Airport vs. FBO

AIRPORT vs. FBO Two distinct businesses with their own special interests have one thing in common: serving the customer BY John f. infanger, editorial director November / December 1999 WESLEY CHAPEL, FL — William Sherry, director of...

At an FBO, you pretty much have a handle on your customers and everyone that services them. With the airport, you can't have a handle on everyone that services the facility. Every passenger that comes through the facility has different experiences, and each experience is the airport. If a cab driver is nice, the airport gets a plus; if they were nasty, the airport gets a black mark.

AB: In your current job, how are your problems or challenges similar or different than when you were running an FBO?

Churchill: As an FBO operator, you're dealing with people who have a basic understanding of things aviation. You can usually come to a happy medium if there's a problem.

When you're dealing with the general public, and many do not have any aviation background, and you try to explain some of the restrictions you have in running the airport, they don't understand at all. The general public often feels that because they're taxpayers they run the airport; it's a misperception because users usually pay for airports.

AB: Knowing what you know today, has it changed your perspective in how airports and FBOs can better deal with each other?

Churchill: I think it's important for an airport to understand the FBO business, and it's up to the FBOs to explain their business and inform the airport. Both sides have different issues, and they're different businesses.

FBOs need to keep airports involved in their business. Sometimes, the only time they talk to the airport is during lease negotiations.

At Ft. Lauderdale, I conduct meetings every quarter with the FBOs and other tenants. We sit down and I bring my issues to them and they bring their issues to me. It's a meeting that's sponsored every quarter by one of the FBOs. I also instituted a similar meeting with the terminal tenants, though that's once a month because there are more issues there. We talk about the issues in a group fashion so that everybody's involved.

If I could change something when I was an FBO, maybe I'd have gotten more involved with what the airport was doing. There were a lot of times when they would have a meeting and I would miss it because I had a customer coming in; I had more important things to do. I see that sometimes at our tenant meetings. But every meeting is a chance to know each other and understand what each other is trying to do.

I used to go to noise meetings as the FBO representative and it never occurred to me to sit down with the other FBOs on the field about what I'd learned. I had tunnel vision, and FBOs sometimes have tunnel vision. I didn't share everything that I knew, even if it might have been a problem other FBOs were facing. I needed to communicate better with my peers.

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