If there is a structure that personifies Wittman Regional Airport, it would likely be the big white block hangar with its FBO beacon above the Phillips 66 shield and its name in 5-foot-tall green letters: BASLER.
Warren and Pat Basler planted the fixed-base operation in Oshkosh in 1957, said Mary Garcia, its general manager, who started working there in the 1970s. Since then, the company has evolved to keep pace with time’s changes to the aviation marketplace and the needs of its customers.
“We had a radio shop back then…and no fence,” she said, pointing to an old aerial photo on the wall. It was a straight shot from 20th Ave. to the hangars. What hasn’t changed, she continued, is that “we come to work every day, just like the other 650 people who have careers and jobs here at the airport.”
For Garcia and Line Supervisor Justin Rust, that workday runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends, with 24-hour service available with advance notice. Five part-timers work in the office and on the line, as the season demands, Garcia said. Naturally, it’s busier in summer than winter.
EAA AirVenture is, obviously, the busiest time of year, and Basler Flight Service hires 45 to 50 people for the event. “Many of them are repeat employees, teachers and people who take vacation to work the show because they like to be in the mix,” said Garcia. The staff is completed with a contingent of new people, and everyone goes through a training program that focuses on safety and efficiency.
Basler owns two fuel trucks, one for 100 low lead avgas and the other for Jet-A fuel. “We’ve been a Phillips 66 dealer for 32 years,” said Garcia, “and they bring the extra trucks for EAA.” Basler also offers self-service avgas. In service for more than a decade, pilots like saving 20 cents a gallon by filling their own tanks, and visitors on their way someplace else like its 24/7 availability. Next to the self-serve station is the terminal that feeds Basler’s underground fuel farm that stores 20,000 gallons of avgas and 22,000 gallons of Jet-A.
The hangar next to the fuel farm is locally known as Basler West, and the one behind it is Little Basler. Tenant airplanes reside in both. The three DC-3-sized hangars connected to the office are known as the Front, Middle, and Back, and they protect visiting airplanes as well as local business aircraft tenants. Community ramp and hangar space is most precious during EAA, and the military often has first dibs because Basler has the four-year government contract to provide it. Basler bids on the contract and has won it several times previously, and that’s led to some unique front hangar occupants, like the F-117 stealth fighter and its armed guards.
The front hangar got its 15 minutes of fame in the 2009 Johnny Depp film, Public Enemy. The film crew filled the ramp north of the office for six weeks. “They liked to do everything in the middle of the night,” said Garcia, recalling a typical call: “Hi, Mary, we’d like to come out and film at one in the morning until five,” and then Basler would reschedule its crew to take care of its customers.
Since its founding, Basler’s roots have sprouted a passenger and cargo airline that gave way to a turboprop-powered DC-3, the BT-67 created by Basler Turbo Conversions, which began in 1990 and is the FBO’s parent company. Throughout it all, Basler Flight Service has never lost its focus on meeting its customers’ needs, said Garcia. “Whether they arrive in a business jet or a Cessna 172, we can arrange or coordinate what they might need.” That ranges from aircraft catering and lunch recommendations (and a ride there, if needed) to a place to stay. “We work with all the hotels in town and have special rates for our customers,” Garcia explained.
Walking along the photo bedecked “Wall of Fame,” Garcia points out the highlights of the FBO’s history rich with dignitaries, air show pilots, and other notables. Ultimately, no matter who stops on its ramp, she said, the goal of Basler Flight Service is to make it easier for its customers to conduct their business in the city and county that has been its home for more than a half century.