Dit Panfile Reflects

Today 83 years young, Dit Panfile relates, “I always tell people that when I wake up and I’m on this side of the grass, it’s a good day.” An entrepreneur who owned an airplane, he got into the FBO business at age 41 when his VOR stopped working...

“A big problem at Chicago was the ground pollution and the tanks that had been in the ground for 40 years. That was going to cost millions, and nobody [tenants] could afford that. The city finally decided that they would take the tanks out. A similar thing happened in New Orleans.”

On the subject of airports getting into the FBO services business ...

“That’s the way it used to be. In the old days the airports ran them and ran them very badly. So it was easy for a fixed base operation to come in and do a much better job. That’s generally going to be the case, with some exceptions, with airports. You just can’t seem to motivate people, not only at the service level, but also at the middle management level. When a guy comes in with an airplane and you make him wait a half hour for a cab, you’ve just blown his day.

“It’s why you have to take it out of the government’s hands and put it to private enterprise.

On the impact of consolidation on the FBO industry ...

“There’s no question it’s changing. One reason is it takes so much money to do anything is that it’s hard for an individual to compete. Of course, the airport authorities like to deal with the big companies because of their credit ratings.

“I don’t see it as a good trend, by the way. Size doesn’t usually result in good service at the ground level. When people get associated with something that is too big they seem to lose what the real mission of the operation is, which is to get somebody handled quickly so they can get out and get their business done.”

On changes in how FBOs are designed and how they deliver service ...

“The changes I’ve seen over 40 years have been from real small mom and pops with very rudimentary facilities; even the restrooms were just terrible in those days.

“I guess something is lost when you get it to the point that it’s cold and impersonal and nobody knows anybody anymore by name. If you go into a facility … how do you describe the eyes that look at you and do they look glassy and are they not really looking at you? They almost look through you.”

On personnel entering the FBO industry today ...

“Back in the early days a lot of the people you hired really wanted to get into aviation. They were fueling airplanes, but a year or so later they were flying airplanes. They were moving up in the ranks. I don’t see that today. It’s a job, but they’re not interested in flying an airplane.

“There seems to be a completely different attitude now, though some of it is good. They seem to be smarter; they learn more quickly, and that’s a good thing.

“In the late ‘80s, we had an incident in New Orleans where an MU-2 was loaded with people and the left engine caught fire when they started it up. Of course on the MU-2 the boarding door is on the left side, behind the wing. We had two line guys on duty and Ollie Carter got a fire extinguisher and put the fire out. And those people all got out.

“I’m not sure you have people like Ollie Carter these days.”

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