What is an FBO?
Surprisingly, many seasoned travelers and professionals get this wrong!
Misunderstanding an FBO is quite common. Passengers and flight coordinators alike frequently hear, “What is the closest FBO to my passenger’s destination?” After years of experience, we know that the question actually is, ‘Which Airport is the closest?’ The acronym FBO is many times one of the first things people learn when starting out scheduling for General Aviation aircraft or working on executive travel.
An FBO is a ‘Fixed Base Operator’.
FBOs are a business, separate from the airport, but located on an airfield. Essentially, it is the gas station for aircraft. Just like there can be multiple competing gas stations on a corner, airports can have more than one FBO competing for the aircraft business. At larger airports with commercial airline service, FBOs are typically found next to an airline terminal or on the other side of the airfield. When the commercial airliners “go right to park”, private aircraft “go left”.
FBOs exist to support private aircraft of all sizes. Some FBOs are very large and offer parking for multiple aircraft of varying sizes; others are very small and literally only offer a gas pump for aircraft to pull up and “self serve”. Most FBOs offer a variety of aircraft and passenger services. At a basic level, FBOs provide aircraft parking and waiting areas for passengers and crew. FBOs expand to include kitchens, showers, lounges, conference rooms, and even sleeping rooms for crew on layovers.
Much like vehicle gas stations, airport FBOs may offer varying fuel prices. In most cases you will pick whichever FBO has the services and fuel prices required for a trip. FBOs also offer refueling options for aircraft, the price of which not only varies between airports, but between operators as well (just like any gas station!). You can also try and negotiate better prices with FBO’s based on other services, rebates, waivers and loyalty programs.
FBOs can be very small, very large, and a wide variety of sizes and service offerings in between. Airport databases and diagrams list the FBOs located on the airfield. Airnav.com and Acukwik.com and several subscription based software apps can you help you check up to date fuel prices.
FBOs typically include:
Transportation Services(rental car rentals, access to ride share services like Uber or Lyft)
- Parking (ramp fees, RON parking)
- Fuel (Although not all FBOs provide fuel the same way. At smaller facilities, fuel hydrants are not always present. If you need fuel delivered by truck to your aircraft it may be necessary to make arrangements in advance.)
Additional FBO services include:
- Conference rooms
- Pilot lounges
- Immigration and Customs Clearance Services
- Maintenance support
- Kitchens for food preparation
- Shower facilities
Each FBO will have their own specialty; ranging between a small shack to a large luxurious building. Usually the nicer the facilities, the higher the prices…but not always! Fuel prices can differ widely between competitor FBOs also. Some have affiliations with certain vendors which allows them to lower their prices over their competitors. It is important to look at the FBOs available at each airport and decide which one suits your passengers and aircraft the best. At times, because of size, politics, or airport rules, you can find that there is only one FBO on an airport.