The people in charge of the best FBOs—fixed-based operators—understand that their businesses are not just portals through which passengers pass from sidewalk to aircraft. They are a crucial part of the private travel experience, the point where it begins and ends, and as such their customer service and facilities must be on par with the services and aircraft of the flight providers. This is the reason one FBO has ornate marble bathrooms that are always immaculate. “We know that people are paying a significant premium over the airlines to fly here,” says Phil Botana, president of Tampa International Jet Center. “After a long flight, the first thing a passenger does is go to the restroom, and the first time a passenger takes in his environment is in the restroom. So it must be spectacular and perfectly clean.”
FBO managers also understand that it is the pilots, not the passengers, who usually decide which FBOs to use. So they cater to them by providing what are called snooze rooms for napping, lounges for relaxing, complimentary cars sometimes, and complimentary snacks always.
The FBOs on the following pages consistently receive praise for their pristine and conveniently located facilities and exceptional customer support. They complete the private aviation experience by giving travelers the comfort of knowing they are in capable hands before they leave the ground and after they land. —Bailey S. Barnard
BANYAN AIR SERVICE
Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Pilots flying personal aircraft to and from the Bahamas know Banyan Air Service is the place to go for everything they need for the trip, from life-jacket rentals to help with international paperwork. But Banyan Air is also popular with corporate-jet pilots, who find the FBO easy to navigate and conveniently located.
Banyan Air’s massive facility offers a laid-back, Bahamian atmosphere, with complete services and amenities for transient or resident aircraft as large as the ultralong-range Bombardier Global Express XRS. In addition to having hangar and office space in excess of 1 million square feet and performing comprehensive maintenance and refueling services, Banyan Air buys and sells whole aircraft.
The facility also has a business center with conference rooms and Wi-Fi Internet access, as well as crew areas with lounges, showers, and a flight-planning room. The on-site Jet Runway Café is a comfortable breakfast and lunch venue with a runway view. The pilot shop features a real Gulfstream cockpit fitted with a flight simulator. —Mary Grady
Sugar Land Regional Airport, Sugar Land, Texas
Located just 10 miles outside of Houston and owned by the city of Sugar Land, this sprawling Texas ranch–style terminal looks like a luxury hotel. Inside are crew facilities that include a movie theater, exercise equipment, showers, snooze rooms, and a galley. Conference rooms and a lounge give travelers the ability to conduct business away from public areas.
Global Select primarily serves as a gateway to the Houston area, though with a U.S. Customs office on the field, it is also a popular stop for flights headed to Central and South America.
The FBO has an 8,000-foot runway, a control tower, and instrument-landing systems, and is far enough removed from Houston’s airline traffic to make delays a rarity. Its spacious ramp, which measures 500,000 square feet, can accommodate aircraft as large as a Boeing Business Jet.
Global Select offers hangar rental spaces, and the city is building a facility that will feature seven lease sites for private development of corporate-type hangars. —M.G.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Phoenix, Ariz.
Cutter Aviation was founded in 1928 by William P. Cutter, a barnstormer and charter pilot, and has been continuously owned and operated by the same family ever since. The Phoenix FBO, which opened in 1959, offers all of the expected line services: fuel, cleaning, oxygen, baggage handling, catering, and concierge. The company maintains a charter fleet that includes everything from twin turboprops to a Bombardier Challenger 604. The Phoenix FBO is an FAA-approved maintenance facility for aircraft and avionics. It also maintains the largest share of climate-controlled hangar space of any FBO at the airport; during dust storms or heat waves, many of the aircraft it services can be parked indoors.
Pilots and crew members can nap in soundproof rooms or watch TV in a lounge with stadium seating and a 62-inch high-definition screen. They have access to flight-planning services, Wi-Fi, and a catering area.
Cutter also operates an FBO at Phoenix’s Deer Valley Airport, and it has a number of other FBOs in the Southwest and West; locations include Albuquerque, N.M.; McKinney, Texas; and Colorado Springs, Colo. —M.S.
Teterboro Airport, Teterboro, N.J.
This FBO’s location might be its most appealing feature: Manhattan is just 12 miles away. The full-service FBO sells fuel and offers interior and exterior cleaning services, line services, local and international handling services, and hangar space. Jet Aviation also brokers jet sales and offers aircraft for charter. The FBO has maintenance facilities, a crew area with a snooze lounge, and a gym.
Jet Aviation also operates FBOs in Massachusetts, Missouri, Florida, and Texas. It has several locations in the Middle East and Europe and one in Singapore. —M.S. 201.462.4000, www.jetaviation.com
J.A. AIR CENTER
Aurora Municipal Airport, Sugar Grove, Ill.
J.A. Air Center provides easy access to Chicago’s western suburbs, where many businesses and technology companies are headquartered. (Downtown Chicago is less than an hour away.) According to Randy Fank, FBO operations manager for J.A. Air Center, this convenience has been a major draw for operators flying into the Chicago area who might have gone to the DuPage or Midway airports in the past. "Since we opened this facility less than three years ago, traffic at Aurora has gone up 30 percent," he says. Delays at the Aurora airport, even with such high levels of traffic, are rare.
Prior to opening the Aurora facility, J.A. Air Center had a long history of serving the region’s aviation community. Launched in 1965 as Joliet Avionics, the company still offers avionics installations, along with a full range of maintenance, management, detailing, sales, hangar rentals, and transient services.
Its current facilities include 25,000 square feet of covered parking space on the ramp to protect travelers from Chicago’s nasty winters, as well as a canopy tall enough to cover even the largest corporate jets.
Crew amenities include a 12-seat theater-style lounge, a game room, and workout facilities, though Fank says customer service is the FBO’s focus. "We never charge landing fees or ramp fees," he says. "And if clients want an authentic Chicago pizza to take home, we keep a cooler full of Lou Malnati’s famous frozen deep-dish pies ready to go." —M.G.
Addison Airport, Dallas, Texas
At least four people greet every aircraft that pulls into this full-service FBO: a customer-service rep, a driver, a baggage handler, and an extra assistant to help passengers deplane. The customer-service rep can offer advice on shopping and restaurants in the area or arrange hotel reservations and ground transportation. The FBO has conference facilities and provides catering.
Million Air takes special care of pilots and crews, providing an on-site gym with 18 workout stations, locker rooms, and a movie theater that serves popcorn. The FBO has seven hangars and is constructing an additional facility next door specifically for aircraft owners who make their planes available for charter through Million Air. It will be called the Owners’ Club, and its hangar will have three times as much space as the company currently possesses.
The company’s charter fleet includes light Learjets, several Citations and Hawker 800s, and two Gulfstream GVs. Next year the company will take possession of a Gulfstream G650, which will be housed at the Dallas FBO. Million Air has 31 FBOs throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. —M.S.
Scottsdale Municipal Airport, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Scottsdale AirCenter’s 10,000-square-foot passenger lobby was built in 2003 and has ample conference-room space and multiple passenger lounges, along with a separate facility in which pilots and crew can relax between flights. The FBO has 175,000 square feet of hangar space, enough to accommodate a Global Express XRS.
Through Scottsdale AirCenter’s concierge service, crew and passengers can make hotel and golf reservations, obtain tickets to local events, and arrange transportation or catering.
Scottsdale AirCenter is a member of the Ross Aviation network of FBOs, which includes facilities in Anchorage, Alaska; Denver; Hawaii; Laredo, Texas; Miami; and Trenton, N.J. —M.S.
RECTRIX AERODROME CENTER
Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, Sarasota, Fla.
When professional pilots arrive at Rectrix Aerodrome Center, the first thing they ask about is the ice cream. Specifically, where are the free Dippin’ Dots? They are behind the snack bar, along with all the other free treats and sodas. Pilots also can enjoy a private lounge with a Wii console and a big-screen TV, a nap room, and a library with a faux fireplace—there is no need for a real fireplace in Florida.
Most of the line technicians are themselves private pilots, so they understand the needs of pilots and crew members. Owners and passengers can avail themselves of spacious lounge areas and glass-walled conference rooms.
The facility has 180,000 square feet of hangar space available to customers, and its hangars can accommodate aircraft as large as those in the ultralong-range category. If you want a more permanent private hangar, you can buy one. Called Hangarminiums, these spaces can be completely customized for the aircraft or the owner. Some owners build in office space for themselves or their pilots. Hangarminium owners receive discounts on fuel and other services.
Rectrix has one other FBO, on Cape Cod. —M.S.
Oakland County International Airport, Waterford, Mich.
With its proximity to the automotive manufacturers headquartered in Pontiac and Detroit, the Oakland County International Airport accommodates about 120,000 takeoffs and landings every year, most of which involve private aircraft. Of the airport’s multiple FBOs, the most frequently praised one is Pentastar Aviation.
Pentastar’s executive terminal can handle jets as large as Boeing 757s, which often bring professional and collegiate sports teams to this facility on their way to the Detroit-area venues. For these larger aircraft and their high-profile occupants, Pentastar has a fully enclosed jet bridge that provides privacy and security, as well as protection from the weather.
Pentastar employs an executive chef to oversee the in-house catering service; a wide variety of wines is available by request to complement the in-flight cuisine. Beyond catering, Pentastar provides a full slate of aircraft services, from charter (through Pentastar Aviation Charter) and management to sales and maintenance. It has nearly 500,000 square feet of ramp parking and 130,000 square feet of heated hangar space.
The company’s history in the area extends to 1964, when it was founded as Chrysler Air Transportation, the internal flight department of the Chrysler Corporation. About 10 years ago, a great-grandson of Henry Ford, Edsel B. Ford II, bought the company; he remains the sole owner.
Pentastar has one other facility, located at the Van Nuys Airport near Los Angeles. —M.G.
Centennial Airport, Englewood, Colo.
XJet, which opened in 2007 and is located just 10 miles south of Denver, offers a unique FBO experience. Owners who hangar their aircraft at XJet pay an annual membership fee, which ranges from $110,000 to $160,000, depending on the size of their jet and choice of services. Members can purchase fuel at XJet’s cost, and they enjoy a high level of customer service with every flight. “We know our members,” says founder and CEO Josh Stewart. “We create a dossier for each one. We know everything about their airplane and their needs, their preferences for catering and cars. We know their kids’ names. Our membership is small and exclusive.”
While offering members special treatment, XJet also operates an FBO for transient customers. “We have a beautiful facility, with lounges, full catering service, and Range Rover crew cars,” says Stewart. A popular perk is the Auto Spa, where travelers can leave their vehicles when they depart and pick them up fully serviced and detailed when they return.
The membership roster at XJet currently has some limited availability; transient facilities are available for jets as large as the ultralong-range Gulfstream G550. The company is in the process of establishing facilities in Paris and Abu Dhabi. —M.G.
SIGNATURE FLIGHT SUPPORT
Gallatin Field Airport, Bozeman, Mont.
This is one of the latest FBOs to join the extensive network of businesses owned by Signature Flight Support. Known previously as the Yellowstone Jet Center, it has a long history of providing excellent service to private aircraft pilots and passengers. The facility has seven heated hangars totaling more than 100,000 square feet. It also has a spacious lobby with fieldstone fireplaces that give it the feel of a lodge, Wi-Fi, and all the technology required for planning flights and trips. Spacious conference rooms are available for passengers traveling on business. In a separate facility, pilots can shower, nap, relax, or file flight plans.
Signature Flight Support has a network of 59 FBOs in the United States, 18 in Brazil, and a scattering of others in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The company’s loyalty program tracks clients’ preferences in catering, lodging, and ground transportation to customize service. Program members can enjoy the quick turnaround service: A line crew is waiting on the tarmac when the plane lands to provide everything from refueling to catering in the span of a few minutes so that the aircraft can swiftly return to the air. —M.S.
WILSON AIR CENTER
Memphis International Airport, Memphis, Tenn.
The Wilson Air Center opened in 1996 and has since become the top FBO in the area, thanks largely to its customer service. “Our staff is not permitted to say no to a customer,” says vice president David Ivey.
Customers disembark to the sound of blues music and are protected from rain and sun by a massive 26,000-square-foot canopy, which is tall enough to cover jets as large as Bombardier’s ultralong-range Global Express XRS.
Wilson Air recently remodeled its executive terminal, upgrading the pilot amenities and conference facilities and increasing the office space to 30,000 square feet. More than 100,000 square feet of heated hangars is available for transient aircraft, and there is room for two more hangars as demand grows.
For VIPs requiring extra privacy and security, Wilson Air provides a separate terminal that is closed to the public, a private parking area for aircraft, and a secluded gate for limousine access.
Wilson Air also operates facilities in Houston and in Charlotte, N.C.; a fourth site, in Chattanooga, Tenn., opened this summer. —M.G.