On the eve of the NBAA Schedulers and Dispatchers Conference this week in Long Beach, California, the Aviation Business Strategies Group (ABSG) released the results of its annual FBO Survey and Industry Forecast. According to the company, 53 percent of FBOs surveyed indicated they saw a year-over-year increase in fuel sales in 2017. While nearly a third of surveyed FBOs reported lagging fuel sales from 2016, the top-fifth performing facilities saw fuel sales climb by more than 8 percent last year, noted ABSG co-principal John Enticknap. “In fact, several that we talked to reported back-to-back months of record fuel sales.”
Those sales were boosted by a surge in business aviation flight hours, said ABSG co-principal Ron Jackson. “Flight data provided by Argus TraqPak shows that flight activity in 2017 eclipsed 3 million flight hours for the first time since 2008,” he said. “With Part 135 operators leading the way, 2017 flight activity rose 3.9 percent from 2016, while flight hours rose 5.5 percent for the same period.”
Nearly half of those businesses responding to the survey said they added to their workforce last year and plan to boost staffing with newly created positions this year. “This not only shows increased economic confidence, but it also helps verify leading market indicators that point to at least a mild business aviation market recovery,” added Jackson.
When asked about their confidence in the economy, nearly three-quarters of the respondents said it is headed in the right direction. “We were encouraged to see that 73 percent gave the economy a strong thumbs-up,” Enticknap said. “By comparison, in last year’s survey, 53 percent approved the direction of the economy, and the year before, only 27 percent gave approval.”
When asked about the coming year, half of the respondents said they expect their fuel sales to rise between 1 and 8 percent, while nearly 10 percent predicted even greater improvement. Only 7 percent forecast lower fuel sales in 2018.
As part of its analysis, ABSG predicts that the FBO industry will continue its moderate recovery from the 2008-09 downturn, and consolidation will be moderate among the larger chains while new FBO networks will emerge with target acquisitions that include second-tier FBO locations. Based on continued expansion of the U.S. economy, the company expects business aviation flight hours will continue to grow at a pace of between 2 and 4 percent monthly throughout the year, translating to increased FBO fuel sales.