Companies offer web-based reservation systems
By Lindsay M. Hitch, Assistant Editor
Flight planning and service arrangements can be quite a hassle as multiple phone calls become necessary. Five companies are introducing online reservation programs to help flight departments and FBOs decrease time spent on the phone and increase service request accuracy.
Where does the average business fit into the world of e-commerce? Many business owners may not be aware of the opportunities for expanding business on the World Wide Web, or perhaps they’re just not sure where to begin.
"Basically, we identified a need to bridge the gap between flight departments and FBOs," says Molly Delk-Wood, sales manager of business aviation for Valley Oil Company.
Signature Flight Support’s vice president of e-commerce, Steve Lee, echoed Delk-Wood’s sentiments, commenting that the goal of the Signature reservation system is to allow for more effective, easier communication.
The creators of these programs all had one thing in mind: to decrease the amount of time flight departments and CSRs spend on the phone, and in doing so increase customer service by enhancing CSRs’ accuracy and efficiency. Customers will be able to place an order any time of day without being put on hold and know that the request won’t be lost on a scrap of paper. Service providers will receive orders electronically, allowing CSRs to focus on the customers there in person.
The basic design of each system allows the flight department to provide all the necessary information to the destination FBO through a traceable electronic network. Flight departments must register basic company and aircraft information with the individual programs prior to service. All are designed so that participating FBOs receive electronic notification of the service request and in turn send back a confirmation to the customer.
"The program is designed to be an easy way to send us a reservation," John Enticknap, president and COO of Mercury Air Group, says of Easy Turn, "and there’s plenty of backup in the system to make sure that we get it and it’s followed through."
The programs are designed to accommodate revisions, with the understanding that plans often change many times before the actual flight and service occur.
"Obviously the reason someone has a corporate or business aircraft is to be flexible to their schedule, and so this gives the industry the tools to communicate that information and those changes in a standardized flexible and efficient format," says Ed Wassom, vice president of sales & marketing for TheAviationHub.
Ground transportation, fueling, catering, hotels, and other FBO service orders are standard in each program. Essentially, everything that pilots and their passengers need to further their business and travels can be requested through the reservation systems.
Although the systems are based on the same premise, each offers users and providers some unique services.
The Flight2Ground program, available for public use in June 2001, will begin operating with a base of 500 Valley Oil-branded FBOs and will have one preferred vendor on each field shortly thereafter. Flight departments will have the option to choose a provider other than the preferred vendor. Rather than receiving electronic notification, those vendors not part of the program will receive facsimile notification. Program use is free to both flight departments and service providers.
Flight2Ground users may run their billing electronically through Multi Service’s online billing system. Customers may also view current fuel prices at participating FBOs and receive volume discounts. And as part of the program, participating FBOs will be classified according to the services they provide.
The Service Procurement System (SPS) from TheAviationHub is based on an international service provider database, including those providers who have not subscribed to the service. Providers have the opportunity to register more complete business information as Level 1 free subscribers, able to receive and respond to service requests. Level 2 paid subscribers have management reporting and schedule display options. Flight operators must be paid subscribers to utilize services across the network. Subscription fees for flight departments and service providers are based upon size of operation and SPS use. TheAviationHub’s beta customers include TAG Aviation, Jet Aviation, and Raytheon Travel Air.
Unlike the other systems, the SPS communications infrastructure operates electronically from the flight department directly to each service provider. That is, rather than contacting the FBO with all service requests, individual requests will also be sent to limousine services, caterers, independent fuelers, etc., as needed. TheAviationHub plans to go live with the SPS in June 2001.
Easy Turn from Mercury Air Group is available for use at its 19 FBO locations. The program is free to users and sends both a facsimile and an electronic notification to the FBO through its POS system. The reservation program uses a :Cue:CAT barcode scanner, available free to customers from both Mercury and Radio Shack. Promotional items for Easy Turn, including a mouse pad, feature a barcode that, when scanned by the :Cue:CAT, takes the customer directly to the reservations web page.
The Signature Flight Support online reservations program will begin with a database of over 500 participating FBOs. The service will be available to flight departments as either guest or registered users and will be secure for credit card transactions. Users will enjoy a Trip Calendar feature, along with the option to send confirmations to flight crews, company executives, aircraft passengers, etc. The Signature program became available to guest users March 19, 2001, and is free to both users and providers.
Flightneeds.com offers standard fuel, FBO, hotel, and car services on an international level. The site is sponsored by a number of industry leaders, including Air BP, Jeppesen, MCI WorldCom, and AIN. The site offers a number of related services including fuel pricing, airport search, weather, aviation news, classified postings, discussion forums, and a "pilot’s toolbox" with distance calculator, unit converter, and currency converter. Flight-needs.com is now available for use and plans to expand its services.
Many FBOs and service providers are already included in these programs, and many more will be added. The Flight2Ground program plans to have a preferred vendor on each field, that in many cases will not be a Valley Oil affiliate. TheAviationHub’s service provider database hopes to include all existing FBOs and service providers. Mercury’s Easy Turn program currently covers its 19 FBO locations, but may be extended to non-Mercury FBOs in the future. Signature Flight Support’s program includes unaffiliated FBOs. The Flightneeds.com database also strives to cover all FBOs and service providers.
Online Reservation Programs
As e-commerce becomes more common, five companies are working toward easier flight planning and servicing.
• Valley Oil Co./Multi Service’s Flight2Ground
• TheAviationHub’s Service Procurement System
• Mercury Air Group’s Easy Turn
• BBA Aviation/Signature Flight Support
• Flightneeds.com’s Trip Planning
For the curious or skeptical, three sites allow users to take a peak at their services.
Mercury’s Easy Turn is up and running.
Test messages can be sent by writing "this is a test message"
in the company name box. By including phone, fax, and e-mail, users will
receive confirmation of the test request.
TheAviationHub features a flash presentation of its SPS that explains the system’s services.
Flightneeds.com provides a guided tour of its trip planning and aviation-related services.
*Some programs may require a flash program (Shockwave or other) that can be downloaded free on the web.