Looking at FBO Ramp Safety
Written for Business Airports International & published July 2016:
Are you an FBO manager, owner, MD or CEO? If so, how much attention do you pay to your ramp staff skills and general ramp safety, and why should you be concerned?
All too often management do not concern themselves with operational matters. Safety is left to someone else. Safety managers at far too many facilities report difficulty in securing funds for training and PPE, as well as a lack of understanding of what safety is all about.
While it can be said that ramp safety is everybody’s responsibility, such responsibility and indeed oversight must begin at the top. Safety needs to be driven by senior management, otherwise it just becomes a manual in a filing cabinet.
During a discussion with an FBO owner who did not understand this, I broke it down to terms I hoped would drive home why he should take a personal interest in ramp safety. I explained that if his company is unfortunate enough to suffer an incident or accident, at the very least his insurance premium will go up considerably and a date in court might also follow (putting aside the possible human cost). Point taken!
All airside staff require training and recurrent training to suit their tasks. Proper training not only makes staff, passengers, crew and aircraft safer, it boosts staff moral and instills confidence in your customers.
A few years ago I was consulting for an African-based FBO. The CEO was very safety orientated and forward looking. He was concerned something was missing in their in-house training program, which had been developed from an airline system and really did not fit the needs of an FBO structure. The FBO was a very busy station with only one hammer-head stand, lots of self maneuvering in tight areas, and constant towing including in a large hangar.
Having undertaken a study of the various online training systems available, one was selected. Tailored for corporate aviation and particularly with FBOs in mind it was an internationally recognized standard and in use for many years by highly respected companies.
All ground operations and customer relations staff (as they had airside access) were enrolled. With an upbeat briefing on the merits of such training they were off, averaging about one hour each working day, during quiet periods, going through the theory modules. The only tools they needed were computer access, a note pad, pen, a positive attitude and support from their trainer who also took the course. If required they could turn to their trainer, ask any questions on their mind and head out to the ramp to explore whatever needed further explaining. Two days in and the head of HR popped in to my office to say how great it was to see small groups of staff enthusiastically discussing various aspects of the course, helping each other and working through new ideas and methods.
At the start of the third week I received a telephone call from the head of operations for a leading European-based AOC and aircraft management company who were a daily visitor to the facility. Already he was receiving reports from crews on the improved operational environment and customer experience at our station.
The theory modules were followed by the practical section. Ahead of this I took our students, in small groups, to have a close up look at some of the types of aircraft we handled. Many crews based at the airport were very happy to sit our people in the cockpit so they could get the pilot’s view of the ramp, and hold Q&A sessions. An aeronautical engineer working with the MRO at our hangar, who was also a pilot, kindly gave up some of his spare time to give our students an overview of aircraft systems – everything from avionics, engines, ailerons, elevators, winglets, undercarriage to thrust reversers.
You might ask, “why bother to include customer relations staff?” Well, the more understanding you can imbue you staff with the more you improve all round awareness of the dangers others may face. Also, the extra effort to include others beyond the ramp operatives is minimal and it creates a sense of inclusiveness, thus improving overall staff morale. We arranged additional crew and engineer led Q&A sessions for our security and administration staff that were not on the training course, as well as including them in foreign object damage awareness discussions.
Well within the allotted time, all 18 ground crew (and the trainer) successfully completed the course. A few weeks later I received an email from the USA-based training organization confirming that our FBO was the first in Africa to attain this internationally recognized training standard. A job well done.
FBO Mergers & Acquisitions - What Next?
Written for Globalair.com & published June 2016:
Not unexpectedly, the subject of FBO mergers and acquisitions was one of the many talking points at this years’ EBACE, the annual European Business Aviation Conference and Expo, held at the end of May in Geneva, Switzerland.
The BBA acquisition of Landmark Aviation at the start of the year and subsequent rebranding as Signature Flight Support took many by surprise. Having divested itself of six Landmark locations, Signature still find themselves with 199 worldwide stations.
EBACE hosted the “Big is Beautiful” consolidation discussion with Mark Johnstone, Managing Director, EMEA region, BBA Signature Flight Support, Laura Pierallini of Studio Pierallini, Patrick Hansen, CEO of Luxaviation Group, Greg Thomas, President and Executive Chairman of PrivatAir and myself representing Global FBO Consult. Moderator was Taunya Renson-Martin. Looking at business aircraft management, the FBO sector and charter operations it became clear quite quickly that there was agreement among the panellists that mergers and acquisitions in the FBO sector will certainly continue for some time. Consolidation in the sector offers advantages of branding, purchasing power and economies of scale. For the smaller FBO chains or independents finding themselves sharing the ramp with a new or rebranded, well-funded competitor, it is not good news and can lead very quickly to a price “race to the bottom”.
And BBA are not the only movers in the FBO market place of late. Just a day ahead of EBACE, Dubai based JetEx announced that is has secured a tender from the Moroccan National Airports Authority to establish five new FBOs, the first such facilities in the North African country. It has already begun business aircraft ground support at Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport, Marrakech Menara and Rabat-Salé, where Swissport was also chosen to provide handling services. At the seasonal destinations of Agadir-Al Massira, and Dakhla, Jetex was named as the exclusive ground services provider. Jet Aviation, a General Dynamics company, seemed to be strongly hinting on their stand at two new locations to come very soon!
Luxaviation Group, new owners of well-established Execujet, Unijet (France), MasterJet (France), Abelag (Belgium), London Executive Aviation (UK), sound very bullish, so we can expect them to keep up the momentum for a while yet.
In the week following EBACE, French company Sky Valet announce it has completed the acquisition of JetBase, Portugal’s leading FBO network. JetBases’ ten FBOs, situated at the main Portuguese airports of Lisbon, Porto, Faro, Cascais and Beja, on the islands of Madeira, Azores and Cape Verde and in central Africa in Mozambique and Angola, will now operate under the commercial name of Sky Valet. This move follows on from the acquisition by Sky Valet in Q2 2015 of Gestair, Spain.
The addition of these new destinations consolidates Sky Valet’s international expansion strategy, which aims to create a network of FBOs located in the most iconic areas. The company already provides ground handling support services at Madrid, Barcelona, Gerona, Valencia, La Coruna, Santiago de Compostela, Palma de Majorca, Ibiza and Malaga airports. Dominique Thillaud, chairman of the management board of Aéroports de la Côte d’Azur (ACA) and Sky Valet, commented, “This acquisition allows us to expand our expertise across a new attractive area of the Iberian peninsula with a reach that even extends to Africa.”
Last April, Florida based Sheltair Aviation announced it had given its FBO network in the Sunshine State a major boost with the purchase the Tampa International Jet Center.
In the same month there were further notable indicators pointing to the continuing trend of aviation fuel suppliers actively expanding their services and branding across the industry, working closely with independent FBOs.
Skylink Services, the lone ground handling service provider for business aircraft at Cyprus’s Larnaca International, became the 52nd Diamond Service member of the World Fuel Services (WFS) Air Elite Network, the international group of FBOs established in 2011 from the remnants of the Avitat network.
WFS and Deer Jet Group expanded their eight-year relationship by signing a memorandum of understanding for the former to provide global aviation support solutions for Deer Jet’s eight FBOs in China and business aircraft handling subsidiary Honor Aviation.
Under the agreement, World Fuel Services will allow Deer Jet FBOs and Honor Aviation to accept its Avcard charge card for payment. More than 30,000 aircraft operators and pilots use Avcard worldwide for aircraft purchases such as fuel, ground handling and maintenance. Avcard is accepted at more than 7,600 locations in more than 190 countries.
If you consider the known facts, talk to key personnel, listen to the rumours, filter out the uninformed comments, you will get a broad sense of how the FBO sector will evolve over the next five to ten years. I believe mergers and acquisitions will be accompanied by co-branding, strategic partnerships and franchising. Realistically the worlds’ capitals and most major cities are fully populated by FBOs, restricting expansion for those not already present in these centres, with many airports restricting the amount of FBO licenses they will issue compounding the problem. Other factors to be considered are the forthcoming sale of a number of airports (France, Germany for instance) and the issuing of new FBO franchise agreements by governments (Morocco just completed, Oman in the process and many more in the pipeline). Right now Africa, Central and South America, India and some of the Pacific Rim countries are getting a lot of attention, maybe it will be from these regions that we will see the next exciting developments emanate!
FOD on your Ramp
Written for Globalair.com & published March 2016:
Who is responsible for FOD detection at your facility? Do they really pay attention to the usually brief training given to them? Why should FOD awareness go all the way to the top of your organization?
Well, let’s take the last question first. If there is an incident as a result of FOD on your ramp the investigation will go all the way to the post holders/managers/CEO. Any such incident will result in expense, probably considerable being aviation related, maybe even go to court. And then there’s the inevitable increase in insurance premium to be paid. And that pretty much answers the first question too, “Who is responsible for FOD detection”. The second question “do they really pay attention” has several answers. During safety training most, but not all, will listen and some will learn. Few will put their training into practice for an extended period of time, especially if they do not see ownership of the FOD problem at all levels of an organization.
Ask yourself this question, is the marshaller expected to be the only person to carry out FOD checks? No, every single person using the ramp should be eagle eyed to the danger! Even when FOD is included in training, people tend to become more relaxed about FOD awareness as time goes by. To keep the ever present danger of FOD to the forefront of every staff members mind there needs to be visible and continuous leadership from all levels of management. Some FBOs, MROs and airports do this via a variety of methods, safety posters (move around often so they get noticed), weekly FOD sweeps by all staff lead by senior manager, circulating FOD reports, provision of FOD bins, to name a few.
So what is FOD, Foreign Object Debris or Foreign Object Damage?
You can’t have Foreign Object Damage without Foreign Object Debris!
FOD is taken to mean the debris itself and the resulting damage is referred to as FOD Damage.
FOD is an acronym used in aviation to describe both the damage done to aircraft by foreign objects, and the foreign objects themselves.
Foreign Object Debris (FOD) is a substance, debris or article alien to an aircraft or system which would potentially cause damage. Foreign Object Damage is any damage attributed to a foreign object (i.e. any object that is not part of the aircraft) that can be expressed in physical or economic terms and may or may not degrade the product's required safety or performance characteristics.
Some common and not-so-common examples of FOD I have come across:
- Engineers tools
- Screws, Locking Wire, Electrical Wire, Tape, Aircraft Parts
- GSE and GSE Parts
- Clothing, Uniform Items
- Shotgun Cartridge
- Trash Bags, Catering
- Loose pavement & tarmac (especially after severe WX)
Airborne debris including: Bubble Wrap, Bailing Wire and Plastic Wrapping
Live FOD including: Rabbits, Hares, Dogs, Snakes and even a Cow
What damage can these do to an aircraft? Well, an Air France Concorde crashed in July 2000 following a tyre striking a thin strip of metal from a preceding DC-10 aircraft leading to a tyre blow out with sections of that tyre puncturing a fuel tank leading to the loss of all 109 souls onboard and four on the ground. In March of this year an EasyJet flight returned to the gate after a passenger alerted cabin crew to a spanner on the wing. This tool could have dropped onto the runway or become wedged in the flaps or ailerons. An explosion which grounded the last remaining airworthy Vulcan Bomber just prior to take off destroying two of the aircraft’s engine was due to ingestion of silica gel desiccant bags into the one of the engines on the port side of the aircraft. Debris was then sucked into a second engine. The silica gel bags are used to reduce moisture and were apparently left inside the engine by mistake.
So, even small items in the wrong place can cause death, injury or serious damage. All FOD comes from somewhere. People can take it directly onto the ramp, it can come in on the wind, blown from one area to another by jet blast or helicopter downwash, fall from an aircraft and can even be left there by aircrew. And then there is GSE left in the wrong place or not secured during high winds or the ever present menace, black chocks on black tarmac, in the rain, at night just waiting to trip up a marshaller or for an aircraft to taxi over them!
Let us not forget wandering aircraft. On shared ramps, if tying down aircraft in your charge in anticipation of high winds, do you check if the other FBOs plan to do the same? I witnessed on a ramp I work a few years back, a ramp agent securing aircraft ahead of an approaching storm. Running out of chocks he took a set from an impounded aircraft (not his FBOs responsibility), thereby leaving that aircraft free to wander the ramp once the storm got up, like a canon ball on the deck of one of the old sailing frigates! Needless to say myself and a colleague sources chocks for the aircraft elsewhere.
In conclusion, FOD is such an ever present danger and so often overlooked or ignored that specialist equipment has been developed to help control the problem. We will all have seen large vacuum sweeper truck patrolling ramps sucking up surface FOD, mostly these are basic road sweepers. Purpose built equipment for the aviation industry offer faster and more efficient methods of FOD detection and collection as they are specifically designed to collect all kinds of debris with airport ramps in mind. However, the best method of detection is still the Mk. 1 Eyeball. Back it up with mechanical equipment by all means, but every FBO or airport needs an all stakeholders FOD prevention and detection policy combined with a robust, ongoing reporting and accountability system.
Chocks with reflective bands are less of a ramp hazard but should be kept in a chock cage.
Signage is very important
FOD Bins should be plentiful
Working Together - FBO & Trip Support Services
Written for Business Airports International & published January 2016:
As an FBO manager or owner, have you ever sat down and given thought to how well your company works with the trip support service (TSS) providers that account for so much of your traffic? How far down your agenda are they? Does your staff understand and appreciate the part these companies play in making your FBO profitable? Do you know how many TSS there are out there?
A few years ago I stood in an office block in the Dubai Free Zone (FZE) with a man who knows the TSS business very well. The CEO of a very successful TSS company with many years in the industry under his belt, he knew all the players first hand. We were discussing the challenges faced by TSS providers, everything from gaining market share and keeping it, to delivering the quality service the client expects in every region across the globe.
To my surprise he turned to me and asked if I knew how many TSS providers there were based in or around the Dubai FZE alone, which we were overlooking. I guessed maybe 10 or 12. It’s hard to get an exact number but I was taken aback to be told there were in excess of 25 in the building in which we were stood! Granted, some of them are lesser know, very small operations, often with just a handful of staff and specializing in a certain sector of the market.
Most FBO managers are familiar with the big TSS names in Dubai such as Hadid, Jetex, UAS and Skyplan, to name a few. Outside of the FZE in downtown Dubai and Sharjah there are even more service providers. Another big TSS center is Houston, Texas, in the USA, with Universal Weather & Aviation, Colt (now part of World Fuel Service), Rockwell Collins and many others located in this city. Outside of these two big TSS centers there are more companies than you could shake at big stick at. And each is an important cog in the FBO industry.
TSS providers live in a world just as tough as the one the FBOs inhabit; they too have competition and they all have to deliver a quality and competitive service to their clients. If your FBO drops the ball with their client, you can lose a customer or maybe even all the traffic that particular TSS provider puts through your FBO.
Working closely with TSS providers is vital for all FBOs but especially so for the independents. TSS Operations Control Centers (OCC) tend to be very busy places and operate 24/7. Staff are dedicated, highly trained and many will be certified flight dispatchers. Understanding what their OCC requires from your FBO is important and it is imperative that your FBO operations can effectively integrate with the OCC.
What TSS providers want from the FBO:
• Efficient and safe delivery of service to meet their clients’ expectations;
• Competitive pricing;
• Attention to detail;
• Timely and complete billing as per their instructions.
FBOs providing the service must:
• Read and re-read handling requests;
• Respond in a timely fashion;
• Request clarification if required;
• Confirm all items requested;
• Confirm all changes clearly, ensuring all required parties copied in;
• Ensure shift handover does not cause delays or misunderstandings;
• Book and confirm all third party services.
On the ramp, FBOs must ensure:
• Foreign object damage (FOD) checks are completed (often first requirement to be overlooked, until an aircraft hits a chock on a dark night);
• All third service providers are notified of ETA and any delays or changes;
• Trained, clearly identifiable staff are in attendance and in sufficient numbers;
• All required, properly maintained ground service equipment is on stand;
• A warm welcome on arrival;
• Everything is in place for departure;
• No items are left behind at FBO or in ground transport.
If it all goes pear shaped the first person to get it in the neck will be the on-duty officer at TSS and that will come from the crew. Let these guys down and they will be reluctant to book further flights in with you!
Keeping your FBO Customers Happy
Written for Globalair.com & published May 2016:
Whether you run a small regional airport GA FBO or a major BizAv corporate facility there are many things you can do to keep your customers happy, be they crew, owners or trip support providers.
Here are just a few often over looked areas worth considering:
Billing: Must always be prompt, transparent and complete. Airport fees such as landing, parking and security fees should be clearly displayed as such, ideally shown as a sub item, right up the top. FBO fees should always be accompanied by a full description. Third party fees, such as catering, taxis, chauffeurs etc. again should be in one section & accompanied by a full description. If a flight department or trip support service provider supplies special billing instructions they should be followed. Nothing is worse for a crew (billing wise that is) or trip support provider than a late or incomplete invoice. For the FBO, it can result in late payment, part payment and even loss of the customer. Every FBO needs to have a front line staff member in the billing loop as accounts department staff very often do not have any understanding of what happens on the ramp and probably could not care less. Almost every FBO I have consulted for was found to be losing out on significant revenue due to a disconnect between the services provided by the ramp agents and the accounts department processing of the bill.
Aircraft: All aircraft owners or flight crew are concerned about their aircraft while left on the ramp or in the hangar. Security, hangar rash (minor incidents involving damage to aircraft that typically originate due to improper ground handling in and around a hangar, other aircraft or objects on the ground) and FOD are a constant consideration. A well kept hangar and tidy ramp will always be noticed by pilots and will instil confidence.
Ramp staff: Your front line defence! Well trained, courteous and knowledgeable staff will always stand out. Clean, tidy and with matching uniforms suitably selected for ramp operations will catch the eye but also ensure your team are provided proper PSE and always ware/carry it.
Customer service: “Going the extra mile” is often cited as the mark of a good customer orientated operation. Frankly, the simple things come first, reading, understanding, confirming and carrying out the handling request instructions. Have everything in place and be ahead of the curve at all times. Get all of this right and it’s a great start. When the customer throws a curve ball, that’s when your team need to be able to fall back on training, back office contacts lists, excellent communication and a will to source a solution. Sometimes the customer will be unreasonable, looking for something that is just unavailable or not possible at that time. This is when team members get the chance to either pull out all the stops to comply with such a request or to fully explain why the request cannot be fulfilled and to explore all the alternatives. Above all, staff should try to anticipate clients needs, learn what specific clients likes, dislikes and patterns are for future reference.
Pet hates: Owners or passengers can react badly to staff for what they may see as over familiarization, inattentiveness, sloppiness, unkempt dress, cheap aftershave/perfumes or abrupt manner. Handling their baggage with due consideration is paramount. If an owner takes a dislike to a member or members of staff it can cause all kind of problems and can lead to a change of FBO and loss of business.
Saudia Albayraq - Launch New FBO to FBO Business Jet Service
Written for Globalair.com & published February 2016:
A new exclusive scheduled domestic all business class service is to be launched in March by Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) owned subsidiary Saudia Albayraq. Saudia Albayraq will fly between King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah/OEJN and King Khaled International Airport, Riyadh/OERK and will use the privacy and convenience of the Saudia Private Aviation (SPA) Fixed Base Operator (FBO) VIP terminals at each airport. The SPA is an FBO (with 28 stations across the kingdom), aircraft management and private aircraft charter specialist and their FBO facilities offer world class private lounges and fast track security screening.
Saudia Albayraq will employ three Airbus 319-112 aircraft on the route in an all business class configuration of 48 seats aimed to rival even the comfort of private jet aircraft.
The new operator, using two of the aircraft will offer six daily scheduled flights between Riyadh and Jeddah each way, starting at 6am until 9 pm, providing a flight every 3 hours to each city. The third aircraft will be rotated into the schedule as the maintenance program requires. Every flight will have a corporate chef onboard to provide a unique dining experience.
The FBO involvement means the business or VIP passenger gets the full “corporate jet experience” while the onboard chef offers something very new for in-flight catering!
Fares are expected to be higher than business class on Saudia flights but come with the premium onboard service and the comfort, efficiency and privacy of the SPA VIP facilities and a dedicated Saudia Albayraq client support centre.
Saudia Private Aviation was founded in Jeddah in 2009 by Saudia Arabian Airlines and became a separate entity in 2012. Future developments at SPA include a planned new MRO facility in the next five to seven years.
A real eye catcher at Saudia Private Aviations’ FBOs is their use of Porsche 911 Pininfarinas or other high performance cars for ramp transfers where required! At Jeddah, SPA has their own airside hotel at the FBO for engineering crews who may arrive with no visa to work on AOG aircraft. SPA handles all flights for the Saudi Arabian Royal Flight.
The company owns a fleet of ten aircraft, four Dassault 7X and six Hawker 400XP. SPA has an experienced OCC team of flight dispatchers located in Jeddah in support of client and their own operations.
Saudia Albayraqs’ format is an interesting evolution of existing services provided by British Airways (London City – New York with A319 aircraft), KLM (Amsterdam – Houston operated by PrivatAir, B738) & Lufthansa (Frankfurt – Dammam, also operated by PrivatAir, B738).
The real stand out differences offered by Saudia Albayraq being the use of an FBO facility at each airport and it is pushing its culinary limits, bringing in onboard chefs to create a high-flying in-flight dining experience. The in-flight chefs will create and plate meals to the standards of a fine-dining experience. With a chef on board, passengers will also enjoy greater flexibility in terms of their meal preference and service. All the in-flight chefs are fully qualified and have a minimum of five years of experience in noted restaurants and hotels from around the world.
And it is with PrivatAir Saudia the Saudia Albayraq have chosen to work closely with in launching the new service.
PrivatAir SA is a leading international business aviation group with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland and operating bases in Frankfurt (PrivatAir GmbH) Germany), Geneva (Switzerland) and Brazzaville (Congo). From its beginnings as the corporate aviation division of global conglomerate The Latsis Group, PrivatAir has matured today into an independent, world-renowned, full service commercial operator, with a track record of growth and safety spanning 36 years.
PrivatAir is a comprehensive aviation group with three divisions delivering service excellence both in the air and on the ground: Scheduled Services, Business Aviation (Aircraft Management, Aircraft Charter, Aircraft Sales, PrivatJetFuel / Fuel Management, Ground Services) and PrivatTraining.
The company’s wide range of clients includes royalty, heads of state, public officials, celebrities from the arts, sports and entertainment industries, captains of industry and private aircraft owners.
PrivatAir aims to take the best practices of the commercial airline industry and to add the flexibility of business aviation, as well as its exceptional standards of service.
The company has experience in operating the full range of business jet types from the Cessna Citation, Bombardier Learjets, Gulfstream and Dassault Falcon jets, to bizliners like the Airbus A319 and Boeings BBJ, BBJ2 , 757 and 767.