Getting a Handle on the Olympics

Preparation and service are key to ensuring smooth operations, profitability


Vancouver played host to the 21st Olympic Winter Games in February, the third Olympics ever held in Canada. Aviation service companies across the Western United States and British Columbia prepared for the expected increase in aircraft activity by maintaining strong communication measures with both stakeholders and clients alike. AIRPORT BUSINESS scanned the area and spoke to a variety of fixed base operations on both sides of the border to get a sense of the challenges involved with supporting general aviation during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Stuart Scott of Spokane Airways Flight Center at Spokane International Airport (KGEG) relates that temporary hangar revenue was up 100 percent due entirely to the Olympic event. Spokane, some 250 nautical miles from Vancouver, was one of the closest portal airports to the event.

“Of course, all 2010 Olympic fuel sales were bonus gallons for the month, but average per-aircraft volumes were down by comparison,” says Scott. Three factors specifically affected these particular fuel sales.

First, he explains, the increase in long-range aircraft allowed more ‘tankering’ than usual. “Recognizing that it allowed our customers to control costs at a volatile time, we decided not to establish any minimums partly to create ‘courtesy’ fuel sales, but primarily to confirm that we genuinely believe we are here to serve our customers,” says Scott.
Second, fuel uplifts were calculated on destination and the need to protect slot times, and flight crews sometimes planned for minimal service at KGEG to make up for any unexpected delays enroute.

Third, “Abbotsford (YXX) became, several days into the event, the unofficial but often preferred portal airport based on the reported ability to clear Canadian Customs without being subject to the sometimes long waits at Vancouver International Airport (YVR). “We actually helped customers, originally scheduled to use our FBO, make and confirm arrivals and departures at YXX,” adds Scott.

“Finally, we did see a 20 percent overall increase in fuel volume for the month. Like many ‘special events’, revenues exceeded expenses by a small margin, in this instance 10 percent. The cost of additional manpower combined with the expense of creating an acceptable venue for U.S. CBP (Customs and Border Protection)/TSA screening were the key factors in the additional-expense column.

“The real reward, however, may be priceless ... the re-established relationships, the creation of new partnerships, and first-name familiarity with flight departments has both immediate and long-term value.”

Event planning
Scott says he started planning for the event about three months in advance; around the same time the portal airport working group was put together. The working group included fixed base operations located at portal airports in Canada and the U.S., CBP, FAA, NBAA, CBAA (Canadian Business Aviation Association), fuel providers, and various other stakeholders. The group collaborated to create a website that identified the portal airports, GA security requirements, airport maps, and reservation information.

Overall, Spokane experienced 75 to 100 aircraft during the event. “The big thing for us was if there was a delay, we wanted to be able to call whatever FBO the client was visiting to let it know a new time slot would be scheduled,” remarks Scott. “That was the focus of the website.”

Some aircraft went through security screening at Spokane before dropping passengers off at YVR, and then the pilot would come back and hangar the aircraft for a week, says Scott. “It was really a matter of how many aircraft they could handle at Vancouver at a time.”

TSA and CBP set up specific screening areas within Spokane’s hangars, and a safe area where aircraft could be moved to once the screening was complete, relates Scott. “All passengers had to be screened and put into a holding area,” he explains. “It took about thirty to sixty minutes to screen all passengers and luggage for each aircraft; the process went very smoothly.”

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