You receive a phone call that the boss needs to go to an important business meeting next week. You’ve never scheduled a trip to this airport location before.
So how do you know which FBO to choose?
Instead of drawing straws or flipping a coin, consider these criteria when selecting an FBO for business aviation flights.
First things first, Is the FBO open during your arrival time?? If the crew has to park the aircraft on a unknown ramp without the local ramp agent, possibly at night, then that is NOT the best FBO choice. Especially, if there is another FBO on the airfield with its ‘lights on’ and ‘everybody home’.
If you haven’t been to this FBO before . . . Get to know the FBO. It’s simple – Ask Questions!
Focus on these key areas:
- Customer Service
- Passenger Services
Choose an FBO that complies with recognized international standards to ensure that your aircraft, passengers and crew are well looked-after wherever you are operating. This is your guarantee that the highest standards of safety and service will be adhered to at all times. For peace of mind, choose an FBO certified in accordance with International Standard for Business Aircraft Handlers (IS-BAH). Acknowledged as the gold standard of industry best practice for Business Aviation, IS-BAH was jointly developed by the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) and National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and is bringing greater standardization to ground-handling operations on a global scale. Another desirable certification to seek is NATA’s Safety 1St program. Established more than 20 years ago, the program offers world-class training for FBO and ground handling staff and is currently implemented at more than 800 locations worldwide.
Quality of service is critical. The friendliness, helpfulness and professionalism of an FBO Team can make or break a trip. Concierge staff that are well-versed in the local area and proactive in assisting can save precious time.
- Is the local line-service team familiar with working on your particular model of aircraft?
- How does the competence of staff and standard of ramp and maintenance services delivered compare with other FBOs in the area?
- Are the quality and availability of passenger lounges and ground transportation acceptable? Are VIP facilities available?
- Will snooze rooms, showers or recreational amenities be available to help crew relax and unwind? Are complimentary crew cars available?
- How does the friendliness and professionalism of the customer agents compare with those at other facilities? Are these agents familiar with the local area and can they provide adequate assistance with restaurant reservations or catering?
- Are there extra fees for late evening or early morning call-outs?
- Does your aircraft require special equipment? Smaller airfields in remote locations often don’t carry the necessary equipment for ALL aircraft types. It may be mandatory to bring your own tow bar, or larger planes may require specific pieces of equipment, such as stairs or baggage handling systems.
As mentioned in ‘What is an FBO?’, FBOs make money by fuel gallons purchased. Once you’ve determined the best airport to use, call all of the FBOs located at the airport and confirm their fees, including fuel (retail and discount offers), ramp, landing, facility, handling, security, parking, or hangar space. Some FBOs charge individually for each of these fees!
Larger, busier airports often impose a larger fee to try and discourage small aircraft so make sure you understand all fees that will be charged. Smaller airports have less traffic and fuel is usually less expensive but may not offer the amenities that you need, including transportation.
After fuel costs, hangar will probably be your most expensive item at the FBO. Not all FBOs have hangar space and if they do, it will depend on the size of your aircraft. Also, FBOs do not do a lot of negotiating on the hangar prices. You may get a discount on one night of hangar space with a large fuel purchase but don’t expect much negotiation on hangar pricing.
In the end, if they are all competitively priced, which one answered the phone right away? Which one really listened to your questions. I really believe the customer service aspect of the FBOs are a huge factor. If the person answering the phone is attentive and knowledgeable, there is a strong chance the rest of the employees are too. Good customer service can make the difference in your experience.
There are independent FBOs and chain FBOs. Like hotels, you can go to the larger chains and you can expect the same style/type of facility every time or you can go to the independent FBOS which can be luxurious or very bare bones and it totally depends on the location. The prices can reflect how nice the facility too, is but not always. If you have a larger aircraft that can purchase a lot of fuel, the chains may give you discounts on parking fees and fuel prices to try and lure you in to using them at every location they serve. However, at the same time, with a little planning and effort, you can negotiate great pricing and discounts at the independent FBOs also.
An FBO is only as good as the vendors with whom it partners. Even if not providing a service directly, FBOs often bear some responsibility for the service failures of its chosen vendors, such as ground transportation companies. For their safety and that of the customers, FBOs are wise to set rules for ramp side access, and should consider relationships, contracts and insurance certificates, when selecting or recommending ground transportation providers. After all, an FBOs reach extends far beyond the airport fence line.
How important is “curb appeal” to your crew and passengers?
Can the FBO accommodate ALL passenger and crew needs?
What will be their reaction if they show up to a 1970’s-style terminal with ragged lounge chairs that look like they’ve set out in the sun for the last 30 years? Or what if there is no terminal or passenger lounge at all!
Now, what will there reaction be when they step out of the aircraft and are greeted by ramp personnel who escort the passengers to their modern, light-infused lounge complete with fresh baked cookies and a roaring fire? Sounds Lovely, right?!
What about their other on-site services?
Are car rentals available or will a ride share app pick-up at their location?
Is catering or food service available?
Food options at an FBO run a wide gamut, from complimentary coffee and snack bars to table service restaurants. Certain FBOs provide luxury food options which are unique experiences for traveling guests. Others have full kitchens at-the-ready for personalized food preparations and catering. One FBO in the Caribbean even bakes and designs special cakes for each of their traveling guests – Now that’s exceptional service!
Ok, Now What?
If you’ve reached this point and you are unhappy with the FBO options, then it’s time to find an alternate destination airport with an FBO that does meet your standards. This will ensure that passenger and crew standards are met and that the flight will receive the best overall service. Even if doing so means having to change the trip itinerary, crew expectations, and another notification to the passengers of an itinerary change. This additional communication may seem like a hassle to your passengers and crew. But, in fact, this will actually build team confidence in your astute ability to put in a little extra research into options in order for the trip to be a success.
Once you have found the FBO you are looking for, call the front desk and provide your aircraft’s arrival and departure schedule. Provide them with information about your trip and keep them up-to-date of any changes. Be ready to answer these questions:
- Are any aircraft services required upon landing?
- Are passenger services (such as ground transportation) required?
- Is a hangar reservation needed?
- How much fuel is required and will you uplift on arrival or departure?
- What is the best fuel price available?