If you are a private aviation veteran, you are familiar with fixed-base operators (FBOs). However, if you are new to the industry, you may have heard of them and have a vague idea of what they are, or it might be a foreign concept to you altogether. They are, simply put, private jet terminals. But let’s go beyond this rudimentary definition and discover why commercial terminals are inadequate; while they serve the same purpose, a typical FBO is refreshingly nothing like a commercial airline terminal.
Fixed-based operators came into existence soon after the Federal Aviation Administration passed the Air Commerce Act in 1926, which regulated safety standards for civil aviation. Previously, non-commercial aircraft were not subject to any standards, and pilots and mechanics ran transient businesses. Establishing these businesses at fixed addresses within airports was an offshoot of the new law and how the term “fixed-base operator” was coined.
According to the FAA, a fixed-base operation is “a commercial entity providing aeronautical services such as fueling, maintenance, storage, ground and flight instruction, etc., to the public.” In other words, an airport gives an organization permission to operate on its premises and provide services for both operators and passengers of private jets.
Aside from that general definition, FBOs across the country vary, some drastically so. However, many FBOs share similar benefits and characteristics that you can expect to find when you visit. Here are some of the main differences between standard commercial airline terminals and typical FBOs:
1. Top-notch customer service: Most FBOs offer a level of service that goes far beyond what you would expect at a commercial terminal. Some provide service similar to those received from a 5-star hotel concierge. For example, staff at an FBO can arrange ground transportation before and after your flight, among other services.
2. Superior amenities: Many FBOs have atmospheres comparable to the lobby of an upscale hotel. For instance, an FBO might have a kitchen for making a cup of coffee or heating up lunch. In some locations, relax by a fire and comfortably watch TV while waiting to board. For business travelers, some FBOs have their own conference rooms, and select major airports have FBOs that offer rooms to sleep in and showers. Movie theatre rooms, masseuses and wine tasting bars are just a few other exceptional features found at FBOs. Be advised that some do not have any special features and are more utilitarian. However, even FBOs that lack luxurious touches outshine the sterile chaos of a commercial terminal.
3. Privacy: Whether or not an FBO has extra perks, you will find a much more quiet and relaxed atmosphere. It simply is not as crowded as a commercial airline terminal. So, if you do have to wait out a delay, at least you can do it in peace. Fewer travelers also means greater safety in a world grappling with a pandemic.
4. Quick stress-free boarding and check-in process: One of the biggest differences between flying private and flying commercial is the time it takes between getting to the airport and boarding the plane. While everyone is advised to get to the airport two hours prior to boarding if they are flying with a commercial airline, those who fly private can get to the airport as little as 15 minutes before they need to board. Even better, unlike within a commercial airline terminal, you do not need to wait in a long line at security and undergo an invasive TSA screening before traveling. Security measures vary from FBO to FBO, but in most cases, pre-clearance is conducted in advance of the flight. Simply provide your current and valid government-issued ID to the pilot or a member of the flight crew.
5. Parking: FBO parking is one of the most desirable benefits to flying private versus using a commercial airline. Usually, you can take advantage of complimentary or valet parking. Certain FBOs will even allow you to arrange to have your car detailed while you are away. For those who choose not to drive to the airport, many FBOs offer complimentary shuttle service.
Private Jet Terminal Exceptions
One last thing to know if you are about to enter the world of FBOs is that not all airports have them. In those cases, charter operators use waiting areas manned by local handling companies in the absence of a terminal. Conversely, some larger airports are home to multiple FBOs, and, as previously mentioned, not all FBOs are created equal. So, depending on the airport, you may be able to pick and choose the FBO you leave from.
If you are chartering a private plane with PJS for the first time, ask about the FBO you will be using. Our consultants would be happy to provide you with all the details.