Friday, June 06, 2008

Fixed Base Operator

I'm aware that I keep blogging about "FBOs" but I'm not sure I've ever explained exactly what one is. When I'm talking to people outside of aviation, I sometimes substitute the words "airplane gas station" but that phrase really doesn't adequately describe an FBO.

First off, as you figured out already from the title of this entry, FBO stands for Fixed Base Operator. I think technically any business that provides aviation services on the airfield: maintenance, flight training, airplane washing, or fuelling is a Fixed Base Operator, but when someone says they are going "to the Eff Bee Oh" they are referring to a business that will at minimum fuel their aircraft, and probably provide many other services. If all they do is provide fuel, then I'll probably call them either "the self-serve fuel pump" or "the guys with the fuel truck." But if they offer any other services, even as basic as washrooms and a table for flight planning, then they become an FBO.

A small FBO may be just washrooms and a bulletin board, but in a town of any size I expect a flight planning computer with an internet connection and someone who can arrange ground transportation and hotel rooms. At the high end you might see a pilots' area with TV, internet, a pool table, a weight room, sleeping bunks, a flight planning room equipped with charts and subscriptions to non-government online weather briefing products, and office facilities. They usually have deicing if that's needed in their climate, and can provide a GPU--Ground Power Unit--to help start an airplane on a cold day. You can also order ice, catering and other things passengers might need and often they have rental cars. I expect an FBO to be able to provide me with the telephone number of a local mechanic, and often they have their own repair facility. This is especially nice when you have a very minor problem like a loose wire causing a gauge to not register, or a stuck fuel cap.

If there are multiple staff, the first people you see are the line guys. Sometimes there is a gal or two among them, but the typical division of labour has the guys running around outside, showing you where to park, pumping gas, and helping you with your luggage, while the females work inside in heated or air-conditioned comfort, behind a desk. Their jobs include answering the phone and radio, arranging things for you and printing out your fuel bill. The line guys often also get to be the shuttle drivers.

If the FBO is a Ma & Pa operation, then Pa pumps gas and Ma collects your money inside. It's not a bad little retirement business for a couple. If it's a small airport and they own the building then I guess overhead is fairly low. If it gets busy it shouldn't be too hard for them to hire an airplane-mad kid to help, and if it's quiet they can spend more time just chatting with the visitors. I'm sure I'm being very naïve and that there is far more to it than that, but hanging out at the airport saying hi to people who come by might still be fun.


Anonymous said...

Thats my retirement dream. Run a grass strip (or maybe even a paved one!)

I always pictured my self at 65/70 being the unicom guy.

Aviatrix said...

Oh geez Blake, I can see you out there in your lawn chair, beverage in one hand and handheld in the other. "Alpha Whiskey Juliet, this is Sunstrip, traffic is a Cessna 172 just departed the circuit to the east, winds are favouring runway 29 at about eight knots and the barbeque is on." Then "Hey you kids, get off my taxiway!"

nec Timide said...

If the FBO is a Ma & Pa operation, then Pa pumps gas and Ma collects your money inside.

Except in Elliot Lake where it is the other way around.

Your so right, a good FBO can change a trip ending snag into an opportunity to make new friends.

Anonymous said...


The CFI who taught me to fly had a funny anecdote from his ATP checkride: the examiner asked him why the 'F' in FBO stood for "fixed"? He didn't know, but took a good educated guess, and I'm guessing the examiner didn't mind (never mind the fact that I'm sure the origins of FBOs are not a topic in our practical test standards for the ATP license)... I'll let you all guess on that if interested, though it isn't too hard.

On a related note, your mention of the division of labor between line personnel, usually referred to as "lineboys", and their often female counterparts inside reminded me of this website: (a site that appears to recommend where pilots stop off based on how attractive the personnel are, photos (mostly work safe) included.

As expected, it appears to cater mostly to men. Perhaps you could start suggesting to the site where the attractive male staff were for the benefit of other aviatrices, or for anyone else of the persuasion preferring to know where the good-looking male staff are, for the matter.

Jim said...

www.fbo-hotties was/is a lot of fun. The part I like, he says philosophically after a long encounter this evening with Boddingtons, is that some of us on this rock are blessed with different gifts, such as the gift of eloquent phrase (Aviatrix or Aluwings), or brains, or red hair (me), or really hot looks (not me).

So well done to the good looking girls on fbo, use all your assets, and make the most of whatever your God (as Dave Allen would say) has given you.

But remember that beauty fades, but stupid is forever.

Crap, may Lotto 649 free me from this office and let me fly midnight freight, or whatever.... to slip the surly bounds of earth, and get paid for it.... aye, that is the objective. Except that I'm an olde fart. Such is the reality of the moment. Squeeze the day.

Anonymous said...

The FBO at North Bay Shell sure came through for me a couple years ago when I had a small snag on my aircraft and had to stay overnight. He ran a local motel and SUV rental outfit as well and I spend an enjoyable day running around the town getting some parts I needed and making the repair.

The Bay Motel in CYYB is the place if you don't mind me given them a plug.

Aviatrix said...

I encourage plugs for any FBOs with good service, good-looking employees, good food or other benefits.

And I am still laughing at the hotties site. I am so going to photograph FBO staff for that site now.

Anonymous said...

Can't speak for other locales, but in Central California, many smaller strips are being zoned out and developed over. Good luck if you need a close strip to improvise a landing upon, the map says "Oldkoots SkyFarm" over here, and the biggest open space is the strip mall parking lot.

nec Timide said...

Well I always get great service at Elliot Lake. But I gave Kovachik Aircraft Services at CZBA a workout. I had one of those ridiculously simple snags that none the less renders an airplane grounded. Two of their mechanics (the owner and his son) took time out of their busy schedules to get me on my way. They didn't even want to bill me for their time.

They also have a hot ops manager/instructor who also spends time behind the counter.

Unknown said...

Very informative writing and the correct explanation of what FBO services really mean. Concise and to the point.