“"I've got a list of corporations that have gotten out of their airplanes [because of criticism from politicians]. It is the stupidest thing I've ever seen. When you look at the time and cost savings; it does not make sense not to fly [privately]. You can't let public perception interfere with your business decision to fly. It either is a good business decision or it isn't."”
The World's Top-rated FBOs
The ground-support facilities commonly known as FBOs (for fixed-base operations) represent a critical link in the private aviation chain. They provide aircraft fueling, hangars and parking tie-downs, cleaning and water replenishment, meeting spaces, catering facilities and, at some locations, maintenance services. For passengers on corporate and private aircraft, they often offer the first impression of an airport.
While small airports may have but one provider, large airports often have several. Some are owned by the airports, but most are privately operated. Several chains—such as Signature Flight Support, Landmark Aviation, Atlantic Aviation and Million Air—boast dozens of locations throughout the U.S. or even internationally. Amenities vary but can include elegantly appointed waiting areas, well-equipped conference rooms, business centers, refreshment bars and concierge services for passengers. Crews might expect pilot lounges, “snooze” and exercise rooms and complimentary use of cars.
To determine which providers offer the best customer experience, BJT sister publication Aviation International News annually tasks its readers with rating the FBOs they have used over the past 12 months. For this year’s report, AIN tallied more than 12,000 reviews for facilities in 89 countries from upwards of 2,100 respondents who deal with FBOs on a daily basis.
AIN asked its subscribers to consider four criteria: line service, passenger amenities, pilot amenities and facilities. For each of these, readers scored FBOs from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. AIN then compiled those scores to calculate an average for each location that received 20 or more individual ratings.
Excellent service can be found from coast to coast in North America. The 18 FBOs on the continent that ranked in the top 10 percent of this year’s survey all scored 9.1 or higher.
The top-scoring FBO in the Americas was J.A. Air Center at Aurora Municipal Airport near Chicago with an overall 9.5 rating. In operation for little more than four years, this FBO has earned top-five rankings in the last three, and it garnered the highest individual-category rating (9.8) in this year’s report for its modern, upscale facilities. Outside the 12,000-square-foot structure, aircraft up to the size of a Gulfstream G650 can park underneath a massive canopy, allowing passengers to disembark directly into the terminal. The full-service FBO offers aircraft charter and management services, maintenance, one of the country’s biggest avionics shops and a recently added interiors-completion division. Asked to describe the focus that makes his FBO successful, operations manager Randy Fank said, “It’s not hard. Take care of the guy in the back of the airplane, get him on his way, so you’ve actually accomplished what the pilots want done, then take care of the pilots.”
AIN’s questionnaire also asked readers to rank the factors that prompt them to select an FBO as well as those that may have driven them to seek other options. Those results remained largely unchanged from last year. By an overwhelming margin, excellent customer service was again the key factor in selecting an FBO, followed by fuel pricing and passenger amenities. Poor customer service, rundown or unclean facilities and unprofessional staff ranked as the biggest reasons for avoiding one.
Outside North America, the top 10 FBOs this year are all in Europe. These include TAG Aviation at Farnborough Airport, an hour outside London, which had the highest overall score among international locations. The company this year is celebrating a decade of operating the airport (one of the few in Europe dedicated to business aviation), which it took over from the UK Ministry of Defence in 2003. Easily identified by its pair of visually striking three-bay hangars providing 240,000 square feet of aircraft storage, maintenance facilities and offices, the FBO offers dedicated concierge service as well as onsite customs and immigration facilities. Customers are permitted to drive directly to their aircraft, if they wish to bypass the well-appointed terminal, which includes passenger and crew lounges and multimedia-equipped conference rooms.
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