Handling 11,000 Aircraft: At EAA's AirVenture, line service was already a challenge; enter a second FBO


By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director


At EAA's AirVenture, line service was already a challenge; enter a second FBO

OSHKOSH, WI - Okay, the two FBOs that serve Wittman Field here don't actually handle all 11,000 incoming aircraft arriving at Oshkosh and neighboring airports for the annual EAA AirVenture. It just feels like 11,000. Orion Flight Services, Inc., the new refueler on the block, and Basler Flight Service, the perennial known more for its DC-3 turbo-mods, took on the job that was once Basler's exclusively. Order tickets for both firms were given to arriving pilots; fuel was upon request solely. In the mass of movement that is AirVenture; safety must be a state of mind.

Nearly 800,000 people, a variety of aircraft that only a historical encyclopedia could match, and what's billed as the world's busiest airport for a week - in Oshkosh, WI.

And two FBOs.

For more than 30 years, Basler has been the fixed base operation at Wittman Field, host of EAA. A minimal commercial airport that has seen airline service come and go, losing it to Appleton some 20 miles to the north, Wittman has one predominant customer: the Experimental Aircraft Association, along with its museum and the air show.

Orion Flight Services, located on the wing of the main commercial terminal under a five-year, renewable lease, is the newcomer. It also operates an FBO at Sturgeon Bay Airport, a general aviation facility.

Jeff Wanke Above, Jeff Wanke, president of Orion Flight Services, is the new kid
on the EAA block; below, Mary Garcia, GM, and Brian McBryde, line manager,
direct Basler Flight service, established in 1957.
Mary Garcia, GM, and Brian McBryde

The biggest effect, according to officials related to the event, that having two FBOs for AirVenture in 2003 was a significant decrease in price for the thousands of customers. The jet-A price from both FBOs: $1.89/gallon. For avgas, Basler charged $1.99, Orion $2.19.

Wittman Field airport director Duncan Henderson reports that the volume of fuel pumped related to AirVenture in 2002 was 220,000 gallons (for July, month of the show). The numbers have tracked up in recent years, he says, and he was optimistic about 2003's final numbers, of which the airport gets a 7 cents/ gallon fuel flowage fee.

"I would assume the 2003 numbers would be higher because the prices have been so low," says Henderson.

Comments Orion president Jeff Wanke, "We know we're going up against a competitor who's been here 30-plus years. We'd be happy with one-third of the business [from the air show].

"The biggest complaint we heard from pilots is that the prices here were too high. So our task coming here was to be more competitive on fuel pricing."

Wanke says that at the Sturgeon Bay location, the FBO surveys 12 neighboring airports on price whenever a new load of fuel arrives. "We always wanted to be at average [price] or below," says Wanke. "Toby [Kamark, CEO] and I are pilots. I fly charter and training and expect to get good fuel pricing at other airports."

Regarding the disparity in avgas fuel prices between the two FBOs Wanke says, "If I don't make money, I'm not here. The price we're charging is a great price."

Counters Basler general manager Mary Garcia, "We have never raised our prices for a convention... Those are great rates; it's like having Christmas in July."

About having a new competitor she says, "It has affected us somewhat."

In all, says Garcia, the EAA show accounts for one-third of the company's annual revenues. Basler is well-known for its DC-3 turbo conversion business, here at Wittman Field.

As Basler line service manager Brian McBryde explains, "There is nothing typical about EAA.

"When people come to EAA, it's for a reason; they're excited, happy to be here."

Thus, customer service is paramount, and when it comes to fueling that means a significant change in line operations for the FBOs.

Both have traditional fuel farms and two refuelers, one for jet-A, one for 100LL.

At Basler, AirVenture means having a total of 16 refuelers, with Phillips 66 providing the fleet. Line employees balloon from the normal six to some 33, most former employees or people that work in aviation who have a history with Basler. Though volunteers, they are considered part-timers during the event.

For Orion's first AirVenture, the FBO had a total of some 40 people working line operations, again volunteers with other aviation experience and relationships with the FBO. Fuel supplier Texaco provided nine new refuelers as well as onsite quality control. Says Orion's Wanke, "I would have liked to have had double."

EAA AirVentures In 2002, some 220,000 gallons of fuel were pumped at Wittman Field in July, when EAA AirVenture is held.

With new personnel comes a renewed emphasis on training, say officials from both FBOs. At Orion, it's a weekend of training for each individual who will be working the show. At Basler, fire safety and training for any drivers new to the airport is emphasized.

In a sea of people and airplanes there is little need for FBOs chasing customers. As a result, the FBOs and EAA put in place a procedure by which incoming pilots are given service order tickets for each FBO from EAA volunteers, who greet and park the aircraft.

Each pilot decides which FBO it wants and puts the completed order form on the prop. Says Basler's McBryde, "EAA has taken a position of neutrality" regarding FBO services.

According to Orion's Wanke, EAA sought an environment in which aircraft owners were not intimidated by competing FBOs and in which safety and professionalism reigned.

Comments Wanke, "We tried to get procedures in place, to pre-engineer them." Part of that effort included a list of on-the-job dos and don'ts for employees.

"One of the hardest things to get my people to do is to look at the big picture," says Wanke, "to realize you can't help everybody to the depth you'd normally want, because there's ten people waiting for service."

EAA Fast Facts

The 51st annual Experimental Aircraft Association fly-in, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, celebrated the centennial of flight July 29-August 4.

  • Total estimated attendance: 770,000
  • Total estimated aircraft flown to the event (at OSH and surrounding airports): 11,000
  • Total showplanes in 11 judging categories: 2,960 (record; previous record 2,743 in 1998). Includes 825 homebuilts, 1,224 vintage, 405 warbirds, 357 ultralight/light planes, 129 seaplanes and 20 rotorcraft.
  • Registered media: 1,075 from five continents
  • Commercial exhibitors: 807
  • International visitors registered: 2,249 from 68 nations (Top three: Canada 516, South Africa 366, Australia 266)
  • Campers attending: An estimated 33,000
  • Volunteers: More than 4,500
  • EAA AirVenture 2004: July 27-August 2; visit www.eaa.org or www.airventure.org.