How do you choose what FBO to use?

Hi everyone

I’m currently writing up a business plan for a new FBO and I would really appreciate your help!

I need to research what makes a good FBO? If there were a few FBOs at an airport, what would make one stand out more then the rest? All the FBO’s at this airport have the same fuel price so there’s no advantage there. How can I get people to pick our new one over existing ones? Would a ‘reward scheme’ work, where the pilots would get treated to the best food/accommodation/golf etc the more they used the FBO? How can I get this FBO on the map, so to speak?

Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated!

Many thanks in advance!


I give a lot of credence to Airnav comments, and whether an FBO has posted their full offerings there. I also use their AirBoss discount card.

Generous availability of crew cars is a plus.

In terms of what I expect from an FBO, a lot depends on whether the airport is in a rural area versus metropolitan, or fuel stop versus destination.

Sometimes it is little things, like whether they have Cirrus-friendly chocks.

I look for if it has customs, crew cars, fuel price posted, and reviews. I am always taking over 100 gal so I also look for volume discounts. Usually save at least $.25 sometimes up to $1.00 per gallon. If my experience is good I usually stick with them.
I’m not big on reward programs.

For ME - are they friendly to the “little guy” (in particular Piston planes).

So many of the larger airports - if you don’t burn JET A - you don’t count for the dirt on the bottom of their shoes…

This goes along with Cirrus friendly chocks, crew car, friendly to smaller piston aircraft - no crazy add on fees - availability of refreshments - do not even have to be FREE - but - a reasonable selection.


Agree with all the above…if I wanted to have the very best FBO, I would visit Wilson’s in Memphis (Charlotte and Chatnoonga now). The owners father started Holiday Inn and they very much take a hospitality approach to their visitors. For starters, they flag you in under a huge canopy - elvis playing in the background - and deliver the red carpet - – even to pistons! Never get that anywhere else…when leaving their place in Charlotte last summer, they ran out a smal cheese tray with fruit and cookies. when I said we hadnt ordered it they responded it was their gift and way of saying thank you. Another first! And, it works evidently…look, I am writing sevral hundred aviators about it as we speak!

I read reviews on Airnav and I look for crew cars. The crew cars can even be old and beat up as long as they run and are free. My family’s favorite crew car was a 1980’s Buick (or maybe Olds) given to us for a few days in St. Ignace, Michigan.

Crew car availability and flexibility (“yes, 4 hours is fine - call if you will be later”).
Comfortable lounges
Popcorn (warm and fresh)
Conference rooms (sometimes convenient to do meeting there)
Hours (24x7), or at least 6am-11pm.
Help when you need it (“sure, I will fill-up the rental car for you, I know you’re in a rush, and my friend will take car of the tie downs. By the way, do you need water or ice?”)
Help with reservations and directions.

I’ll second that. I had a deposition in a small community and arranged to use the FBO’s conference room. Very convenient for everyone.

If it’s a destination, courtesy discounts at good hotels is a big plus. And going the extra (nautical) mile with service.

One example is Western Aircraft at KBOI. Scroll down on this Airnav comment page for my comments about them from last July.

I would echo what most have said so far. But if you really want to get me to choose your FBO, the fuel cost is the #1 item. So if there are 3 FBOs and the fuel price is the same, discount yours a bit. Even if it is 5 cents cheaper for us that is the single largest hourly operating cost and a litttle break on fuel goes a long way. Being able to arrange transitions from plane to where you are going helps a lot too. That means have crew cars or having access to rental cars that you can help arrange or just getting transportation in any form. The hardest part of flying anywhere is that you need a way to get around after you land.

Like several others I depend heavily on AirNav reviews.

What I expect from an FBO is 1) being marshalled into the appropriate parking spot. Few things raise my dander more than having no lineman to park me, then having to park myself only to be told I parked in the wrong spot. Any FBO that gives me that kind of service is a one time only visit.

  1. for a transit stop I want prompt refueling at the best price the FBO can afford to give me.

  2. for an overnight stop I want the FBO to have local motels that are of high quality and with which they have arranged for crew prices

  3. For transit stops I want a courtesy car that is safe to drive. It doesn’t have to be new or luxurious, but it needs to run, have treads left on the tires, functional seat belts, etc.

  4. for overnight I’d like rental car availability or, sometimes, transportation to/from the hotel or motel will suffice.

  5. If inclement weather is expected I expect the FBO to offer inside storage.

  6. I dislike service fees although I think they are fully justified if the pilot does not purchase any fuel.

8)_I want a clean and inviting “terminal”

  1. I want internet access. At the very least I expect to be able to gain access to internet based preflight weather products.

  2. There should be water available (purchase is OK but at a reasonable price) and it should be cold.

  3. The person on duty at the desk should be clean, well groomed and fully instructed as to how to make customers feel welcome. A desk person who lets a customer know the interruption caused by his arrival is disturbing his or her reading or whatever is a real turnoff.

There may be other things, but that’s off the top of my head. The key is to charge reasonable prices, provide typical FBO services and act like you really really really want the customer to come back.

If I am traveling with Papalima, this is a big item. I’ve probably paid a few hundred bucks in higher fuel prices for a few bags of popcorn! [A]

Lots of people here rely on AirNav for fuel prices and comments. I do too.

One thing that could set you apart is to participate in AirNav’s GUARANTEED fuel pricing program if other FBOs don’t. It puts a big yellow GUARANTEED banner next to your fuel price. For the pilot, it eliminates uncertainty about whether the price posted will be honored. I do not know if AirNav charges anything to the FBO. My impression is that it simply puts the burden on the FBO to keep the price up to date, but I don’t know that for sure. If prices are NOT guaranteed, I think they are voluntarily entered by AirNav users, and the date of last update is shown to give pilots an idea of how reliable the posted price may or may not be.

Haha Gordon. I know the feeling. My wife likes a few different FBO’s that serve warm cookies. Doesn’t matter to her what the fuel costs. [:#]


As the responses above show, we want it all. If one were to boil it down though, FBOs are a service business. However you get someone to visit, the key is to get her/him to become a repeat visitor.

Fuel price is usually the primary factor, but I do not believe that it’s the be all and end all. What makes me return is an FBO that seems to want my business, an FBO that seems to give a crap about the piston driver. (The Atlantics and Signatures don’t do it for me because they are simply businesses. They’re about general aviation the way Border’s was about books: for the more impersonal FBOs the piston driver is simply just another, not too important, element of the assortment.)

A pro-pilot orientation in an FBO manifests itself in different ways. For me, a crew car is the single most important ‘amenity’. But most of all, I love to see FBO staff that seems to enjoy working there. Kinda like flight attendants at Southwest (as opposed to in-flight staff in every legacy air carrier). I believe if you can crack that challenge, everything else will fall into place.

Good luck with the new venture.

One consolation is that the $100 bags of FBO popcorn have diminished my consternation about the high price of movie theatre popcorn!

One consolation is that the $100 bags of FBO popcorn have diminished my consternation about the high price of movie theatre popcorn!


Lots of good ideas here, although some are contradictory! (We want you to be open at all hours of the day AND have cheap gas prices AND have a really nice facility AND have low/no ramp fees.)

For me personally, I end up doing a lot of my flight planning relatively late at night (after, say, 9pm). I like to see an FBO web page that includes: location on the field, pictures of the facility, hours of operation, list/links/phone numbers to rental car agencies you work with, and current fuel prices (link to the Airnav page, particularly if you use their “guaranteed” pricing, is fine, if you don’t want to always have to be updating the web page) and ramp fees. If there is a restaurant on the field or other amenities, their hours and a link to a menu would be even better.

Often I don’t have time to call various FBOs during the business day, so if, during my late night planning, I can find all the information above on a web site at FBO/airport A, and have no idea what the corresponding answers are at FBO/airport B because they have only a minimal or no web page, that makes all the difference to me.

I owned and operated an FBO for 8 years and only had 1 bad review on Airnav during that time( my general manager had been killed the day before in a plane crash- review changed after calling the customer and explaining) I would be glad to talk to you if you wish as there are a lot of considerations to ponder based on volume,location,competition,etc.
The FBO business seems very simple from the outside world but takes an immense amount of attention to detail and finding the right people to provide true customer service. Believe me, it is customer service that you are selling…not fuel. Many on this forum are correct in the items that are wanted by pilots and passengers. The key is finding the right balance.

Jeff Kish

Fuel Price

Fuel Price

Fuel Price

Did I mention Fuel Price?

Not always. Depends on the mission. By myself, I’m no frills. I’ve used FBO’s right out of a Pete Fusco story, where you walk through a greasy garage into a filthy “lounge” with a cat roaming around, into a dirty rental car low on gas, or a crew car with the foam bursting through the cracked vinyl seat. And I was happy they were there.

On the other hand I remember a few years ago a COPA member being upset that someone recommended an FBO that fit the above description. It turned out the COPA member was piloting a Pilatus for some classy clients and they were none too happy! He failed to define the mission!

I don’t know the FBO business, but I would think to do well you’d have to cater to the clients who spend thousands on a stop, then just be nice to those of us who spend a few hundred to get us too.

The FBO at Pecos, TX doesn’t get Gulfstreams but when I was there, they gave you a free local-made fresh, meaty burrito and a soda pop. They also have a pool table. The military guys ferrying helicopters east-west stop there and buy a lot of Jet A because they can pocket their per diem and eat for free!

Well trained and friendly staff goes a long way. Things that make me cross an FBO off my list include water in the fuel jar, and another place where the line guy left my fuel cap off and it was raining! Oh and another place repositioned my plane right up next to a chain link fence with one chock on a very windy day. I once told a counter girl I wanted my plane topped off. She replied “top off to tabs or top off to the top?”. That’s where training helps. Like the guy who Gordon experienced who didn’t know what a decimal point was on the fuel truck’s meter!