While most livery operators service the needs of commercial airline travellers, a somewhat hidden but lucrative area of opportunity exists with corporate and private aircraft travellers. The key to getting the business from these customers is forming a relationship with airport Fixed Base Operations (FBOs) that service the aircraft.
Because FBO management generally books livery transportation for incoming VIPs, there are several criteria they look for in livery operations. Ideal traits include the ability to. get a car to the FBO on short notice, willingness to work without a contract, and the means to bill directly to customers. Livery operators whose companies meet these criteria use direct mail, personal sales visits and referral fees to attract FBOs.
“The key to remember in dealing with an FBO service in corporate aviation is that people fly in these airplanes to control their schedules,” says Gil Wolin, aviation manager at Wolin Associates in Lafayette, Colo. He stresses “The importance of time, since the typical FBO customer has meetings to attend and is looking to get from point A to B in the quickest, most efficient and comfortable way.
“Generally, someone landing in a corporate airplane is a higher level executive or wealthy individual and is used to superior service. As a result, FBOs must be able to serve and provide facilities and surroundings that are on par with superior hotel accommodations,” continues Wolin.
“They’re not using the airplanes to fly from FBO to FBO,” he adds. “They use the airplanes to shorten the time from office to office. The FBO is a transfer point and makes sure the transition from air transportation to ground transportation is smooth and expeditious.”
LIVERY CONNECTION ESSENTIAL
“FBOs try to form relationships with limousine companies,” Wolin says, “because the FBO wants to respond to the need of the customer. Usually, it is the pilot or flight department within a company that makes the arrangements with FBOs, so then the FBO can make the final arrangements for limousines or other transportation. Occasionally, because there’s so little time, the FBO must be able to acquire a limousine very quickly. This is why the relationship between FBOs and limousine services is so critical.”It is in the last-minute arrangements that an FBO can make a tremendous difference for corporate travelers conducting business on a tight schedule. If an FBO can respond quickly and efficiently to the needs of its customers, the better the chance for a long-term relationship between the two.
“Most of the FBOs know we need time to put it all together,” says Shirley Cajrnas of The Limo Renter, Ltd. in Chicago. “But there are times when the FBO will get a call from a pilot who is only a half- hour from landing and asking for ground transportation. We try to accommodate everyone.”
Cajrnas has a working relationship with five FBOs in Chicago, dealing primarily with corporate upper-echelon people. “We fell into working with FBOs,” she says, “because that’s the niche we were trying to fill.”
She explains that, in order to promote the company specifically to FBOs, direct mail advertising proves to be most beneficial for her. “We’ve tried many types of advertising, but we keep coming back to direct mail because it seems to work the best.” A 10 percent referral fee may also be paid to the FBO, Cajrnas adds.
“We get a lot of referrals from FBOs,” says Tom Mulligan of Metropolitan Limousine in Chicago, “so we tend to deal more with the corporation rather than with the FBO.” Referral fees, however, he says, are paid at the FBO’s request.
Referrals are common in the industry between FBOs and livery companies. Pilots landing at an FBO will call ahead for ground transportation, at which time a representative of the FBO will usually direct the caller to a livery company or make the arrangement for them.
Says Jo Leon, customer service representative at San Jose Jet Center in San Jose, Calif., “Pilots usually call and ask me to make the arrangement with a limousine company. But we’re not billed. Payments are usually taken care of by the pilots or the clients.” Even with short notice, when prior arrangements haven’t been made, Leon has been able to. accommodate clients flying in because she utilizes five livery companies regularly to ensure transportation. Wolin also suggests having more than one limousine company handy for back-ups in situations that can be potentially problematic.
And, although there are no contracts involved with each FBO (which is standard in the industry), The Limo Center does maintain a strong, consistent working arrangement with them.
“I would say that 40 percent to 50 percent of our business comes from FBOs. It’s definitely worth-while for our company,” Cajrnas says. Another plus is the fact that private air travelers usually pay by credit card. Payment is almost always assured.
Livery companies often cater to FBOs for their high-end clientele, but limousines are also used to transport other important customers besides corporate VIPs. For example, Mulligan adds, “There are several times when an FBO calls us, or we’ve been referred by them to meet a plane that’s carrying a team of doctors with an organ ready for transplant. So, we’ll send a stretch to the airport and take the doctors to the hospital, wait, and then drive them back.”
This type of service is not uncommon, especially for Mirage Limo in San Jose, Calif. “We’ll wait for doctors at the hospital to finish a heart transplant,” says Jeff Fischer, office manager, “and then drive them, along with /the heart, to the FBO.” This /service, he adds, is requested at least once a month from the Stanford Heart Team.
SERVICE, SAFETY ARE KEY
“Good service, cleanliness and safety are what FBOs look for in livery companies,” says Wolin. Adds Wanda Spalliero of Monarch Air in Chicago, “Finding a livery company that will be on time and reliable is essential for a successful relationship.” Monarch Air uses 10 to 20 limousines every month for its corporate clientele.
“By and large, you’re not driving kids to the high school prom,” Wolin concludes. “You’re talking about the top one-half of 1 percent of the business leaders in America—or even the world.”
WHAT IS AN FBO?
Fixed Base Operations (FBOs) are airport facilities where private and business aircraft land to be mechanically serviced, to pick up or discharge passengers, and take on fuel, etc
There are between 4,000 and 5,000 FBOs in the United States, and although that’s a 50 percent decline from the number of FBOs in operation a decade ago, the ones that are in existence are successful and in demand by the general aviation industry.
Says John Infanger, editor of Airport Business. Magazine in Fort Atkinson, Wis., There were 10,000 FBOs in 1985. In those days fuel sales and aircraft sales were so strong that a lot of the services at the FBOs were often given away; it became a standard in the industry that you flew into an operation and didn’t pay for anything to park your plane for a day or two and use the facilities. This was all overhead that the FBOs had to absorb. And it wasn’t a problem when they were selling airplanes to a tune of 18,000 a year. But they’re not doing that anymore. In fact, they only made 900 airplanes last year in the United States. It’s been that way for a number of years now, primarily because of product liability.”
Commercial airlines serve between 450 and 500 airports in the U.S. And there are another 12,000 to 13,000 airports that private aircraft use and approximately 1,400 airports that will accommodate small business jets.
FBOs aren’t anything new to the world of general aviation. In fact, the vernacular stems as far back as when planes landed on farmers’ fields because there were no airports. Back then, if a pilot needed a part such as a spark plug or fuel, someone miles away would have to drive to the farm to bring it to them.
In order to alleviate this time-consuming problem, the industry devised on-site fixed bases of operations, offering a variety of services to aircraft ranging from storing planes in a hangar to cleaning them before the next flight.
FBOs have been augmented over the years (in particular, limousine transportation for customers has been added), and continue to be a growing asset to corporate jets and charter companies throughout the country.
“An FBO does whatever is necessary on the ground so the aircraft can begin or continue to complete its flight mission,” says Gil Wolin, aviation manager for over 20 years at Wolin Associates in Lafayette, Colo. “That can mean anything from buying and selling airplanes for customers to providing a passenger and pilot lounge where they can rest between flights.”