The term “FBO” has become one of the most widely-used acronyms in Business Aviation. The majority of people involved in the industry will be aware these letters stand for “Fixed Base Operator”, but what does this really mean, and what makes an exceptional FBO? Read on to find out.
Where Does the Term “FBO” Come From?
The phrase “Fixed Base Operator” originates from the United States. Following the First World War, civil aviation was virtually unregulated in the country. The majority of private airmen were either “barnstormers” (traveling stunt pilots who performed tricks for entertainment) or transient pilots flying between cities, usually in low-budget military-surplus bi-planes. Most aircraft would land in places such as farmer’s fields, where the operators would set up a temporary camp. These makeshift bases on the outskirts of towns served as America’s original independent airfields, with pilots making money by offering airplane rides and flying lessons to the public. Groups of pilots would often travel together as “Flying Circuses”, bringing aerial entertainment from town to town.
The 1926 Air Commerce Act brought greater regulation to the fledgling civil aviation industry. This key piece of legislation introduced new flight safety rules and requirements for regular, documented aircraft maintenance. With increasing pressure for pilots to be properly trained and licensed, the traveling airmen were forced to end their nomadic existence.
Many decided to settle down in permanent locations, and used their expertise to develop their own businesses offering aircraft maintenance services, fueling and pilot training. These enterprises became known as “Fixed Base Operators”.
Today, General Aviation (GA) has grown into a multi-billion dollar global industry, and most airports around the world offer FBO facilities. These can range from simple airstrips providing fuel and parking, to full-blown private jet terminals incorporating cutting-edge infrastructure and luxurious VIP lounges.
What Services Do FBOs Provide?
FBOs are sometimes compared to petrol stations/garages for motor cars, as pilots stop there to refuel and perform minor maintenance tasks on their aircraft. Whilst this analogy is helpful in explaining the concept, it represents only a small part of the extensive spectrum of amenities which modern FBOs deliver.
Here are a few of the most common services you would expect to find at an FBO:
Fuel is the lifeblood of the aviation industry. As such, most FBOs derive the majority of their income from fuel sales. There are two main types of fuel used in civil aviation; Jet fuel (used in private jets) and Avgas (typically used in aircraft with piston-driven engines). Depending on the size of the FBO facility and its proximity to the main runway, fuel can either be delivered by truck or directly from a hydrant connected to a central pipeline.
Ground handling encompasses all of the maintenance which takes place when an aircraft is on the ground. Depending on the size and type of plane, this can encompass the disembarking/boarding of passengers, loading and unloading of luggage/catering supplies, aircraft cleaning, and lavatory services. In addition, a range of general maintenance and safety checks are carried out to ensure the plane is in tip-top condition and ready for the next stage of its journey.
Various specialist ground support equipment will be employed, such as:
- Air Start Units (ASU)
- Aircraft service stairs
- Baggage handling equipment (belt loaders / container loaders)
- Catering vehicles
- Chocks/tripod jacks
- De-icing vehicles/equipment
- Ground Power Units (GPU)
- Lavatory service vehicles
- Passenger boarding steps/stairs
- Potable water trucks
- Pushback tugs and tractors
Most FBOs offer aircraft parking, subject to availability. For busier international airports, there may be some limitations on longer-term parking. Space may be available either on the ramp itself, inside a hangar, or at a remote location.
Some FBOs will have access to Hangar space, where aircraft can be stored indoors. These will usually also incorporate a workshop area, where planes are sent to have maintenance or repair work carried out.
Many FBOs offer charter services, and can provide a variety of aircraft for hire (including helicopters). Often, the planes available will be based at a specific airport and stored at the on-site FBO when not in use.
Customs and Immigration
Larger FBOs may have dedicated Customs and Immigration facilities on-site. This provides greater convenience for passengers by allowing smooth and speedy passage through the airport. For locations with no dedicated staff present, passengers have to clear Customs and Immigration using the same facilities as airline passengers, which for larger international airports can be congested and do not afford the same level of privacy for VIP clients.
As the industry has evolved, the level of customer service provided by FBOs has become increasingly important. This is especially true where business aviation clients are concerned. Many high-end FBOs now offer opulent VIP lounges, which deliver a level of hospitality usually associated with a 5-star hotel.
Crew Rest Areas
Pilots and air crew need to relax and unwind after a long flight, and most FBOs will offer some kind of rest area. These may also contain a room specifically for catching up on sleep, as well as shower and restroom facilities.
FBOs which are geared toward business travelers may offer private meeting rooms, often including facilities such as computer terminals with internet access, printers, overhead projectors, and conference call equipment.
FBOs will often have staff on hand to assist with concierge services for passengers and crew. These can range from a simple car hire desk or assisting with booking hotel accommodations and ground transport, all the way through to fine dining reservations and arranging tours and excursions.
Larger FBO facilities may provide flight catering services. Fresh food can be delivered to the aircraft while it is on the ground, ready to be served to the passengers and crew.
In addition to on-site security officers at the airport, many FBOs can help arrange bodyguards and armored vehicles for high-profile visitors.
Some FBOs have flight training providers based on-site, which offer lessons to aspiring pilots.
What Makes an Exceptional FBO?
FBOs come in all shapes and sizes. The ideal FBO is one which meets all the requirements of the operator, passengers and crew. Safety, security, comfort and convenience are usually the primary concerns. Naturally, priorities may vary according to the type of operations, and which part of the world you are flying in.
In some cases, the facilities and level of service on offer at an FBO clearly stand head and shoulders above the competition. A fine example would be the Jetex FBO Terminal in Dubai.
Strategically located at Dubai South Aviation District, this unique facility combines the highest standards of hospitality with state-of-the-art infrastructure. It is the only FBO in the entire MENA region to have achieved both IS-BAH accreditation and Safety 1st certification from NATA. These prestigious awards represent the gold standard of best practice for the business aviation industry, and are a guarantee of world-class service.
Catering specifically to high-level private, business and government VIP clients, the Jetex FBO Terminal offers travelers superior levels of comfort, privacy and customer care. It features two lounges with a combined area of over 1,500m2, making it one of the largest FBO lounges in the world. The FBO also offers the convenience of direct ramp access, and has over 50,000m2 of ramp parking space.
A full range of trip support services, including but not limited to fueling, meet and assist, security and flight planning are provided. The team works with the latest aviation ground support equipment, including the Mototok Twin 7500 remote control pushback – a first in Dubai.
The futuristic interior houses first-class amenities, including plush seating areas, a relaxation room with Metronaps, and a lavish cigar lounge. Several unique touches make this a one-of-a-kind facility, including a fleet of Rolls-Royces used for airside transfers – a world first.
Looking for inspiration on how to spend your time in Dubai? The Jetex Lifestyle team are on hand to deliver a range of bespoke concierge services, and can assist with arranging hotel accommodation, fine dining reservations, VIP transportation and crafting unique experiences.
Click here to find out more about the Jetex Dubai FBO Terminal.
Where Can I Find Jetex FBOs?
Jetex Flight Support operates outstanding FBOs and ground handling stations in more than 30 countries worldwide. We offer first-class facilities throughout Europe, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Click here to explore our global network, and find out where we can assist you on your next trip.
Our expertise extends far beyond FBOs. Jetex’s global trip planning activities are coordinated from three state-of-the-art operations centers, strategically located in Dubai, Miami and Beijing. Our highly trained teams can take care of all your landing permit, overflight permit and landing slot needs, wherever you are traveling. Click here for further details.
To learn more about how you can benefit from our services, please contact our team on +971 4 212 4000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.