FBO Profile: Airflite at Long Beach

 - May 29, 2011, 8:35 AM

When it comes to customer service, Airflite at Long Beach Airport (LGB) might have a little more weight behind its corporate philosophy than some. A fully owned subsidiary of Toyota, one of the world’s largest companies, the FBO was purchased in 1989, not only to house the automaker’s North America-based flight department, but to serve as an initial foray into the aircraft service industry.

 “It was originally thought that Toyota would be involved in the FBO business and this would have been the world headquarters of a larger organization,” said John Tary, the facility’s general manager as well as a pilot in the company’s flight department.

While those larger plans for a chain of FBOs stalled along the way, Airflite has continued to bring the parent company’s philosophies to bear on its aviation clients. “There’s an actual thing called the Toyota promise, and it’s printed on our ID badges,” Tary told AIN. “The two principles that they have is continuous improvement and respect for people. We honor our customers as welcome guests and serve them in the manner they desire.” As a result the FBO, which rolls out the red carpet for every arrival, from a Cessna 182 to a Boeing 767, is perennially highly regarded in customer surveys.

Airflite is one of four FBOs on the airport, which boasts a 10,000-foot runway, and can handle any aircraft up to Antonov cargo transports. A reliever airport for all of southern California, LGB has limited scheduled airline service and is a convenient drive to downtown Los Angeles or nearby Orange County. While LGB is smaller than these airports, its lesser-known status has its benefits for customers. “When you look at the alternatives out of LAX or John Wayne (SNA), both of which have large commercial contingents, [aircraft] don’t have to wait to depart or arrive into Long Beach,” said Peggy Zaun, the FBO’s customer service manager.

Staffed 24/7, Airflite occupies 14 acres on the airport and has 24 hangars, including a pair of 29,000-sq-ft structures to accommodate transient customers. It is home to approximately 60 aircraft, including jets, turboprops and pistons. The FBO contains a passenger lounge with a 600-gallon saltwater aquarium as its centerpiece, a pilot lounge with showers and three conference rooms (including one large enough to accommodate 75 people). It is undergoing an interior facelift. Airflite offers a putting green, a dog park, an outdoor barbecue area and a concierge. The FBO also provides free Toyota Prius crew cars and shuttle service using Toyota vans. The facility also recently earned TSA approval as a gateway FBO in the DCA Access Standard Security Program (DASSP) for flights into Ronald Reagan Washington National.

Like many FBOs, Airflite’s business was off by approximately 30 to 40-percent during the recent downturn, but it got a boost last November, when AOPA held its annual summit in Long Beach. For the third time, the FBO was chosen to host the static display as well as the influx of attendee aircraft. “With the static display, we had 700 aircraft in a five-day period and we had no incidents, accidents or violations, so the system worked,” noted Tary, whose staff spent nearly a year preparing for the event. Among the thousands of people who passed through the FBO, some have become return customers based on their experience during the show.

Airflite prides itself on the training given to its line service workers. As a member of the ExxonMobil Avitat network, the line workers earn Exxon PremierCare certification and Airflite is also an NATA Safety 1st training customer. “Basically, if there’s training out there, we do it,” Tary said. “We have an extra burden of living up to Toyota standards. They have 19 separate training requirements for our line service personnel,  from AED, CPR and first aid to being first responders for hazmat.” The FBO also receives safety audits from a variety of sources, including Toyota to the Flight Safety Foundation to the University of Southern California’s safety management program, which uses the facility each year for student training events.

The FBO makes its facilities available for community and aviation-related events. For the military, the FBO often hosts gatherings welcoming home soldiers from overseas tours of duty. “It’s usually a charter airplane that will come in and we’ll give them the facility. We’ll have about 100 service veterans that will get off the airplane and they’ll have two hundred to five hundred of their family members standing by waiting for them,” said Tary. Aside from those joyful reunions, the FBO is also the site of solemn occasions where the bodies of fallen soldiers are delivered to their families. “We have done as few as three family members up to as many as 200 meeting the casket,” said Zaun. “It’s sad, but it really is heartwarming to be able to take care of those families.”

Several times a year, the FBO goes to the dogs, literally. A local animal protection group arranges charter flights to take stray dogs from Los Angeles shelters to locations in Canada where they would not be euthanized. Because of the group’s non-profit status, the FBO provides a fuel discount, and according to Zaun there have been days at the facility where hundreds of caged dogs waited for their life-saving flights. Another beneficiary of the FBO’s space included even the airport itself, which held the ground-breaking ceremony for its new airline terminal in one of Airflite’s hangars to escape torrential rain.

One area where Airflite might have a crew service edge is in having an active corporate pilot at the helm. “I think I bring a unique perspective to the other side of the house, I know what a pilot wants and I know what a pilot needs,” said Tary, who still flies several missions a year at the controls of a G550 and gets to conduct his own industry surveillance at the same time. “You can see the market first hand, you can see what they are doing–and what they are not doing–and you see how you are treated,” said Tary. He also receives feedback from his fellow flight department pilots, who are not shy about sharing what they see. “We know the competition is there,” he said. “We don’t just keep up with the Jones’s; we want to try to lead the pack.”