As more passengers are finding alternatives to commercial aviation, the FBO landscape is changing with a flood of mergers and acquisitions. While the names on the buildings may be different, the expectations remain largely the same. And with more and more passengers using FBOs, many are asking: What makes a good FBO? Several factors combine to make a good FBO, but most of those will support two basic principles: Anticipation and consistency.
Anticipation comes in many forms. In the short term, if a transient aircraft arrives late at night, the FBO should anticipate that the passengers and crew will need overnight accommodations and transportation. In the long term, good FBOs should anticipate seasonal weather changes and be prepared with all the salt spreaders, windshield scrapers, and deicing fluid long before the temperatures start to drop.
For a first-time customer, an FBO should be responsive to any pre-arranged services, and should be able to anticipate the aircraft’s basic requirements. A larger aircraft like a Challenger or a Gulfstream will have wildly different requirements than that of a small piston aircraft. Whether or not the FBO has all the capabilities, they should be ready to answer questions about hangar space, dish and linen services, potable water, ground power, and many other standards of ground servicing.
Consistency reflects the FBO’s training and internal communication. One great service experience is a product of many moving pieces, and should be repeatable. For repeat customers, the FBO should remember names and preferences for the passengers and crew. Good FBOs have strong internal communication methods to transmit this customer information across different departments, different shifts, and in the case of FBO chains, geographically separate locations. Not every employee will be a veteran with decades of experience, but the best FBOs will find ways to take the knowledge from the vets they do have and transfer it to each team member.
Unfortunately, even the best FBOs make mistakes. What separates good FBOs from the rest is not their lack of mistakes, but their ability to quickly respond to these events with compassion and solutions. Good FBOs empower all their employees to correct service issues instead of waiting to get the manager’s approval. Good FBOs welcome feedback and have the mechanisms to capture and act on this feedback.
Many FBOs are now implementing Safety Management Systems, presenting an organization-wide approach to manage risks and measure the effectiveness of their controls. This approach to safety not only applies to the FBO as a workplace; the implementation of safe practices is passed on to the safe handling of aircraft and protecting the personal safety of aircrew and passengers. This SMS can be validated through a third party and registered under the International Standard for Business Aircraft Handling (IS-BAH).
A recent survey from a large fleet operator revealed that their passengers’ most important concerns are baggage handling, the quality of the FBO’s restroom, and vehicle access and parking. None of these should be a surprise. Most facilities will allow personal vehicles planeside, although some airports may not allow this practice. While this decision may be out of the FBO’s hands, they must make every effort to ensure the passenger’s vehicles are conveniently accessible.
Lastly, many of the best FBOs are known for their employee-centric company culture. It is no secret that happy employees will create happy customers. Although it may be hard to measure with Glassdoor reviews or local “Best Places to Work” awards, this aspect is critical in today’s fluid workforce environment. The best FBOs can recruit and retain the top talent required to tend to passenger’s needs and handle an ever-evolving fleet of aircraft.
The sum of a good FBO’s efforts should be a seamless service experience, no matter the time of day or time of year.
Jason Sahl is the Director of Safety for Million Air Interlink FBOs, with 20 years of FBO experience around the United States, serving in several operational leadership roles at FBOs large and small.