What does it take to be the best FBO?

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Words by Kirstie Pickering

With every FBO vying to offer better levels of customer service, what does it take to be the best? BAI speaks to award-winning FBOs on their rise to the top.

FBO owners try to boost their passenger satisfaction in every area of operations. Buy it is often hard to analyze a business to see which area is the best to invest in. There are a number of factors that can make a FBO great for customers, ranging from the use of the latest technology to a relentless focus on customer service.

Here we look at five leading FBOs from around the world and assess which areas of technology and customer service they have invested in.

“It is absolutely essential for every FBO to have suitably trained customer relations, operations and ramp staff who are intelligent, courteous and attentive to detail,” says Joe McDermott, senior business aviation consultant at Global FBO Consult. “A modern FBO will not be efficient without a robust software system linking the clients handling request with the operations room, the ramp and the accounts department.

Meridian at Teterboro Airport, New York, USA

Meridian’s FBO at Teterboro Airport has been voted the best in the northeast of the USA. The facility handles around 80 jet arrivals and departures every day, with peak periods spanning from May to June and September to mid-December.

In addition to FBO services, the company provides private air charter, aircraft management, and FAA-approved Part 145 repair station services that include turbine and piston.

“Our FBO has been recognized by industry surveys as being one of the nation’s best,” says Betsy Wines, vice president of customer service and human resources at Meridian. “We have always made our customers feel at home. As a result, we have many long-time clients. The proximity of our airport and FBO to New York City is just one of the many reasons that our customers come to us. We are located just nine miles from Manhattan.”

In 2018, Meridian opened a 40,000ft² (3,710m²) hangar near its Teterboro FBO, creating more opportunities for customers coveting hard-to-find hangarage at the airport. In addition, the company is currently exploring replacing another Meridian hangar on the south side of the airport with a brand new larger structure. Meridian is also working with the airport’s governing agency to acquire land positioned adjacent to the airport in order to extend its ramp space.

Meridian’s Teterboro FBO boasts an Art Deco-style movie theatre, a pilots’ lounge with billiards table, sleep rooms, workstations, and an open kitchen that flight crews can freely access. Later this year, the company plans to undergo an interior facelift that is to include new paint, carpeting, wallpaper, and furniture in the main lobby.

“It’s all about the people,” summarizes Wines. “Well-trained and caring staff make all the difference.”

McKinney Air Center, Texas, USA

Located at McKinney National Airport, McKinney Air Center was voted the best FBO in the USA in the 2018 Pilots’ Choice Awards. The FBO processes 1,000 jet arrivals and departures each month, with its busiest period annually stretching from May to September.

Ken Carley, airport director at the hub, says, “Passengers love the FBO because of the level of customized service they receive. They communicate their needs to us and we deliver.

“The airport is located on the fringe of the Class B airspace, so it is easy for the pilots to fly in and out of the airport. Moreover, there are a number of business hubs that are located within minutes of the airport.”

The facility has corporate hangars, on-site car rental, crew cars, gourmet catering, pilot sleep rooms, ramp side vehicle access, and an abundance of aircraft apron space to name just a few of its offerings.

There is also a recently opened 40,000ft² (3,710m²) hangar and an executive terminal
is planned to open later this year. Carley understands the importance of constantly evolving both the site and personnel to create the best possible outcome for its customers.

“We are fully prepared to invest in new and additional equipment, facilities, infrastructure and personnel to accommodate the growing demand for aviation services and infrastructure,” he says.

“We plan on becoming more technologically advanced with both our customer reservation system as well as our aircraft tracking.”

While McKinney Air Center strives to offer the best in services and facilities, Carley believes the high standard of its employees are what makes the FBO different to its competitors.

“Hands down, the right employees make a first rate FBO,” says Carley. “Once we have the right people in the organization, we maximize attention to detail with a focus on safety and service. Superior service, world-class facilities, convenient location, and highly supportive airport sponsor are all factors that support the best FBO.”

TAG Farnborough, Farnborough, UK

TAG Farnborough Airport has been voted the best FBO in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific this year from a list of more than 4,500 FBOs. The airport has won the accolade for 13 years in a row.

It was the first carbon neutral business airport in the world, it handles approximately 30,000 flights per annum, catering for a wide range of aircraft types up to Boeing business jets and Airbus corporate jets. The airport has gained approval to handle up to 50,000 jet movements in the future, achieved in steady increments.

“The airport and FBO offers an unparalleled experience with ultra-modern facilities and an outstanding team of top service professionals,” says Brandon O’Reilly, CEO at TAG Farnborough Airport.

“Every aspect of the journey is bespoke, tailored to meet the exact needs of our customers to optimize comfort and convenience.”

The airport has invested more than £200m (US$254m) in infrastructure development to provide modern facilities and bespoke services.

Features and services include temperature-controlled hangar space, direct ramp access to waiting jets, fast-track entrance, 24/7 cleaning and engineering services, and on-site customs and immigration clearance. New crew amenities introduced also include a quiet lounge and snooze room equipped with flat beds, and a zero gravity ergonomic chair.

Expected to be operational by the third quarter of 2020, Gulfstream’s new MRO facility at TAG Farnborough will feature office space, customer areas, shop space and a hangar able to accommodate up to 13 large-cabin aircraft. Significant ramp space will also be included, along with a car parking area.

O’Reilly adds, “The key is the ability to offer a complete portfolio of five-star bespoke service and amenities that offer the optimal comfort and convenience for both passengers and crew.”

Banyan Air Service at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, USA

Ranking high in the 2018 Pilots’ Choice Awards, Banyan Air Service at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (FXE) welcomes 5,000 jet arrivals and departures each month, with its peak period stretching from November through to April. In addition to its close proximity to the business hubs of Fort Lauderdale and Miami, the FBO is a popular choice with customers visiting annual events such as the Fort Lauderdale Air Show and Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.

“Customer service training is provided for our staff from the very first day,” says Jon Tonko, director of customer support at Banyan Air Service. “Our human resources team will oversee customer service
during their indoctrination, and then the department managers and trainers will continue to teach why the customer experience at Banyan is so important. This gives new recruits the tools and training to wow our guests.”

Tonko prides the facility in being a one stop shop for private aviation needs in South Florida, offering FBO and MRO services, aircraft sales, aircraft parts, its Jet Runway Café, and the world’s largest pilot shop. These features, paired with Banyan’s established approach of building relationships with the flight department and owners, is what Tonko believes makes the FBO stand out from the crowd.

“We will look to continuously extend our customer offering by training for service excellence and keeping the Banyan culture front and center,” says Tonko. “We will also have an additional eight hangars with office space ready to rent from January 2020 to meet the high demand for hangar space at FXE.

“A first rate FBO is one who puts the customer first. They anticipate their needs, do it right the first time, do what is promised and take the time to build long lasting relationships.”

Jet Center Los Angeles at Hawthorne Municipal Airport, California

Jet Center Los Angeles is the closest business airport to Downtown LA, Santa Monica and the South Bay. Situated three miles southeast of LAX, Hawthorne is also the nearest airport to the new NFL Stadium, home of the LA Rams and LA Chargers from fall of 2020.

“Our people are hands down what makes us great,” says Levi Stockton, president at Jet Center Los Angeles. “Not a lot of pilots or aircraft owners know about Hawthorne Airport, but once they discover our staff and location, we tend to make long term relationships.

“In addition to superior bilingual customer service from our dedicated team, we have invested heavily in creating infrastructure on the field, erecting over 75,000ft² of brand-new hangar space that can house up to a G650-sized aircraft.”

In addition to a full FBO service offering Jet Center Los Angeles offers aircraft management and charter operations in conjunction with Advanced Air and has a passenger lounge, conference rooms, pilot rest areas, and restaurant located inside the FBO lobby.

“As we refine and expand our FBO experience and services, we will continue to invest in its IS-BAH safety programs, customer service training and infrastructure upgrades,” says Stockton.

“After our expansion phase, 2019 and 2020 will be outlined by building our processes to ensure our culture of safety and service is second to none.”

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