FBO (Fixed Based Operator) is the primary provider of flight support services to General Aviation, including Business and Corporate aviation. In Canada, Europe and the US, business aviation takes the FBO for granted. They always find one or more FBO when landing in any international or regional airport. In many of these airports special General Aviation or Executive Terminals are available for business aviation operation.
Nevertheless, the situation is different in other parts of the world. Take Africa for example, which is increasingly a destination for business aviation operations, FBOs are only available in a handful of countries out of the 55 countries forming the continent. South Africa, Angola, Cape Verde, Nigeria, Morocco, and Seychelles are among the very few African countries that have FBOs. The same situation exists in Asia. In fact, many countries lack the FBO infrastructure to provide the service business aircraft and travellers need and expect. Important countries such as South Korea, Pakistan, Oman, Sri Lanka and many airports in China and India, besides many CIS and South American countries, miss the FBO element of business aviation.
Is business operation to airports in these countries possible when no FBO is available?
For many years business operators who landed in those airports suffered from shortcomings in the service and responsiveness of the ground handler, who were in many cases governmentally owned and operated, resulting in delays, in addition to missing suitable ground support equipment and qualified personnel.
As a solution, the major international trip planning providers appointed local private flight support companies, which hired supervisors in those airports to bridge the gap in service. These local supervisors normally provide the following services:
- Coordination between all the parties in the airport – the ground handling company, the airport authority, the civil aviation authority (CAA), the aviation fuel supplier, customs and immigration, the caterer – to ensure the harmonized provision of service for the smooth operation of the aircraft and the on-time departure. Airlines and commercial operators usually hire station managers and airport services staff to do this coordination. Due to the mission, size and unscheduled nature of business and corporate aviation, this privilege is not possible for them, so assigning a private local supervisor to perform the station manager tasks is more than essential.
- Meeting the passengers and crew, and assisting them pass through the airport’s customs, immigration and security formalities, especially for those airports that do not contain separate terminals or facilities for business aviation operations. As such, passengers must share the common facilities all the passengers use, not to mention the fact that many of the workers in those airports can only speak their local language. Therefore, the role of the local English speaking supervisor is crucial, as he communicates with the passengers and the crew, in addition to coordinating with the local workers and government officials in their local language.
- Help passengers and crew with the arrangement of the land-side services, which are outside of the scope of services the ordinary ground handling companies provide, such as arranging transportation, hotel accommodation, or catering from hotels (when no specialized catering company is available in the airport, which is still the case in some countries).
- With the non-acceptance of credit cards and the regulatory requirements to pay many services in cash before the aircraft departs, the local supervisor arranges for the payment of all the services whether in local or foreign currency (according to the country’s regulations), aggregates all the invoices, and sends the international trip planning provider a single invoice including all the amounts settled to all the parties.
- Ensuring all the flight plans are filed with the ATC, and that all the briefings are delivered to the flight crew.
- When time is of essence, which is a major characteristic of business, charter, air ambulance and VIP flights, ensuring the on-time service delivery and departure is essential. The main point is that with the limit on the equipment available, normal ground handlers, with no station manager representing the interests of the operator, tend to give more attention to scheduled commercial operation. The local supervisor ensures that the business aircraft gets the attention and service the operator is looking for.
- It is true that the appointment of a local supervisor might add an additional expense to the total cost of the flight. However, the time gained, the efficiency achieved and the anticipated problems solved as a result of having one are significantly higher than this additional cost.
Local supervisors cannot completely compensate for the lack of infrastructure when a business flight is operating to an airport that has no FBO. However, their presence can compensate for the inappropriate level of service resulting from the ground handling culture that favors commercial schedule operations, as they can completely change the passenger and crew experience to be very friendly, smooth and hassle-free.
When assisted by local supervisors, the passengers and crew of many flights operated into some of worst airports of the world (customer service wise) provided feedback that the services they received matched if not exceeded in some cases the services provided by the best FBOs in the world.