Corporate perspective

Corporate perspective

A question: Does buying courtesy fuel add unnecessary risk?

By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director

November 2000

?We actually have some specific priorities that we are looking for from a fixed base operator,? explains Schwartz. ?First is to ensure that our aircraft are safe and secure on the FBO ramp. The second is that the FBO is able to deliver quality and services consistent with our ability to deliver our product to our passengers.

?The third priority is price. We will never sacrifice the first two in order to get a lower price on fuel. The fuel price is a discriminator only when we?ve leveled the playing field in terms of safety and quality of service.?

Says Barth, ?We?ve had occasions where aircraft have been dinged on ramps and it?s extremely costly and causes a great deal of grief and really disrupts the schedule.?

Adds Schwartz, ?Our product is not travel; our product is time. Anything that interferes with us delivering that product is something we need to remove.?

A concern being raised among FBO and airport managers is the impact that the growing fleet of higher end corporate aircraft is having on ramp areas that have not kept pace. In particular, it is becoming an increasing concern for insurance companies and one reason, say insurance officials, for recent policy increases.

?We?ve certainly seen that,? says Schwartz. ?It?s a concern for us, the kind of training people are getting, the way aircraft are handled on ramps and in hangars, the way aircraft are protected on ramps and in hangars. We particularly worry about those things in the middle of the night when they?re positioning aircraft and you?ve got the most junior people on duty with the least supervision. Those kinds of issues are big for us.?

Schwartz says that in the past 12 months AT&T?s flight department has changed FBOs at two airports it frequents because of exactly that type of safety concern.

?Both those decisions were made after a great deal of assessment and internal discussion,? he explains. ?In fact, in both cases we sent people out to personally survey the facilities that we were leaving and going to. We talked to the FBOs and even the airport managers about the situations we were encountering.

?The relationships we have with the FBOs are important to us, so we don?t change easily. We?re a loyal customer when we?re getting what we need.?

Comments Barth, ?We don?t change FBOs on a whim. We establish relationships with people who do a good job related to safety, service, and cost. But we?ve made changes recently because of ramp congestion problems.?

The inadequacy of some ramp facilities leads Schwartz to question his company?s policy and that of others to purchase courtesy fuel when accessing an FBO?s facilities.

?Operators want to spend some money with you because they?re going to be on your ramp,? he says. ?It makes me question if we want to do something like that. Do we want to take the risk of a 19-year old kid that?s making $8 an hour and doesn?t really know what he?s doing just to do a favor for the FBO? I?d rather give them $100 for letting us sit on the ramp; I would rather pay a ramp access fee than to buy fuel and be seen as a good guy.?

Schwartz has been with AT&T for some 18 months, following his position as corporate director of standards for FlightSafety International. Barth is a 23-year veteran with AT&T and was active in putting together the schedulers and dispatchers group that has become a critical link to aviation service providers. Both men emphasize the need for ongoing training at FBO line departments.

Advises Barth, ?Focus on training safety. Really sit down with the line personnel and talk about the cost of these airplanes, about how important working as a team can be. And don?t take on more aircraft than a ramp can handle. At some point, you just might have to shut it off.?

Comments Schwartz, ?Things that are important to us are trained and qualified people; good ramp control; well-marked and identified ramp hazards; and good communication. They can advise things such as helicopter activity or ground vehicles accessing the ramp.?

Schwartz currently serves as chair of the Safety Committee of the NBAA, and says the committee has formed a working group to look at safety concerns at line service departments. (For information on how to get involved with the NBAA working group, contact Doug Carr at (202) 783-9000.)