“When you get into the larger aircraft it becomes like a hotel, with dozens of staff supporting the plane based in a galley area down below. You have very comprehensive cooking facilities, and on larger aircraft we have looked at theatres, with spiral staircases and a Steinway grand piano. The limitations for what you can put inside a plane are pretty much the limits of physics, and even money cannot always overcome that. Even so, people are still always trying to push [the limits]. ”
The World's Top-rated FBOs
The relationship between the private jet operator and the fixed-base operation (FBO) is symbiotic, as neither could exist without the other. FBOs provide aircraft fueling, cleaning and watering; storage hangars and parking tie-downs; catering; meeting spaces; and, in some cases, maintenance.
To determine which facilities do the best job of providing these services, BJT’s sister publication, Aviation International News, annually surveys its readers. AIN asks its subscribers not only to rate the FBOs they’ve visited during the previous 12 months but to list the factors that might attract them to–or keep them away from–any FBO. This year, respondents overwhelmingly cited excellent customer service as their top priority in selecting an FBO, followed by competitive fuel pricing and then quality passenger amenities. Poor passenger service, rundown or unclean facilities and unprofessional staff ranked as the biggest reasons for avoiding a ground-support operation.
For its report, AIN tallied evaluations of more than 17,000 FBOs from 2,037 respondents who interact daily with these operations, such as pilots and flight-department managers. They rated service providers they’d visited in four categories: line service, passenger amenities, pilot amenities and facilities. In each category, FBOs received a score of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. AIN then compiled the scores into an average for each location that was rated by 30 or more respondents.
This year’s top scorers in the Americas were Pentastar Aviation and XJet, both of which earned an overall rating of 9.3.
Pentastar, at Michigan’s Oakland County International Airport near Detroit, has been one of the highest rated FBOs in AIN’s survey for the past six years. Yet the company says it can’t rest on its laurels. “There are others ratcheting up the service level and facilities,” commented Bob Sarazin, Pentastar’s vice president of FBO services. “I think it’s become a little bit tougher competition if we look at it nationally.” Pentastar, which also operates at California’s Van Nuys Airport, offers a full range of services, including comprehensive aircraft maintenance and in-house catering through its Fivestar Gourmet subsidiary.
Based at Denver’s Centennial Airport, XJet garnered this year’s top overall ratings for both passenger amenities and facilities, among them an auto spa where guests can leave their terrestrial rides for scheduled maintenance while they are on a flight. With its hangars filled, the FBO–which began about five years ago as a private club for business jet owners–plans to more than double its size and also possibly expand to Paris and Dubai.
The highest-rated Canadian FBO was Skyservice Avitat at Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport. The full-service flagship of a chain that includes locations at Montreal and Calgary, it has approximately 300,000 square feet of hangar space and pumps more than four million gallons of fuel annually.
For 2012, the top service provider outside the Americas was TAG Aviation at London-area Farnborough Airport. “Farnborough is the only airport in Britain that has been specifically developed with business aviation in mind,” said Brandon O’Reilly, CEO of TAG, which also runs the airport. Since taking over management from the UK government 15 years ago, the company has spent more than $160 million on facilities and infrastructure.
On the other side of the world, the Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre was the only non-European FBO to place in the top rankings this year. Located at bustling Hong Kong International Airport, the facility has a separate terminal and all the amenities business aviation passengers have come to expect, such as private rooms and showers, a business center and on-site customs.
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