After several down years, the private aviation industry looked to 2011 as the start of a rebound cycle, and for many aviation service providers the year did show some gains after a relatively flat 2010. “We loved 2011 a whole lot more than we did 2010,” was how the head of one major FBO chain summed up the past year’s business. Recent information from FBO operators suggests that many saw increases in business in the 10-percent range, while a few even described 2011 as their best year ever.
The FBO industry, however, faced several challenges over the past year beyond those related simply to aircraft traffic and the economy. Instances of alleged “unfair competition” by airports possibly using public funds to compete directly against privately operated FBOs, lawsuits filed seeking to end the sale of leaded avgas and even legislation drafted in an attempt to ban the charging of ramp fees in the state for customers who do not purchase fuel at an FBO were among the threats. Despite these issues, most FBO operators expressed a sense of cautious optimism that 2012 would see further increases for the industry.
Against this backdrop, AIN conducted its annual FBO survey early this year. In this special report, along with an assessment of the industry from the executives of the four major FBO chains, we highlight the 15 FBOs that make up the top 10 percent of the service providers in the Americas, as judged by our readers. Some of those selected, such as Pentastar Aviation’s Detroit location, Global Select (formerly City of Sugar Land) and Wilson Air Memphis, have been perennial favorites, while relative newcomers, such as XJet and JA Air Center, continue to impress their customers.
When asked in the survey questionnaire what the most important factors were in their choosing an FBO, an overwhelming 86 percent of our respondents chose “excellent customer service” as the most important criterion, followed by fuel pricing and passenger amenities. However, respondents showed surprisingly little loyalty for FBO or fuel brand. Conversely, when asked why they would avoid using a particular FBO, respondents cited poor service for passengers and run-down or unclean facilities as the biggest factors prompting them to take their business elsewhere.