FBO Report

FBO Report A canvass of operators reveals that business is good, but filling employee positions is a common challenge BY John Boyce, Contributing Editor June 1999 Business activity is so good in the FBO industry that finding people...

Bob McCreery, president of McCreery Aviation in McAllen, TX, reports that business has been good but not extraordinary, tied as it is to both the Mexican and American economies. McCreery expects that eventually he will feel the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but hasn't yet.

Nonetheless, he's challenged by the dearth of qualified personnel. McCreery Aviation, a family-owned FBO in business for 53 years, has nurtured a good relationship with a nearby A&P school and finds that stability and strong compensation packages work well to retain labor.

Explains McCreery, "We offer competitive wages with good benefits; profit sharing, (a) retirement 401K plan. To the intelligent employees those things mean a lot. In this industry not everyone is able to provide those kind of benefits. That gives us a certain edge in competing for certain employees."

Peter Anderson, president of Galvin Flying Service at Seattle's Boeing Field, says quite frankly that he can't compete with Boeing and Microsoft in compensation of the available labor force, so he is taking a two-pronged approach, which he hopes will have long-term rewards. He's initiated a program of improving the work environment and is rearranging the management structure to invite a cooperative workplace, one in which the workers are empowered to question and make decisions "to make it a place that people want to be a part of." But perhaps more significant, not only to Galvin but to the industry in general, Anderson is taking a long-term, outreach approach to solving the labor force problems.

"We have just brought an employee on staff," Anderson explains, "whose entire effort is going to be community outreach into the high schools, trade schools, and community colleges to promote employment in the industry in maintenance, flight instruction, aircraft refueling.

"We want to get people to strongly consider the variety of career opportunities available in the aviation industry. (To that end) we have just created some intern positions that we are making available to high school students."

That kind of program is becoming almost a necessity. "If you don't go out to them and preach your product," says Louis Beemer, president of Harrisburg Jet Center at Capital City Airport in Harrisburg, PA, "it doesn't get there because people don't think of aviation as a career, for some reason. Don't ask me why."

Charles Priester, CEO of Priester Aviation at Palwaukee Municipal in Wheeling, IL, and the new chairman of the National Air Transporta-tion Association, agrees. "We have to go to the grassroots," Priester says. "We have to create that interest.... I've been involved with Southern Illinois University for years, and I think we made a somewhat fundamental error by putting the focus on mechanics getting Associate or Baccalaureate degrees. Now, that's a very valid requirement for directors of maintenance and so forth, but we did not put proper emphasis on needing people that like to fix things, and you don't need a degree to be able to do that.

"Once the mechanic is ... on the job, we need to work with businesses and schools to make it possible for them to complete their degrees through OJT (on-the-job training)."

Most FBOs report a shift in the nature of the traffic they see. "It's much less general aviation and tending toward corporate aviation," says Anderson at Galvin.

In some measure that is due to growing fractional ownership of aircraft. Concerning fractionals, there's little doubt among FBOs interviewed that it is good for the industry.

Says John Gudebski, president of Patterson Aviation at Executive Airport in Sacramento, CA, of fractional ownership, "It started about a year and a half ago where we see the same jet coming back with different crew members and different passengers. We see a lot of fractionally owned jets coming into Sacramento. I love it."

Says Tim Hilde at Western, "Flight departments are going to fight it tooth and nail, but what the fractionals are doing is making the pie bigger; they're getting more people involved in aviation. I'm sure more than half their customers are first time aviation people. Making the pie bigger ... more pilots, more fuel burning, more maintenance.."

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