Pentastar Aviation, Pontiac Michigan

The Best FBOs

FBOs are a key element in business aviation’s airport ecosystem. They provide ground handling, parking, hangar space, towing, and fuel for aircraft. For passengers, they typically offer comfortable lobbies, refreshment bars, business centers, and customer-service agents. For pilots, there are lounges, snooze rooms, flight-planning areas, and crew cars. 

To determine which FBOs provide the best overall experiences, BJT sister publication Aviation International News has conducted an annual survey since 1981. AIN polls a select subset of its readers, including pilots, flight schedulers, and dispatchers—those who can evaluate FBOs most knowledgeably. These subscribers now have access to a website that allows them to rate FBOs at any time during the year, with their latest rating of a location replacing any previous one.

AIN culled through thousands of responses from the past five years to compile cumulative average scores in its latest annual lists of the best FBOs in the Americas and the rest of the world. 

The magazine asked survey respondents 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, conference rooms, and refreshments, as well as availability of ground transportation.

Pilot amenities—availability and quality of pilots’ lounges, flight-planning facilities, snooze rooms, crew showers, entertainment and recreation offerings, and complementary 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 reservations and catering.

The survey responses demonstrate that to be a top-scoring FBO, facilities must be great at everything. It is not enough to excel in only one area.

With an average score of 4.75, the highest-rated FBO in the Americas for 2018 was Pentastar Aviation, one of six FBOs at Oakland County International Airport in Pontiac, Michigan.It ranked among the top operators in pilot amenities, facilities, and customer service and was one of only two FBOs to score above 4.7 in all categories. The company, which began operation in 1964, offers a variety of unusual services, including what is likely the only FBO-operated jetway in the U.S. It is attached to the Stargate, a two-story, 6,000-square-foot terminal that is used for big charter groups such as sports teams as well as for large government aircraft. Another feature that sets the Pentastar operation apart is its in-house catering department, FiveStar Gourmet, which experienced a banner year in 2018.

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The Avfuel-branded FBO, which has a staff of 250, offers 130,000 square feet of hangar space and is home to 26 turbine-powered aircraft, ranging from a BBJ to a medevac-configured EC135 helicopter. The 6,000-square-foot main terminal incorporates a crew lounge and snooze room, two shower facilities, a refreshment bar, and six a/v-equipped conference rooms. 

The 2018 AIN FBO survey turned out to be a close contest, as four facilities tied for second place with a score of 4.74. Those include American Aero at Fort Worth Meacham International Airport, Jet Aviation at Florida’s Palm Beach International Airport, Sheltair (the top-rated FBO in 2016 and 2017) at Tampa International, and Wilson Air Center at Memphis International Airport.

Outside of the Americas, European service providers earned nine of the 10 top slots, with U.K. FBOs taking the top three. The lone non-European operator in the group is MJets FBO in Bangkok, Thailand. 

TAG Aviation, which operates Farnborough Airport, earned top honors with its FBO. The London-area facility has been the top-rated FBO outside of North America for more than a decade in the AIN survey. It received a 4.66 overall score this year and tallied its highest rating in the facilities category (4.83), where it ranked second among all FBOs; it placed near the top in pilot amenities as well. 

TAG’s 52,000-square-foot Farnborough terminal features a café, a quiet lounge in the crew area, a bed-equipped snooze room, and crew gym and shower facilities. To handle private charters for large groups such as for sports teams, the top floor of the three-story terminal features a lounge able to accommodate 80 passengers. The airport has a fast-track entrance for passengers and crew, and direct car access to the ramp is permitted. Customs and immigration services are provided in the terminal. The FBO, which has 260,000 square feet of heated hangar space, is home to approximately 40 private jets. 

Click here to see complete results from Aviation International News’s latest FBO survey.