luis Mancuso, and he, we were not able to operate airplanes…

on the coast so he moved up to Stuart and was instructing up there and then heard about a program down in Embry Riddle then in Clewiston Florida where flight instructors could go and train the British Royal Air force, train British and Scottish soldiers how to fly. So he went down to Clewiston and was there during the war and he trained the basic training in Stearman and the advanced training within the AT-6 and he stayed down their until the war was over and then moved back to New York and cleared the land and started the Airpark Airport and that was in 1946 that we opened Deer Park Airport and we’ve been running Mid Island Air Service since then.

Dave: It’s a great story. Now, I don’t recognize Deer Park Airport, I recognize the VOR, is it still there or is it apartments now?

Gail: No, the airport was closed in the early 70s and yeah, the VOR is still over there. There are condos that are built on that property now and when we closed the Deer Park Airport, we moved to MacArthur Airport, I think it was 73, in the early 60s or mid 60s we moved to – we opened a satellite branch in Brookhaven so we operated at Deer Park and Brookhaven until the early 70s and then it’s been MacArthur Airport and Brookhaven. So we had the full service FBO at both locations.

Dave: Right, as you said the scope of the business today is maintenance, the flight school, typical FBO services. How does New York Jet factor into that?

Gail: We started New York Jet back in the late 80s when we put up our first jet-size corporate hangar and we wanted to have a name that was more catchy than just Mid Island Flight School or Mid Island Air Service that we could approach the corporate on aviation world that would sound kind of pretty cool “New York Jet”, so we operate 2 folds, basically New York Jet is our corporate operation.

We handle corporate jets when they fly in, we fuel them, we provide whatever services they need from limos to catering to hotel arrangements. We offer concierge services as well as jet fueling and parking and hangar space and that’s done under New York Jet where the flight school is and the rest of our operation is Mid Island Air Service.

Dave: Now you have the flight school at Brookhaven, do you also do flight training at MacArthur?

Gail: We do. We train at both locations. We have a much smaller school at Islip. At Brookhaven we train the BOCES aviation program; it’s a two-year program. We’ve been doing the BOCES training since the 80s, the late 80s. And then we trained Dowling College, we provide the training for their aeronautical program as well and so our flight school at Brookhaven is quite a bit larger than it is at Islip.

Dave: Now you’ve been in business for a number of years and of course the business has changed a lot since the 50s and 60s. How is it today? Compared to back then it was a simpler life, but what are some of the things that are affecting business today?

Gail: Well one of the big things back in the 60s and 70s, the VA training, I guess particularly in the 70s was tremendous. I mean, we had a huge amount of VA training that we did at that time. That was a big part of our business. And then over the years as that went away, you know, the flight school has decreased in size considerably but since the 70s and 80s, the late 70s and 80s with Dowling and BOCES we’ve been able to grow it. We are hoping that the VA does start to come back on grandeur scale and that we would be able to provide services on that market.

And then certain things since 9/11, certain things have changed. It’s a little bit more difficult for people to train; it’s a little bit more difficult for us, it’s not as open as it used to be with certainly, with good reason. And now in order for–at our Islip branch–in order for students and pilots to go on the ramp they have to have badges and they have to be approved by TSA. In order for foreign students to come in and take more than just an introductory flight lesson, they have to be approved by TSA so it’s just a little bit more difficult for people to get started now. We have to make – show proof that they’re US citizens before we can train them as well. Just to prove that they’re not foreign citizens that require the TSA approval. So there’s just a little bit more background checks we have to do, a little bit more TSA security awareness training that we have to do with our employees. Some things we have to a little bit definite than 9/11. There’s a lot more of these temporary flight restrictions, TFRs that pop up. It’s like if President Obama comes into Manhattan, we could wind up being closed for business because they’ll put a TFR over our area that just precludes any flight training and which basically shuts us down so it’s just a little bit different environment since 9/11.

Dave: Do foreign students constitute a sizable portion of the students?

Gail: No, they don’t. The fact that we’re doing the training for Dowling, they will have more foreign students come in. They’re working on some contracts with some countries and we expect to see a larger amount in the future but right now we don’t have a large amount of foreign students. We don’t have dormitories so unlike some of the schools maybe in Florida that cater towards foreign students, that have dormitories and housing, you know, when people come here they really want the whole package so if we get foreign students that maybe are coming to the United States and have a relative or family member that they can stay with while they do their flight training.

Dave: And what about the flight training fleet out there at Brookhaven, I know you have someone 150 or 152s?

Gail: We have everything from 152s up through a new Piper Warriors and an Arrow, so we have a variety of planes. Some of our 152s are late 70 models so they’ve been around for a while and every once in a while we have a student soloing and someone will see it on Facebook and say, “Wow I soloed in that plane back in the 80s” so the planes hanging together it’s just amazing, that’s a wonderful plane that Cessna 152.

Dave: It is.

Gail: And we’re training in – we bought Dowling’s a fleet of planes. We used to train Dowling and then for about ten years they did their own flight training and then decided to get out of it so we bought their fleet of Warriors and Arrow and their Seminole and we’re using them in our training fleet as well. So we have a variety of planes from the 150 to up through the Piper Seminole and we have Frasca and full motion Redbird flight simulators available for our students as well.

Dave: We had hurricane Sandy pass through here last year and I went out to check on my plane which is tied down at your Brookhaven facility and I went over at Islip on the way home and there were no planes on the ramp at all at Islip. Where did they all go? Did you hangar them or did the pilots fly them away?

Gail: We did. We were lucky, 2 of our Gulfstream customers were away and they allowed us to use the big hangar so our lineman did a phenomenal job of stocking every school and every customer aircraft into our hangars. So as you saw we did not have one plane out on the ramp exposed so we were quite happy about that. Thank God there was no damage at all and even at Brookhaven where we were not able to hangar all of the planes we did not have any damage even though there was damage on the airport. We were lucky that none of our customers’ planes sustained any damage.

Dave: Let’s transition up for a moment now to Mid Island Pilots Club. I’m a member of Mid Island Pilots Club, why don’t you share with us how that get started?

Gail: Okay, we’ve always had an annual flying club and a gold flying club that my dad started years ago but basically that is a club that allows our students and renter pilots to pay an annual fee and it gives them a reduction on either $14 per hour off their aircraft rate and a reduction on minimums and discount on pilot supplies but we didn’t have anything that was more of a social club and I really wanted that. I wanted all pilots to have, I guess maybe more back to our dear roots where people came to Deer Park roots and hangout, and hangout with other pilots and got to what we refer to as hangar flying, you know, just sit around and chat and meet other people.

You maybe have young students get to fly with more experienced pilots and so back in the late 90s, 97 or 98, I proposed this to some of my customers that I wanted to have a Mid Island Pilots Club but I wanted to Mid Island, myself, to support the club but not run the club because I felt it was important that this be a club that was for our pilots, run by our pilots, and I wanted to take a back step. I didn’t want to control or say this is what you should or shouldn’t do, I wanted to be there to assist, to provide a place for the meetings but I wanted it, like I said, to be for the pilots, run by the pilots. And we had a few pilots step up to the board and became board members and before you know it the membership grew and here we are, how many years now? 15 years later and the club is going strong and it’s so exciting for me to see that the club is still active.

I had hoped we’d have, you know, rental that of the groups of people to renting planes and going on trips but it’s probably a good portion are aircraft owners that are our customers and some of them are based on other airports I believe but it’s a great group of people. I’m not even sure how many are in the club right now but it’s in probably 40 people or so, do you know? I don’t even –

Dave: Yeah, I think it’s probably a little more than that, yeah.

Gail: Yeah, and they plan these trips and have get-togethers and they have guest speakers and it’s something that is I believe it’s $40 a year to join but you get $20 back in coupon, Mid Island Coupon and it’s open for non-pilots, student pilots, I shouldn’t say non-pilots but student pilots, you don’t have to be a licensed pilot that’s what I mean. And it’s a great way for new students to get in and meet people too and just listen to aviation talk and have the opportunity to take trips sitting on the backseat with other pilots.

Dave: That’s a great description and it’s dead on. As a member myself, the meetings are animated as you can imagine. It’s a great group of people and they’re friendly and generous. Anybody in the area, in the New York area, interested can get more information just by doing a Google on Mid Island Pilots Club. If the website is hosted on definitely worth it, I really enjoy it. The involvement that Mid Island has with the flying community it’s really something you don’t too often see with other FBOs, I commend you for that. You’re really part of the community.

Gail: Thank you.

Dave: Now let’s talk about women in GA; are there any challenges that you’ve faced being a woman? I know that there are women in GA but certain portions of it are more males but how about that? Any challenges you’ve faced being a woman in GA?

Gail: I haven’t particularly. Again, this is a family business so being able to work in the company for I guess close to 30 years, I kind of grew up in an airplane and I’ve been around it my whole life so I don’t particularly feel like I felt any of it and there’re certainly are a lot of women in wonderful, responsible positions throughout GA and the corporate world and plus I’m always excited to see, you know, a Southwest female pilot but that’s just my personal preference. But no, I don’t think that I have personally seen it, I’m sure there could be different but I also think that it could be an advantage sometimes to young women coming in now. There’s gonna be such a shortage of pilots and I believe anyone coming in now is a great to time to learn to fly because of this but particularly, I think females in aviation may have a little bit of a leg up, you know, looking for positions. They’re equally qualified as the men. And we see it even with BOCES and Dowling which is great to see young students coming into aviation.

Dave: Now at the Mid Island Pilots Club dinner I learned about a scholarship that you’re involved in. Can you tell us about that?

Gail: Sure. When my dad passed in 2008 we, I wanted to honor him and I thought what better way than to establish a scholarship in his name because my dad was really excited about young people in aviation and so what we did is we established a scholarship not for profit and it’s a Louis Mancuso Sr. Scholarship Fund.

Since 2009 we’ve given out two $1000 scholarships and the parameters are, it’s for a Long Island High School senior that is pursuing an aviation career and they have to apply for the scholarship and there’re certain parameters that they have to follow but they do have to show that they have been accepted into a flight school or an aviation college or university pursuing an aviation career. And we’re gonna be meeting on the 23rd of this month, my committee, to choose this year’s to our recipients and we have 13 applications that we’ll choose from and it’s been great because we’ve had a variety over the years, we’ve had air traffic controllers, aircraft mechanics, a girl last year that was going into the navy. So we’ve had a large range of, I should say, a group over the years that have come from all different fields not just every people going into aviation science or aviation management. So that’s been exciting.

Dave: That’s a great program. How do potential applicants learn about it?

Gail: Well, I send out information to the guidance counselors you know, all the high schools in the area and it’s on our website which is and there is a link on the website that has the applications and all the guidelines for the scholarship. And you know, we try to raise money so that we can keep this alive ‘cause I think it’s a great thing and I know it’s something that my dad would be very proud of and really appreciative of.

Dave: Now, did you have a family plane when you were growing up? He flew Stearmans and T6s, did he have any kind of a romantic attachment to one of those airplanes?=

Gail: Well, actually my dad from when I was a kid the plane I remember is he had a Cessna 310, a twin.

Dave: Oh yes.

Gail: We used to fly down to Florida for Christmas and for Easter Holiday school breaks and so the 310 is the plane that I just remember as a child and growing up he had that for a long time.

Dave: And we had a T-6 as our family plane.

Gail: Oh that’s pretty cool.

Dave: Yeah, my father got it from one of his airline pilot buddies and restored it and flew that thing for years.

Gail: Actually you did ask me before about a story that’s maybe not funny but interesting. My dad since the 50s flew harness drivers around, with the horse racers, I can’t think about that and so after spending so many hours going to the track and sitting, waiting for the drivers while the races were on, Dad got more and more interested in the horses and at one point I think back in the early 50s he decided to buy a race horse.

Well, it’s probably something that, you know, maybe worth a thousand dollars back then, it wasn’t a good horse but it got his foot in the door and over the years he used to go down to the track and he would help train whatever horse he had he would train the horse or round the track and got very close to particularly one of the horse drivers. Over the years he traded up better horses, better horses, better horses and back in the mid 60s he was training one of his horses and there’s a gentlemen that owned a couple of really good horses, he lived on Long Island and my dad round up training him a Cessna sky master push-pull twin engine plane but he has interest in a 2-year old horse that wasn’t even proven and the horse went on to become a triple crown winner. So my parents had –

Dave: No kidding?

Gail: Yes, that’s kind of a really once in a lifetime thing and my parents had a lot of fun with that back in 1968 the year that he won. They went all over the country attending these horse races and it was really a very exciting thing and then after that with some of the money that the horse won, my dad invested in cattle and then eventually put a horse farm down in Virginia and use to have a track on there to train the horses and they had elongated one side of it and made a 2000 ft strip, in Thanksgiving time the family would fly planes down there and land on the strip and we have Thanksgiving with my parents on the farm so it’s been kind of cool how everything came around.

Dave: That’s a great story. So every time the fellow went out to look at a sky master he’d be reminded what he traded to get that.

Gail: Right and I think he always felt, both my dad and him, always felt they both got a good deal. They had a great relationship.

Dave: Oh that’s good, that’s good.

Gail: Yeah, yeah.

Dave: Well Gail, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today and learning more about Mid Island Air and I’m impressed by how deeply engaged you are with the flying community. Let’s wrap up with a quick recap of your services and where people can find you online and offline.

Gail: Okay as I said we’re a full service FBO so we do everything from maintenance, flight school, aircraft servicing, washing, charter and we’re at and 631-588-5400 is our Islip number and 631-281-5400 is our Brookhaven number and just one more thing if I could add, this summer, starting this summer (2013) in July we are running our first aero camp. Our basic aero camp will be for kids that are in Grade 6 through 8 and our advanced aero camp will be run during the week of July 22nd and that is for grades 9 through 12 where the kids will have some classroom training, they’ll tour the tower, they’ll tour other airports, they’ll fly the full motion Redbird simulator, they’ll get to fly an airplane, the advanced group goes to an aviation museum, so it’s a lot of exciting stuff that we have in store for this kids. So there is information also about aerocamp on our site.

Dave: Oh that sounds like a lot of fun.

Gail: Yeah.

Dave: Well very good. Thanks Gail for being on the show. It’s been great talking with you and I’ll see you around campus.

Gail: Thank you so much Dave.