The World’s Best FBOs

These airport facilities can make your journey more pleasurable. An annual survey identifies the ones that stand out from the crowd.

Private jet flights usually begin and end at FBOs, the businesses at airports that cater to general aviation aircraft and their passengers. 

To determine which of these locations provide the best overall experiences, BJT sister publication Aviation International News (AIN) conducts an annual survey, polling a select subset of its readers, including pilots, flight schedulers, and dispatchers—those who know and can evaluate FBOs most knowledgeably. They have access to a website that allows them to rate these facilities at any time during the year. That makes it possible for them to keep their observations up to date, with their latest rating of a location replacing their previous one.

AIN culled through thousands of responses from the past five years to compile cumulative average scores for this year’s lists of the best FBOs in the Americas and the rest of the world. 

Survey respondents were asked to rate facilities they’d used over the past year on a scale of 1 to 5 in the following categories:

Line service: competence and professionalism of the workers who meet the airplane on the ramp and service it.

Passenger amenities: quality of lobbies, lounges, and conference rooms; availability of refreshments and ground transportation.

Pilot amenities: availability and quality of pilot lounges, flight planning facilities, snooze rooms, crew showers, entertainment and recreation offerings, and complimentary crew cars.

Facilities: cleanliness, comfort, upkeep, and convenience of the location.

Customer service: professionalism of customer service representatives, their familiarity with the local area, and their assistance with hotel reservations and catering arrangements.

Pentastar Aviation
Pentastar Aviation

Two FBOs share the honors for highest-rated location for 2021 with an average score of 4.76: Pentastar Aviation, at Oakland County International Airport, in Pontiac, Michigan; and Sheltair at Tampa International Airport in Tampa, Florida.

Pentastar Aviation, one of five service providers at its airport, earned the same total as it did on last year’s list and garnered its highest score this year (4.84) in the customer-service category. Founded in 1964, the company originally served as the flight department for the Chrysler Motor Company. It has since developed into a full-service FBO, offering not just the traditional ground handling and fueling, but aircraft maintenance, avionics, and cabin interior shops, aircraft management and charter, and even its own catering department and café.

Occupying nearly 22 acres, Pentastar has 10 acres of reinforced ramp and approximately 130,000 square feet of hangar space, which is home to 21 aircraft ranging from a Gulfstream G100 to a BBJ. The FBO’s main 5,000-square-foot terminal, which operates 24/7, has passenger lounges, multimedia-equipped conference rooms, a concierge, and the Fivestar Café. The 10,000-square-foot, two-story satellite Stargate terminal is equipped to handle large charter groups such as sports teams, with the country’s only privately operated jet bridge and baggage carousel, along with a departure lounge. The company has leased an additional six acres at the airport, where it expects to build a hangar complex to accommodate continued growth.

In 2016, Florida-based FBO chain Sheltair acquired Tampa International Jet Center, this year’s other top scorer, which received some of the best grades for line service (4.79), passenger amenities (4.76), pilot amenities (4.72), and facilities (4.78). It was one of only two FBOs to score above 4.7 in every category on this year’s list. (The other was American Aero in Fort Worth, which is discussed below.) The FBO is known for its 13,000-square-foot aircraft arrival and departure canopy, which can handle jets up to the size of a Bombardier Global 7500 and shelters passengers from Southern Florida’s intense sunshine and rain showers. The canopy adjoins the location’s 11,000-square-foot terminal, which features an airy two-story atrium and inlaid marble floor map. A porte cochere welcomes vehicles.

The company recently remodeled its cantina area and two conference rooms and is set to begin a major modernization project by the end of the year.

The IS-BAH Stage 2–registered facility is open 24/7 with U.S. Customs located adjacent to the terminal. Its 150,000 square feet of hangar space is home to 29 business jets, six turboprops, and four helicopters. A hangar complex that is under development will add another 100,000 square feet of aircraft storage and office space.

Close behind Pentastar and Sheltair in the Americas ratings is American Aero FTW at Fort Worth Meacham International with a 4.75 average score. In a four-way tie for third place with a score of 4.72 are Banyan Air Service at Fort Lauderdale Executive, Henriksen Jet Center at privately owned Austin Executive Airport in Texas, Jet Aviation at Florida’s Palm Beach International Airport, and Wilson Air Center at Memphis International Airport.

Farnborough Airport
Farnborough Airport

Outside the Americas, European service providers earned four of the top five slots, with U.K. FBOs Farnborough Airport at No. 1 with an average score of 4.67. The privately owned airport has held that position for more than a decade, and while the scores for FBOs in North America tend to be higher than for those in the rest of the world, the London-area gateway’s rating lands it among the top 5 percent of all FBOs including those in North America, with its ranking in the facilities category (4.86) the highest this year overall.

The location’s 52,000-square-foot, three-story terminal also placed among the highest globally in passenger and pilot amenities (4.75 and 4.72, respectively). It features VIP customer lounges that can accommodate 60 people, conference rooms, crew lounge and snooze rooms, a work area, passenger and crew showers, laundry service, a concierge, and a gymnasium. Drive-through customs and immigration clearance is available along with the on-airport Aviator Hotel.

Home to 54 business jets, the airport has 240,000 square feet of hangar space that can shelter aircraft up to the size of a Boeing BBJ or Airbus ACJ TwoTwenty. Farnborough’s management plans to increase that capacity with a $46 million (£35 million) development, which will add another 164,000 square feet of climate-controlled hangar space. As part of the project, for which construction began this summer, the airport will enlarge and resurface its apron parking areas and rehabilitate the existing runway to allow for more efficient aircraft movement. Also on tap is an engine test bay and an equine handling facility to accommodate the facility’s frequent transport of horses. 

The FBO, with a staff of 157, is open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. on weekdays, and from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. on weekends. 

What Exactly Is an FBO?

In aviation’s early days, FBOs (fixed-base operations) were places where pilots could be assured of finding fuel and possibly even a mechanic to sort out problems with their fragile airplanes. Nowadays, FBOs’ staffs provide ground handling, secure parking areas, hangar space, and towing for aircraft. 

In addition, they offer services and facilities for passengers, including refreshment bars, waiting areas, conference rooms, and concierges. For aircraft crews, there may be lounges, snooze rooms, work areas, gyms with showers, and complimentary crew cars. Some even offer loaner golf clubs and complimentary access at local golf courses to crew who are awaiting the return of their passengers. Some FBOs are global chains with dozens of locations; others are run by the airports or are family-owned. 

In addition to taking care of general aviation traffic, FBOs in most cases serve as collection agents for the airport’s fees for that segment of the industry, and at some smaller airports in North America at least, they’re responsible for all the fueling for aircraft ranging from the smallest single-engine model to giant bizliners.