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Operator-FBO Relationship Key to Smooth Travel

Clear, concise communications between operators and ground handlers is essential to ensuring trouble-free arrivals and departures.

Feb. 5, 2018

For aircraft operators, the procurement of ground services at any airport is part of every flight. How logistics are handled for an arrival or departure is a critical part of preflight planning, and the key to getting this part of the trip right is clear, concise communications between all involved.

With the many variables involved in realizing trouble-free arrivals and departures, schedulers, dispatchers and pilots must make their needs clear to the FBO.

And when an FBO receives a request from an operator, how that FBO’s customer service reps (CSRs) respond can be the deciding factor when more than one FBO serves an airport.

Long before Texas Instrument pilot Tor Helgeson departs on a trip, there has already been plenty of communication between his flight department, the crew, and the destination FBO. For FBOs that he and his crew visit regularly, a history of the logistics support needed has been established. Common requests, such as fuel orders and catering, are quickly transmitted so if a quick turn is required, the aircraft is not delayed. And when a Texas Instruments crew needs to visit a new airport or new FBO, the importance of acquiring the right information becomes imperative to a successful arrival.

“When we find ourselves at an unfamiliar airfield with an FBO we’ve never utilized, we have a ‘new airport checklist’ that the trip PIC needs to complete prior to departure,” Helgeson said. “Items such as fuel, catering services, rental car and hotel accommodations can be handled by our dispatch department, but other items need to be specifically handled by the trip captain. We look at the field’s pavement classification number, available firefighting services, airfield security, approach procedures and hangar availability if weather turns inclement. With the larger aircraft we fly, we must know wingspan restrictions, hangar height requirements and weight requirements before we choose an FBO. We try not to leave anything to chance.”

Once an operator finds an FBO that meets its needs, it is key to maintain that positive working relationship, says Aymie Thornton, JCPenney’s flight operations manager. “In this business, relationships create the best support system. Once we get great service from an FBO, we build on that relationship. For the FBOs we frequent, we will often get the staff pizza or BBQ to thank them. We also leave a tip, when able, to let them know we appreciate great service. We know the success of our trips depends on that FBO, and when they do their job right, everyone wins.”

The importance of fast response is part of the business model at Texas Jet at Fort Worth Meacham International Airport (KFTW), says Reed Pigman, the FBO’s president. “Our front desk CSRs handle phone calls by getting all of the information from the caller on the initial contact so that we don’t have to inconvenience the customer by having to call back. Our CSRs also monitor our customer service email inbox constantly and respond to emails as soon as possible. It is very important to respond promptly because we don’t want customers to wonder if we received their request,” he said.

At JCPenney, Thornton keeps detailed notes on FBOs that the company aircraft visit to reduce the chance of having ground logistics problems on arrival or departure.

“My crews like to make sure there is a courtesy vehicle, and I make note if they allow rental cars planeside, the pricing structure for the fuel, ground handling, and landing, ramp and hangar fees,” she said.

Helgeson sums up the relationships that his flight department has developed by saying “it only takes about 10 seconds to determine if a CSR is truly invested in helping you. Our flight department thrives on reciprocal relationships... We do business with FBOs that understand that. While we benefit from their expertise, efficiency and customer service, they benefit from our business.”

For business aircraft passengers, time wasted on the ground when an FBO gets it wrong is time those passengers will never get back. With this as the foundation of the relationship between FBOs and business aircraft operators, maximizing effective communications in both directions is key to efficient arrivals and departures.

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This article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Business Aviation Insider. Download the magazine app for iOS and Android tablets and smartphones.