What are Fixed Base Operators (FBOs) in relation to aviation?

Rear view of rich woman walking towards private jet while pilot and stewardesses standing at airport terminal

What is an FBO?

FBO, or Fixed Base Operator, is a term commonly used in the private aviation industry. Simply put, FBO are private companies that operate at airports and provide essential services to the owners and operators of private jets. These facilities typically offer a range of services and amenities, such as lounges, private conference rooms, ground transportation and other services. 

FBOs can be located within the main airport terminal or in a separate, purpose-built facility elsewhere on the airport premises. In some cases, entire airports are exclusive to business aviation, meaning that they only serve private jets and do not have any commercial airline traffic. 

Examples of such airports include Farnborough (FAB) in London and Teterboro (TEB) in New York. 

These exclusive FBO airports are on the rise and FBO in aviation is constantly growing. As a result, FBOs are becoming even more important as private jet owners and operators seek out premium services and amenities. 

Services offered by FBOs 

The services provided by FBOs vary depending on the size of the facility and the needs of their clients. Typically, FBOs offer fueling, aircraft storage and ground handling services. In addition to these services, FBOs may also provide maintenance, catering, concierge and security services to their clients. The range of services offered by FBOs is essential to ensure that private jets operate efficiently and safely. 

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The ultimate FBO experience 

For the best experience with an FBO when taking a private jet flight, it’s worth bearing these points in mind. 

  • When they arrive at the airport, private jet customers are given details of which FBO to go to 
  • A choice of FBOs may be available at larger airports 
  • At the FBO, reception staff greet customers and captains are met 
  • Larger or specialized FBOs offer luxury amenities and services for families and pets 
  • Security and immigration checks are made as required 
  • Passengers can board directly outside or take a courtesy vehicle to the airport ramp 
  • Some airports allow passengers to self-drive to the aircraft steps. 

Evolution of FBOs 

The rise in demand for private jet travel has led to the parallel evolution of FBOs from small, family-owned businesses operating out of a single location, to larger and more sophisticated establishments owned by large corporations operating multiple locations globally.  

The term ‘Fixed Base Operator’ originated in America during the 1920s. In the post-World War I era, pilots who were constantly on the move, known as ‘barnstormers’, started flying all around the United States and landing in private fields, rather than at airports.  

The 1926 US Air Commerce Act established new licensing requirements for pilots and also introduced regulations for aircraft maintenance and training standards. This prompted pilots and mechanics to establish registered businesses with a fixed address, which became known as Fixed Base Operations.  

At first, the term FBO only referred to aircraft operators that were stationed at the airport. However, as the private jet industry grew, third-party organizations were established to handle the facilities for customers and aircrew at busier airports. These facilities include services such as security, concierge, private rooms and car parking. 

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The Importance of FBOs 

Private jet owners and operators rely heavily on FBOs for their services. When a private jet lands at an airport, an FBO is usually the first stop. There, the aircraft is fueled, serviced and cleaned. Meanwhile the passengers are transferred to the FBO’s terminal or lounge, where they can relax or conduct business while waiting for their next flight. Without FBOs, it’s hard to imagine private jet travel being so efficient, and it’s unlike that the industry would have grown as much as it has. 

Let’s take for example Signature Flight Support, the largest FBO brand in the world with over 200 locations spreading across five continents. Their FBOs are known for their high-quality facilities and services, including modern lounges, private conference rooms and concierge services. They cater for a diverse range of customers, including high-net-worth individuals, corporations, governments, and military customers. The company has received numerous awards and recognitions for its services, including the prestigious International Standard for Business Aircraft Handling (IS-BAH) certification, which signifies a high level of safety and professionalism in FBO operations. 

Another interesting example of an FBO that has also received recognition for its services is Jetex, which was awarded the title of ‘FBO Chain of the Year’ at the 2020 Aviation Business Awards. Jetex is a Dubai-based FBO brand that has expanded globally, offering a range of services such as handling, fueling and catering for private jet customers. The company also offers unique services, such as arranging a private jet flight to space through a partnership with Virgin Galactic. In addition to its aviation services, Jetex has been recognized for its commitment to sustainability, as the company has implemented eco-friendly initiatives such as using electric-powered vehicles at its FBO locations. 

The presence of multiple FBOs at airports provides customers with more options and promotes healthy competition in the market, leading to better services and pricing. This can be especially advantageous for customers who are looking for specific services or prices that may not be offered by all FBOs. 

Paris Le Bourget (LBG) is a great example of a competitive FBO environment, as it has eight operating from the same location. These FBOs offer a variety of services, including VIP lounges, private rooms, catering, and ground transportation. 

On the other hand, London Luton Airport (LTN) has only two, but they both offer high-quality services and amenities. One of them is Harrods Aviation, which has been recognized for its exceptional service with several awards, including the Sapphire Pegasus Award for Outstanding Services for VIP customers in 2019. 

Similarly, Teterboro Airport (TEB) in New York has five FBOs, each offering different services and amenities. One of them, Meridian Teterboro, has won several awards for its services, including the Best US FBO award at the 2020 Professional Pilot PRASE Survey Awards. 

Ian Dewar Photography / Shutterstock 
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