Tips for Making the Most of FBO Cost Savings

What are the cost savings available to business aircraft visiting Fixed Base Operators (FBOs), and how can you ensure these don’t come at the expense of service? Gerrard Cowan discusses strategies with a variety of service providers.

Gerrard Cowan  |  21st February 2024
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    Gerrard Cowan
    Gerrard Cowan

    Gerrard Cowan is a freelance journalist who focuses on aerospace and finance. In addition to his regular...

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    How to save money at private jet FBOs


    There’s a wide range of Fixed Base Operators (FBOs) around the world servicing clientele across different regions. Unsurprisingly, knowing how to save money on the service offerings they provide – particularly when based in an unfamiliar area – can be complex.

    But there are some tips and tricks that can help business aircraft operators maximize the value they receive.

    ICCS Mexico & Latin America offers six FBOs in Mexico, with strategic locations such as Monterrey, Toluca and Acapulco, and Miguel Ballesteros, Director of Operations, says customers should initially focus on the mantra ‘time is money’.

    Advising against simply choosing the cheapest FBO, he recommends selecting an experienced FBO which can deliver on customer needs in a timely manner and ultimately avoid extra costs for the aircraft operator.

    According to Ballesteros, defining specific cost savings is not simple, but there are some areas where fare benefits can be delivered for certain customers. This will depend on “frequency of flights, volume, and loyalty built over the years,” he explains.

    By building an enduring relationship, the FBO and the operator can gain reciprocal benefits, Ballesteros says, leading to better negotiations on pricing. “A high frequency of visits to an FBO will be a good argument to request better rates and/or additional services,” he adds.

    Of course, the presence of different FBOs at the same airport will impact the rates and services offered, Ballesteros notes. However, FBO networks spread across different airports can be advantageous, in some cases allowing providers to negotiate with customers and offer benefits based on their loyalty.

    FBO Discounts: Know the Types Being Offered

    Business Jet Center operates an FBO at Dallas Love Field airport, providing a range of services around aircraft parking and hangar services, the provision of Phillips 66 fuel, and a variety of additional offerings.

    Hannah Vincent, Chief Brand Officer says there are many ways that operators can seek to save some money when visiting FBOs.

    Fuel price is consistently top of mind for any operator or flight department,” she notes, but cautions “it is extremely important to know what sort of discounts are offered by the different FBOs on the field.”

    While there are multiple ways to pay for fuel, there might be special discounts, tiered pricing, or other offerings that can be a huge benefit for your flight department, depending on the trip and its mission, she explains.

    “Take the time and do the research on any additional fees associated with your trip and what minimum requirements are needed to potentially waive some of those associated fees.”

    She also suggests business jet operators should look to fuel discount programs. For example, Business Jet Center is a Corporate Aircraft Association (CAA) FBO. “This often allows us to provide the most competitive fuel pricing to our transient customers.

    “It also includes perks for overnight ramp (first night waived with fuel minimum) and hangar reservations.”

    Vincent also underlines the benefits of the Paragon Network, providing direct fuel pricing through its Paragon Preferred program. “Other member FBOs are always willing to work together to be able to lower that cost or waive fees if you’re a Paragon member and visiting other Paragon FBOs.”

    But there’s a bigger picture than just the fuel when it comes to potential savings from FBOs, and Vincent suggests looking at the other costs you might incur...

    “Are you planning to stay for a few nights? Will you need hangar space? Will you need a ground power unit (GPU) or other amenities? While some FBOs might have a lower fuel price, they might ‘nickel and dime’ you for the remaining items. We, however, don’t believe in charging for our ancillary services – so GPUs, valet parking, lav services, potable water, etc., are all complimentary.”

    Regional Jet Center is based at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport offering a range of FBO services for business jet operators, including fueling and maintenance provisions. General Manager Tim Thompson notes that business jet owners “are usually pretty savvy businesspeople to own a jet in the first place”. Like Vincent, Thompson says his company would recommend CAA to any business jet owner that qualifies.

    Nevertheless, he notes, there have been changes over recent years. For example, Regional Jet Center is seeing more Large Cabin aircraft which can usually tanker fuel from their home base, limiting their demand for fuel from FBOs elsewhere.

    If an operator does not buy fuel, they could face paying a ramp/facility minimum fuel fee, he explains, “so business jet owners should see if they can negotiate a cheaper fuel rate that makes sense for them to purchase fuel instead of paying the ramp/facility fee.”

    Hangars could be another area to save fees – though Thompson says there’s a waiting list for hangars in his company’s region, so Regional Jet Center does not negotiate hangar fees for transient aircraft. Still, “we have known pilots who have negotiated better hangar rates from FBOs who are further out from a city center. Then the owner has to be flexible enough to drive the extra distance or reposition the aircraft.”

    FBO Cost Savings: Form Mutually Beneficial Partnerships

    Richard Zaher, CEO of Paramount Business Jets, encourages operators and brokers to form mutually beneficial partnerships with FBOs.

    “Establishing these strong relationships can reduce the bottom line without sacrificing service and amenities, oftentimes bringing with it stronger partnerships, leading to less taxi time, planeside valet service, farm-to-table catering and other personal touches.”

    Knowing what you might need and arranging things ahead of time helps both the FBO and the customer, adds Cheryl Dissing, Business Development Manager at Maverick Air Center, an FBO based at Sioux Falls Regional Airport in South Dakota.

    Dissing says that while Maverick does not have fees around ramps, security, etc., it charges for such services as GPUs, though the first 30 minutes are waived with any fuel purchase. “Knowing what you might need and arranging ahead of time helps us be ready for you.”

    Maverick is always willing to talk about discounts with frequent customers and tries to offer the most competitive pricing possible, she says. However, processing fees for credit cards will be factored into those negotiations, so customers should consider how they plan to pay for the services.

    Jason Marshall, FBO Services Manager at Moline, Illinois, for Elliott Aviation also emphasizes the importance of planning in advance, highlighting that “if you can hit fuel minimums, that is the easiest way to waive any fees”.

    Beyond fuel, there are some areas that might not be immediately obvious yet hold the potential to save costs, he adds, pointing to the potential to save on de-icing (a vital consideration in winter months, particularly in northern areas).

    Again, operators could save time and money in this area by calling ahead to check on hangar availability.

    Marshall summarizes with a familiar theme, highlighting “the best way to work out deals and savings is through relationships and loyal customers. If operators and FBOs can form a relationship it can go a long way.”

    Individual FBOs often offer their own programs in areas like fuel to enhance the customer experience and cut costs. For example, Gill Aviation operates the FBO at David Wayne Hooks Airport in Houston, Texas. It is the only fuel provider at the airport and has created a ‘fuel quality discount’ program, according to Customer Service Manager Autumn Fielder.

    This “encourages customers to purchase large quantities of fuel from us and in turn gives them a larger credit to put towards their bill each month,” she explains.

    When FBO Cost Savings Hurt Service

    Yet, should it always a case of aircraft owners and operators simply seeking the lowest cost when it comes to an FBO visit? Vincent warns that it can be easy for business aircraft operators to set something like “lowest fuel price” as their goal.

    Set within a wider context that is reasonable, but it’s also important to consider what might be lost along the way. While some FBOs might be able to offer a slightly lower price on fuel, this is not necessarily the case with fees for other services. “Oftentimes, one of the first things to be sacrificed with lower prices is quality of service,” he highlights.

    “While this isn’t always the case, it’s important to remember that good and trusted service requires investment, which leads to personalized experience that goes above and beyond.”

    One of the best ways that operators can secure savings and build trust is by getting to know the teams at the FBO, Vincent reiterates. “If you know you’ll be frequenting specific locations, don’t be afraid to reach out to the FBOs to see how you can work together.”

    Ballesteros concludes that a recognized FBO will be able to anticipate needs fairly and offer solutions that optimize time and money. Still, “good FBO scouting should not depend only on pricing – there are several factors that must be considered when choosing an FBO.”

    More information from:
    Business Jet Center: www.businessjetcenter.com
    Elliott Aviation: www.elliottaviation.com
    Gill Aviation: www.gillaviationfbo.com
    ICCS Mexico & Latin America: www.iccs.com.mx
    Maverick Air Center: www.maverickaircenter.com
    Paramount Business Jets: www.paramountbusinessjets.com
    Regional Jet Center: https://regionaljetcenter.com

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