Are FBO Freebies on the Way Out?

By Robert Mark on June 20th, 2010

image In an era when airlines report $2.7 Billion in fresh baggage-fee revenue from work they used to handle for free, is anything sacred? Probably not.

In the U.S. though, Fixed Base Operators (FBO) still give away plenty for free and we all know it. But those days might just be coming to a end … and they probably should.

At last week’s Florida Aviation Trades Association Convention in St. Augustine, a discussion evolved not simply about how companies in a variety of other industries were learning from the airlines concept of fee for service, but that also like our friend Pogo mentioned here, we have probably to some degree wreaked this havoc as an industry on ourselves.

Imagine renting a car these days – no cheap item in Florida I might add – and telling them you’d like some cookies brought out when you arrive, along with some bottled water, ice for the first leg of your trip, newspapers to read during your next break 300 miles away and then too, perhaps a young intern to come out and vacuum the vehicle again because it’s not quite up to your standards.image

They might laugh, but if they’re smart, they’ll give you everything you ask for … along with a nice little invoice for their efforts before you go.

The Way it Should Be?

I visited a swanky FBO outside London in March while I was there for a conference. Beautiful facility by almost any standards. In fact, the FBO at Farnborough is considered one of the best in the world. They’ll do anything for you. But they’ll charge you for almost every thing. Want to tanker fuel to save a buck, expect a ramp fee. Like to read the morning newspapers while waiting for the boss? Buy them. (I’ve actually watched pilots read an entire newspaper and then give it back to the girl at the desk because they were too cheap to buy it.So my point is what’s wrong with paying as you go? Absolutely nothing actually. My employees and I don’t work for free, nor do any of our customers expect that to happen. Sure we can offer some flex on what items make the invoice, but there are times when it’s just smart business to say, “It’s OK. Don’t worry about that one.” But that’s the operator’s call, not the customer’s.

But not FBOs. Except for fuel and maintenance, a world of extra are free … and crews expect it for free too, crew cars, snooze rooms, coffee … the list goes on. Of course the solution is not easy. How do FBOs begin weaning pilots off of free without losing them? The only way to make that work is for everyone – or at least almost everyone – to make the change at the same time, not just operationally, but philosophically.

And why would they all do that? So they can live to sell another day. FBOs are a great asset to our industry, but many are holding on by their fingernails and are too nice to admit it. My friend Jeff Kohlman from Aviation Management Consulting Group suggested a few well place signs around the FBO to remind pilots the price of the aircraft tug, or the fuel truck, or even the cost of cookies. A bit in your face, but I like the idea actually.

So the next time you stop your friendly FBO just to drop off passengers, remember who paid for that ramp you taxied in on as well as the restroom your customers can use after a long flight. And don’t forget that great glass of Florida OJ we often find waiting, not to mention a friendly smile.

Saying thanks to the FBO line and customer service folks is always nice, but try asking for 50 gallons a side the next time you stop to drop off for a quick turn. The boss will wait if you tell them it might just mean landing somewhere further away next time.

Rob Mark, editor


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4 Responses to “Are FBO Freebies on the Way Out?”

  1. Kim Welch Says:


    Do we really smell that bad? (“….we have probably to some degree REEKED this havoc ….”).

    Seriously, though, while the issue you describe certainly exists, there is also a very real flip side to it. There are FBOs which will charge a $200 “ramp fee” for the simple, 5-minute passenger drop off you describe …. even if you bought fuel that morning on your first time through. I’m not talking about busy, big city airports, either; SAV comes to mind. When the big boy airport FBOs get involved, it seems they are not shy about recouping their costs, either. I recently was charged $700 in fees for an overnight in a light jet in a major northeast hub …. and that was in addition to paying them $7 a gallon for Jet A. Did I expect cookies, newspapers and a crew car? You bet I did.

    It seems someone on each side needs to declare a detente, and step back to assess both points of view: a fair price on the FBO’s part, and reasonable expectations on the crew’s might both go a long way.

  2. Comrade E.B. Misfit Says:

    I’m a FLIB driver, true, but if I get decent service, I will tip the lineman.

  3. Rob Mark Says:

    A 30-day cooling off period is certainly called for Kim because as you said, there are abusers on both sides.

    I just think it will also take a bit of rethinking on the part of crews as to what the word service means.

    And for the record … you don’t really reek. I just can’t spell late at night. Good comment. Thanks.

  4. Ron Says:

    What do cookies, a bottle of water, or a newspaper really cost when compared with the incredible expense of fuel, catering, and landing/ramp/handling/service/overnight/quick turn/etc. fees?

    Hey, if the FBOs want to eliminate the complimentary cookies, newspaper, and drinks while also reducing the $7 a gallon fuel to $5 a gallon, I will be more than happy to pay for all the little things individually.

    But here’s the thing: they won’t. Take Atlantic Aviation at SNA as an example. They used to keep bottled water on their fuel trucks for customers, along with window cleaning supplies and an air bottle for low tires. Pretty nice! Well skip ahead a couple of years. All those things are gone, and the fuel costs and ramp fees have more than doubled. And this is how they treat people who are BASED at the field — their regular customers.

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