WELL GROUNDED
Business Traveler|April/May 2021
Business aviation is looking for more from airport services – and today’s FBOs are delivering
JEROME GREER CHANDLER

Once upon a time, not terribly long ago, general aviation terminals were, at best, functional and friendly. The coffee pot behind the counter was always on and the Naugahyde furniture squeakily comfortable. General aviation airports are home to fixed base operators, those providers of essential services like fuel, aircraft parking and main tenance catering to business and private aircraft. They were ready to fuel you up, fix a few “squawks” (problems) and get you on your way again.

Fast forward to the present and things are decidedly different. Today’s new crop of business jet terminals are ‘brass and glass’ enclaves, ever more dramatic oases in the fast-paced, high-flying private jet world that for an increasing number of corporations is a significant feature of business travel today.

With increasing frequency businesses need to put their people in places off the route maps of commercial airlines. “The US has about 5,000 public use airports,” says Dan Hubbard, senior vice president of communications for the National Business Aviation Association. “Of those, about ten percent – or 500 – have some service by the airlines. General aviation can use nearly all 5,000 of those. Business aviation is a part of that.”

Tim Obitts refines the numbers further. The executive vice president of the National Air Transportation Association, an industry trade group that represents general aviation interests including FBOs, says 3,537 of those public use airports sport paved runways that are 3,000 feet or longer. Some 3,384 FBOs serve these general and business aviation fields.

Those fields are fertile these days. Look around the country and you’ll see FBOs at work erecting striking business aviation facilities that are anything but frivolous – despite their elegance.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Hardheaded facts of economic life drive the rush to construct new business aviation terminals. “Starting back in the early 1990s there was a desire by local authorities, by airports, to create a minimum standard [for FBO facilities],” says Obitts.

Terminals, in essence, “would be a showcase, a first impression for the business traveler coming into the community,” a lens through which business guests, like venture capitalists and companies on the lookout for new economic opportunities, view the city. Airports “want to make a good impression to make sure they come back,” he says.

FBOs serve two audiences: passengers and pilots. Facilities have to appeal to both. The passengers’ corporation may be paying the ultimate bill, but it’s pilots who get them there and back safely.

“I’ve heard [of ] FBOs spending up to $30 million for their facilities,” says Andrew Perry, executive director of Houston Executive Airport, a bizjet mecca for the Bayou City located 28 miles west of downtown. “They’re spending that kind of money to service passengers and crews.”

BusinessJetCenter, an FBO at archrival Dallas Love Field, has with executive conference rooms and a special events room. Cat Clay, manager of sales and marketing, says there’s even a bucket of canine treats and an appropriate grass patch for four-legged fliers.

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