What is a Fixed Base Operator or a Private Jet FBO?

by Richard Zaher / Feb 16, 2012

Sky Services FBO at Milano Linate Airport.
Sky Services FBO at Milano Linate Airport. Picture Source.

What is an FBO? The acronym stands for Fixed Base Operator. Basically, an FBO refers to the private jet services available at an airport. It’s called a fixed base operator to contrast its counterpart, which you will find at many international airports, often known as a ground handling agent. It’s fixed in one location, and has its own building that acts as a separate terminal.

At most international and larger domestic airports, all the service requirements of an airliner between the time it arrives at a terminal gate and the time it departs on its next flight, such as aircraft maintenance is handled by subcontracted handling agents. We will talk more about handling agents and how to use them later, but right now, let’s focus on the domestic FBO.

Most operators will have a preferred FBO that they want to use at each location, and it’s usually based on that fixed base operator’s fuel price. Generally you should let the operator pick their fixed base operators, but if you have one that you are very familiar with, ask your broker about it.

ProJet Aviation at Leesburg Executive Airport (JYO) is known for its discounted fuel prices and red-carpet VIP services in the Washington DC area, and sometimes operators will use that FBO without an added fee.

Most fixed base operators will let you park your car in their lot for a week, or as long as your trip is out for free. As an added feature, if you leave your keys at the counter, many FBOs will wash and detail your car before you return! (Galaxy in Palm Beach offers this for example)

Inside the lounge, you will often find comfortable seating, and high-quality coffee and snacks.

We’re often able to convince FBO staff to run to a local restaurant and pick up a quick meal for a group of passengers that are stopping off to clear customs or get fuel. The inside staff are always friendly and accommodating. The lounge will have free Wi-Fi, and the staff at the desk can help with scanning, faxing or any other typical office work you may need to get done.

If you need to get some last-minute prep work done for your presentation, it might pay to arrive a few minutes early to your flight and get it done in the lobby. Besides, crews are usually ready to fly 20 to 30 minutes before you are supposed to take off, so if you get there early, check in with your crew and you may fly out early too.

The FBO is geared towards taking care of private jet passengers as much as the crews and aircraft. Many of the passengers that come through a fixed base operator are business passengers, coming and going to very important meetings. For this reason, most FBOs are beginning to offer more and more amenities that business professionals can use. If you need a conference room, most have that, with large screen TVs for displaying presentations, and even phone conferencing equipment.

If you call ahead and check on bathroom facilities, you may want to shower, shave and change at the airport FBO, so you can travel in shorts and a sports shirt, and keep your suit in a hanging bag during the flight. This way you arrive at your meeting fresh and sharp, not looking like you just took an hour nap in your suit! (admit it, who doesn’t pass out for a short bit of mid flight?)

If you are an aircraft enthusiast, you may have the opportunity to tour the facility and see the variety of jets that are in the hangar, and on the ramp. You may meet other flyers and have a chance to chat and network.

For international flights, the FBO and ground handler is an even more important and integral part of travel. There are customs to clear, then transportation to meet up with or obtain, and many issues can go wrong in the process. Some international airports like London Luton Airport (LTN), on the outskirts of London, have handling agents that are more like FBOs with their own offices, lounge, etc.

Many handling agents have followed this model leasing space in the general aviation terminal so that they can provide a lounge and other luxury amenities while the passengers’ transition from aircraft to car, or car to aircraft. Such locations like Milan, Paris, and other major cities have this sort of handling agent that splits the road of using local equipment and providing a friendly place to regroup in the general aviation terminal.

But if you are flying into Mexico or an outlying airport in France or any other out of the way international location, you will most likely not find a lounge or even a general aviation terminal. Many of these places have you deplane and move into the main terminal to clear customs, then out to the taxi bays to get a ride to your hotel. Not very friendly, or representative of the style that flying privately represents.

In these locations, you must make sure your operator is using a good reputable handler. Even then, be sure to ask that that agent walk you through customs and stay with you until you reach your car, whether it’s a sedan with a driver that the agent booked, or you are going to grab a taxi.

Either way, that handler has been paid well to take care of your flight and should do everything short of literally holding your hand from the time you get off the aircraft until the time you leave the airport.

Many of these people have access to vans and other vehicles to make your transition easier, and they should be fluently bilingual, speaking both the native language and yours. English is the language of aviation, and everyone involved from air traffic to the pilots to the ground agents should speak it fluently. This is not an opinion, but rather the industry standard.

So, whether you are landing in a foreign place you have never been, or in the same place you fly 8 times a year, you should know the assets available to you on each end. Flying private is expensive, and when you pay the high cost to travel in luxury and convenience, then every step of that journey should reflect that ease.

From your first conversation with your jet charter broker to settling catering bills after the trip, it should all go smoothly. Your aircraft broker is your representative and should take care of all the details. But you are also entitled to be picky, and to request extra things.

Paramount Business Jets will be more than happy to make sure that the FBOs and handling agents on each end of your journey are doing their job and opening up every amenity for you!

About Richard Zaher

Richard Zaher Richard Zaher is the founder and CEO of Paramount Business Jets. He is a pilot and the President of Air Charter Association of North America (ACANA). Richard is a graduate of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Studies. A seasoned international jet charter expert, entrepreneur, humanitarian, and the recipient of the Embry Riddle Eagle Excellence Award at the 2012 National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention. He is also an active member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) as well as several safety and air charter organizations.

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