For those of you who are serious about flying, fixed base operators will become a normal stop and shop. These aviation gas stations are filled with goodies and are a great resource when utilized properly. In this article, we will be going through everything that you’ll ever need to know about fixed-base operators!
What Does FBO Stand For?
FBO stands for Fixed Base Operator. These are common aviation organizations found at many airports throughout the world, but mainly in the United States.
What Is A Fixed Base Operator?
A fixed base operator or commonly known as a FBO is an organization at an airport granted the right to operate and provide services to aviation customers.
Services include fueling, storage, aircraft rental, etc.
The general aviation community is heavily involved with FBOs since they are a “one-stop shop” through the support services they offer and often time have a community built around them.
They also provide ease of access to the airport especially at bigger airports that are crowded by commercial airline traffic.
What Does A FBO Do?
Every fix based operator is different from the next, but some of the common services that you will find at FBOs are:
- Sale of aviation fuel (piston and turbine)
- Air Taxi and Charter operations
- Air Carrier Services
- Pilot Training
- Aircraft Rental
- Sightseeing Services
- Aircraft Sales
- Aircraft Storage
- Aircraft Maintenance
The larger the FBO the more services it probably offers. FBOs generally make most of their income through aviation fuel sales.
Most will also offer auxiliary services for its users such as transportation, dining opportunities, mission planning equipment, meeting rooms, and more.
Who Uses Fixed Base Operators?
The most likely customers that will utilize a FBO would be private jet businesses, general aviation enthusiasts, passengers trying to avoid commercial airlines, student pilots, plane renters, and even the military.
The military will often utilize FBOs if they do not need special security to watch over their aircraft. They will choose an FBO because it is oftentimes much nicer, cheaper, and easier to work with than an airbase.
These customers are not surprise since more likely than not the biggest means of income for an FBO would be through fuel sales, the main customers would be those who would be purchasing this fuel.
FBOs are also a great source to learn how to fly. This is not a service offered at every FBO but many do. This can be a very valuable service since depending on the location they are heavily involved with the home airport and probably have a contract based on their relationship which makes learning easier.
If you are trying to find the right flight/ground school for you check out our article here!
Are you curious what the difference is between the two types of schools? Read our article here which explains the difference to help you make a more informed decision!
If you want to know how and where to rent a plane check out our article here!
How To Use An FBO
FBOs can be deceiving and intimidating if you have never utilized one before. This is true for both pilots and passengers.
If you have never been to an FBO you probably do not even know where to go to find one. They are mostly located on or near the airfield so that there is easy access to the ramp space for minimal walking.
A navigational app should help find the one you are looking for, but if not look for “General Aviation” signs or signs of the specific FBO when driving to the airport.
If you are being driven there, like in the case of a private jet passenger, the driver should be able to locate the fixed base Operator if you are able to give them the name of it.
Now that we have made it there, In this section we will break it down for the pilots and the passengers and how they will both utilize a FBO.
How to use a FBO as a pilot
Both business/private jet and general aviation pilots will become very well versed in FBO science, especially those who are frequent flyers.
A survey conducted in 2009 found that 98% of the fuel that general aviation aircraft uses is from a fixed-based operator.
For first-time users, it is important to do your homework and mission planning.
This is especially true for those going cross-country.
We have mentioned in many areas throughout our posts that preparation is half the battle and this is no different.
The FBO you have chosen to use will accommodate you even if it is your first time, but why not prepare and be fully confident giving off the impression that this isn’t your first rodeo.
How to choose the right FBO for you
It is important to remember that each FBO is different. Some do it all while others only specifically accommodate general aviation for example.
For business or private jet pilots, your company may have contracts with certain FBOs and this does not specifically apply to you, but for those who are searching, we will list some of the considerations that could impact your choice.
FBOs will normally list their services on their website which also includes their fuel costs, but if not just give them a call. Calling will help you find all the answers you are seeking and could help you save some precious time.
Things that would be worth asking about or trying to find out would be:
- Ramp space available
- Parking Fees
- Crew Car Availability
- Fuel Price
- Specific Accommodations
- Nearby food and lodging
Do not let these be the only questions you ask, tailor them for your own personal needs and wants. These questions are good if you are trying to pick between multiple FBOs on the same airfield, or maybe different airports in the general area.
Do not take their word for it though, they are a business and are trying to sell their services.
There are many reviews out on the internet and word of mouth is also very powerful.
If you know a frequent flyer, ask them if they have been to a certain location and have any recommendations.
Before Arriving To The FBO
When you find out your route that will be taking and you pick your FBO, the first thing you should do is give them another call. This will help them out and make your experience better.
Give them information such as type of aircraft, how long your stay will be, and amount of people with you.
This call will give them the chance to make sure they are ready for you to make it a faster process.
The second thing you should do as a pilot is do your homework and see where they are located on the airport diagram. This is especially important for busy airports.
This can save you from a nice head fire trying to figure out how to taxi across multiple runways and navigate multiple taxiways.
Doing your homework will also help you figure out which runway would be best to land on if they have multiple, in order to minimize your taxi time.
If you are utilizing Foreflight, it has an FBO marker option to help you find it.
Arriving at the airport
Nice, you landed safely at the airport and since you did your homework you landed on the best runway to give yourself a minimal taxi.
If for some reason you get lost trying to figure it out, just ask for help by requesting to taxi to the specific FBO. “Ground, Salty 45, request taxi to Signature FBO”
Once you find your way to the ramp, you should be greeted by an FBO worker who will walk you to your parking spot and let you know when to stop. They will also put in your chocks.
It is important to follow their instructions and be vigilant, especially in busy ramp areas.
This worker may also be the one refueling your aircraft, so once you get out they will ask if you want fuel. Give them your answer with the type of fuel and specific amount. It is common practice to request a “top off.”
At this point you can stay and watch but more likely than not, you’ll want to walk into the FBO.
Getting into the FBO
Once you arrive inside, you’ll notice a bunch of accommodations for the FBO users. Make sure you go to the front desk and let them know who you are.
Every FBO is different but at this point most likely they are in the process of refueling so you won’t need to pay yet, but you can ask for a crew car or another accommodation depending on what you are looking for.
Take the time to relax, use the restroom, and fuel up for the rest of your day!
Once they finish refueling you may pay at the desk and you will receive a receipt for your purchase.
Leaving the FBO
The process pretty much is the same but in reverse, to what you did to get to this point. Most FBOs have a mission planning room with computers and printers.
Remember to check the weather, birds, notams, TOLD, SIDs, etc.
Once you are ready, go up to the desk and let them know you are ready to leave and they will have someone assist you in getting out.
After a good engine start, request your clearances and depart the field.
How to use a FBO as a passenger
Passengers that utilize FBOs will normally have an easier time navigating through the FBO than first-time FBO pilots. FBOs are also a lot nicer and easier to use than most commercial airline terminals.
As a passenger, you will most likely be told which FBO that you will fly out of.
Depending on your circumstance, you can ask to use a different FBO if this airport has multiple, but it may either come with additional charges or the business may not be able to accommodate, but it does not hurt to ask.
When you get to the FBO, you will want to go to the desk and let them know you have arrived. They may ask for details of the flight such as who the pilot is, the flight/tail number, and where you will be going.
The desk is most likely where you’ll be meeting your pilots. If you arrive early or there is a waiting time, there will be a lounge or a waiting area. This is your opportunity to get fully ready for the flight.
Most FBOs will offer WiFi, complimentary snacks, bathrooms, and entertainment.
If you are flying out of a larger and more established FBO they may offer even higher-end services such as pet service, hotel services, and other luxuries.
Before the flight like when flying commercially, there will be security and immigration checks, but these will be more efficient, and a better experience overall.
Once complete with the checks and the plane is ready for boarding, you will either walk to your aircraft or if it is a little distance away, they will drive you to the steps.
From there it is just about boarding the aircraft and getting comfortable to enjoy the flight!
Are FBOs at every airport?
Fixed Based Operators are not at every airport but according to the National Air Transportation Association the FBO industry in the U.S. today comprises nearly 3,000 locations at airports around the country.
In comparison, airlines operate at roughly 500 locations.
Air Nav data from 2018 has the number at 3,660 locations with 5,090 public use airports available. This means that more likely than not there is a good chance that there will be an FBO at an airport.
This makes planning a cross country easier knowing that there is a good chance that no matter your route, you should be able to locate a good place to stop by and know that you will be taken care of,
Are FBOs only in the United States?
Originally the concept of a Fixed-Base Operator started in the United States but has spread to other parts of the world.
Canada, Indonesia, and Singapore all have their own version of an FBO for example.
Fixed Base operators are becoming more popular not only in other countries but also the United States.
More and more are being created each year.
Talking with many pilots from European countries has proven how powerful FBOs are.
Countries that do not utilize FBOs often times have a tougher time logistically when it comes to items such as getting fuel. They will have a much more tedious process and must do plenty of homework, especially when they do cross-country flying.
In the future, the idea of a FBO will most likely catch on and there will be more throughout the world, but as of now, the vast majority are in the United States.
Who Owns The FBOs?
FBOs when they first were created and became popular were mainly owned by individuals or family owned.
This is still true in many instances across the country, but there are also many instances of bigger businesses and chains moving in, especially at bigger airports.
FBOs are a big business considering the money involved and the amount of people that go through the doors that do not fly commercially.
Signature aviation has over 350 locations in 5 countries and close to 5,000 employees for example.
Can There Be More Than One FBO At An Airport?
This happens typically at bigger airports where there is a regular level of traffic.
These Fixed base operators will have to compete with other by advertising cheaper fuel, making contracts with private jet companies, or offering more value than their competition.
Some FBO companies even have multiple locations at a single airport.
An example of this would be Signature Flight Services, which has 3 locations at Teterboro Airport.
If utilized properly Fixed base operators can be your best friend. They have all the services you need and more. If you are a general aviation aficionado or become a private jet pilot then you will become very accustomed to them and find your favorites. Remember to always grab your hot cookie!