[caption id="attachment_55710" align="alignright" width="405" caption="The Piaggio Avanti seats 8 passengers and is recognized for its cabin space and fuel efficiency (photo credit: Avantair)."][/caption]

SANTA ROSA – Clearwater, Fla.-based Avantair Inc. (OTCBB: AAIR) is working to increase its presence in Santa Rosa, a market that the private aviation company’s CEO said is among the strongest in the hundreds of airports it serves.

Those efforts have recently included the company’s sponsorship of last Tuesday’s charitable event, the 2012 Schulz Celebrity Golf Classic, auctioning flights aboard its aircraft, the Italian Piaggio Avanti.

Yet with an average of 10 flights per week operating from the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, CEO Steven Santo said that the positive trend has inspired other growth proposals, including considerations of establishing the company’s fifth facility in Santa Rosa.

“For the last 90 days, it’s the most used airport for us,” Mr. Santo said.

Avantair employs approximately 550 nationally, including mechanics, pilots and operation staff. The company currently operates four facilities -- in Camarillo, Calif. and in Florida, New Jersey and Texas.

Avantair offers a fractional ownership, lease and time card programs for its aircraft, for which it holds exclusive rights for operation within the United States. The company counts 57 Piaggio aircraft in its fleet, a unique eight-passenger design recognized for cabin space and fuel efficiency.

“It’s a stand-up cabin, which is very unusual for a light jet,” he said.

Mr. Santo said regional flights have increased in popularity nationally, as travelers migrate away from international destinations. Other robust markets for the company include Southern California, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, with flights ranging as far as 2,000 miles.

Santa Rosa is among the top 10 busiest airports on average for Avantair, with the majority of flights into the airport involving customers in the fractional ownership program, according to the company.

Private aviation has continued to grow at Sonoma County Airport, an industry hit hard during the recession. Vine Jet, a new company, has a 23,000-square-foot hangar at the airport for private aircraft and services. Two full-service, fixed-base operators are at the airport, KaiserAir and Sonoma Jet Center.

Commercial aviation has also steadily grown. Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, most recently reported a 3 percent increase in monthly passenger volume for May and began a new, nonstop flight to San Diego on June 1.

“It’s interesting – some really small regional airports have been big for Avantair,” Mr. Santo said.

Total operations -- the number of takeoffs or landings at the airport -- are still far lower than the recent high point of 2008, said Airport Manager Jon Stout. Last year saw from 76,000 to 78,000 takeoffs and landings compared to 128,000 in 2008.

"In the last year, airport operations have gone up about 5 to 6 percent," he said, noting that much of that growth was due to an increase in charter and other private operations.

Avantair recently reported year-to-date revenue growth of 7.1 percent for the nine months ended March 31, totaling $116.6 million.