Swissport adds Spanish facility to its network

 - October 17, 2006, 12:16 PM

Swissport Executive Aviation (SEA) is opening a new FBO at Spain’s Malaga Airport this month. The move is the next step in the company’s ambitious plan to double its current number of European FBOs to 20 between now and the end of 2007.

Seven more of the envisioned new facilities are expected to be at other southern European airports, with two others at locations in the north of the continent. SEA is part of the Swissport airline handling group, which has just been acquired by the Spanish Ferrovial group, which is expected to provide fresh capital to fund the FBO expansion.

SEA already has 10 European FBOs, at Geneva; Nice in the south of France; Germany’s Berlin Tempelhof and Schoenefeld, as well as at Munich, Dusseldorf and Hannover; and at Athens and Heraklion in Greece. Additionally, 55 of the Swissport group’s 170 airline handling stations worldwide have now been approved to support business aircraft. According to SEA v-p Alan George, these airline stations have to meet his strict performance criteria to be part of the SEA network. In some cases the companies recruit dedicated business aviation handling staff.

SEA will open about four of the 10 planned new FBOs in partnership with other companies. It already has joint venture operations at Geneva with PrivatAir (where it trades under the name PrivatPort) and at Nice with flight-planning group Universal Weather & Aviation. It also has a marketing alliance with the ExecuJet Aviation FBO at Zurich Airport in Switzerland.

According to George, further consolidation is in the cards in the European FBO sector. He expects to see a further wave of acquisitions by his company and by other major players. In his view, service standards at Europe’s FBOs generally remain inconsistent, and he expects the emergence of chains to ensure customers receive more uniform service.

At major business aviation airports such as Paris Le Bourget, where there is already strong competition among multiple FBOs, George believes this has resulted in pressure to reduce prices rather than improve service quality.

Customer-service Training

As might be expected from a Swiss company, Zurich-based SEA’s approach to quality is thorough. Its foundation is a 74-page book detailing every facet of handling a business aircraft and serving its passengers and crew.

At the new Malaga base, George has been supervising the training of SEA’s new team since August. In addition to studying handling requirements, employees role-play different customer service scenarios and have also spent time working at the Nice facility. During the first week of operations in Spain, a manager from SEA headquarters will be on site to ensure consistent levels of service and to troubleshoot any problems.

In George’s experience, transferring Swissport airline handling staff to SEA doesn’t necessarily work because the service ethos for business aviation is so different. “It is better to take someone who has worked in a five-star hotel and teach them aviation than to teach an aviation person the right approach to service,” he concluded. “After all, an FBO really is just a five-star hotel without bedrooms.”