The growing success of UK FBO Ocean Sky is another sign of the improving picture for business aviation in Europe. The FBO offers inbound Atlantic-crossing fliers and inter-Europe travelers a full-service alternative at Glasgow Prestwick International Airport, helping them avoid the crowded big-city skies and ramps.
Prestwick, which has the longest commercial runway in Scotland, used to be the traditional stop for refueling after Atlantic crossings, but the airport closed to nighttime traffic in the early 1990s, according to Eddie Allison, Ocean Sky’s managing director of FBO operations. The airport, however, is now open 24/7, and growing business opportunities encouraged Ocean Sky to invest more than $1 million in its Prestwick FBO last year. When Ocean Sky took over the facility in March 2006, it was a small land-side facility without a ramp and mostly military customers. Now the facility is a true FBO, with 25 acres of ramp space, its own 10,000-gallon fuel truck providing AirBP jet fuel and personnel on duty around the clock.
Glasgow International Alternative
Prestwick is an attractive stop for a quick-turn after an Atlantic flight, not just because Ocean Sky can fuel an airplane and help customers clear customs and immigration within 20 minutes, but also because Prestwick generally remains fog-free when other UK airports are clamped.
In addition, landing at the airport is relatively easy. There is no prior-permission- required to land at Prestwick and no restrictions on night operations. Also, the airport is not surrounded by houses and has no noise restrictions like other European airports in more congested communities. “Traditionally, people would fly to Shannon [Ireland],” Allison said, “but there’s less congestion at Prestwick.”
While Glasgow has another airport– Glasgow International–closer to the city center, the 30-minute drive from Glasgow Prestwick to the city center often takes less time than moving through the bureaucracy at Glasgow International Airport, according to Ocean Sky.
Ocean Sky’s Prestwick Jet Centre FBO is equipped with three pilot lounges and a weather briefing and flight-planning room; private office space with business facilities and conference rooms; free wireless or hard-wired DSL Internet access; a VIP lounge with its own computer terminals, coffee bar, private office and plasma tv; discount fuel, GPU up to 140 KVa; a towbar-less tug; unarmed security guards; closed-circuit security video system; and discounts on fuel and long-term parking.
Allison has been senior manager at Glasgow Prestwick for nine years. During that time, he was instrumental in helping the airport realize the benefits of building an FBO dedicated to business aviation. Before his stint as airport senior manager, he helped launch and manage another UK FBO. From that experience and many visits to U.S. FBOs, he picked up ideas for how he would model a new FBO. The business model for FBOs in the UK is different, he said, because “we’re less reliant on fuel profits.” Ocean Sky, like most European FBOs, charges ramp fees and other fees to make up for the lack of healthy margins on fuel sales. In early 2008, fuel sales at Ocean Sky averaged about one million liters (264,000 U.S. gals) per year, and Allison expects that to grow to 4 million liters in the coming year.
Ocean Sky employees include dis-patchers signed off under the UK’s new dispatcher accreditation system and line personnel who receive three months of on-the-job training with a more experienced colleague.
Ocean Sky also operates a Jet Centre FBO and jet maintenance facility at Manchester Airport, which is headquarters for Ocean Sky’s jet charter operation. Ocean Sky bought the Manchester FBO, the former Northern Executive Aviation, last August and spent $500,000 refurbishing that facility. The Manchester Jet Centre offers maintenance for the Bombardier Global Express and Challenger and is an authorized service center for the Learjet 35/45/60. Services include line and heavy maintenance, wheel and brake overhaul and repair, battery servicing, avionics repairs and interior refurbishing.