Executive Jet guidelines seek to ensure and upgrade quality service for clients, entire industry
BY John Boyce, Contributing Editor
Is it the wave of the future or the proverbial 800-pound gorilla throwing its weight around? Executive Jet, Inc., operator of NetJets, the fractional aircraft ownership pioneer, says its Fixed Base Operator Requirements, a detailed listing of the elements of service and management that EJ's preferred FBOs should comply with, is not meant as a bullying, do-it-or-else document. It is, EJ says, simply asking the FBO community to adhere to a certain level of safety, quality, and service that will eventually upgrade FBO services overall.
Says Scott Liston, EJ's senior vice president for standards and corporate development, "We're a large consumer within the FBO business, but we do not throw our weight around like an 800-pound gorilla.... It's absolutely not a contract, it's not an agreement. It does not force them (FBOs) into anything....
"We believe that this requirements package ... is something that will allow them to do more business, do it more safely, more efficiently.
"Whether business comes from Executive Jet or any of the other customers they have is irrelevant; we believe this requirements package doesn't just work for Executive Jet, but it's going to improve the service they give to every single airplane from the Bonanza to the Blimp that pulls up on their ramp."
Executive Jet is nearing completion of a development process for the Requirements document and will circulate it to FBOs that have historically serviced EJ aircraft and any others interested in complying with the requirements. The document, which includes input from FBOs around the country, is, according to EJ director of vendor relations Paul Schweitzer, 99 percent complete. It runs the spectrum of recommendations, expectations, and demands for safety and service for their clients, the fractional owners of aircraft, and their aircraft and flight crews. It also asks that FBOs do a lot of reporting to EJ on changes in procedures, operations, and personnel.
WIDE VARIETY OF EXPECTATIONS
The document's requirements range from normal aviation and airport certifications and periodic quality assurance reviews to a wide net of safety recommendations, such as the incorporation of NATA's Safety 1st program for line personnel. It has a requirement that FBOs notify EJ of changes in personnel and procedures and list all the FBO's fuel and service incentive programs. It requests that all preferred FBOs have facsimile and modem lines available for their passengers and crew and qualified attendants to take care of any other needs.
It also has a specific liability insurance necessity ($10 million minimum), specific requirements for certified towing equipment for various aircraft, and the number of line personnel to be available for different operations.
The document is long, requires a good deal of paperwork, and requests that FBOs sign an Agreement of Compliance, indicating that they have "read, understand, and will comply with the FBO Requirements when furnishing services to Executive Jet." Yet, many FBOs say the document is not overbearing.
"Quite frankly," says David Brinson, vice president and general manager of Piedmont Hawthorne at Dulles International, "the requirements they have are not particularly onerous. It just defines things that are pretty common sense. It's not something new, it's just kind of new that they put it in writing."
For Zachary Neds, line service manager at National Flight Services at Toledo (OH) Express Airport, EJ and operations like it are a major part of the future. "I think it's great," he says. "We welcome their business and anything we can do to standardize the FBO business."
Piedmont Hawthorne and National were among several FBO independents, chains, and groups asked by EJ to make comments and suggestions on the requirements package. While several asked that some changes be made, for the most part they were comfortable with the overall program because it largely contained things they were already doing or things that FBOs should be doing.
"The impact for us will be relatively minimal," says Little Rock's Central Flying Service operations manager Joe Fawcett. "There are just a couple of new things that we will have to do like the modem line requirements in flight planning."
John Stafford, vice president at Showalter Flyer Service in Orlando, agrees: "It's an agreement, in a lot of ways, that you sign every single day when you report for work. The standards they're asking for are pretty much industry standards; the only thing is they tailor them more to their operation. ...I think what is unique to this one is that they want to be kept in the loop. Anytime there are any changes on the airport or within your business that could restrict their service, they want to know. They want the FBO to be proactive and warn them ahead of time. I think that's very unique."
One of the areas of concern for Stafford and others in an early draft of the requirements was the requirement that the liability insurance minimum be $30 million, which would have worked a hardship on or barred participation by many smaller, independent FBOs. EJ has revised that down to $10 million, which, says Stafford, is "fair and equitable for everybody concerned" and is probably what even small FBOs have.
Other requirements that pertain to personnel and equipment could pose something of a problem for the smaller FBO that is interested in participating. Says Fawcett, "You want to believe that all the FBOs are operating on the same standards of training and so forth, but given various financial constraints and personnel turnover and all those variables," it isn't always done. "They will have to spend a little more time and money on training and training materials. They will more likely have to upgrade towing equipment and even (do) some facility modification, depending on their situation.
"If they don't already have agreements with vendors for catering and limousine services and all those externals, they will have to develop those."
EJ's Liston doesn't necessarily agree that extra personnel would be necessary. "If we can do a better of job of telling them when we're coming," he says, "then they can be better prepared for us, and they can fine tune their head count and perhaps even do more with less."
In its requirements package, Executive Jet has included optional attendance at what the company calls EJ 101, a periodic one-day orientation program that provides "FBO personnel a chance to see firsthand the unique demands of a fractional ownership program."
Signature Flight Support, as a result of attendance at such a program in combination with its experience with fractionals, has modified its training program to include handling fractional aircraft. Explains Mary Miller, Signature's VP for customer relations: "We just rolled out an entire service standards training program in which we address fractionals.
"...We're having to educate and train our front counter people to be more appreciative and understanding of the passenger that Executive Jet is bringing into our terminal because you are literally talking about a first class airline passenger."
Miller goes on to explain that EJ uses flight numbers instead of tail numbers to identify flights because, for one reason or another, the aircraft and crew might change, but the flight stays the same. "That helps us with making sure the ground transportation is ordered, the right passenger gets on the right airplane, the right catering gets on. We use the tail number to crossreference and dispatch fuel trucks."
EJ has played down the aspect of the fuel business in its requirements. Explains EJ's Schweitzer, "We do not negotiate fuel price with this document and it's not intended to." Instead, EJ asks for a list of all fuel incentive programs at an FBO and that crews automatically be given "previously negotiated discounts" and not be required to ask for them.
Don Campion, president of Banyan Air Service in Ft. Lauderdale, is pleasantly surprised by that aspect of the requirements. "Interestingly enough," he says, "they have not really formalized fuel price. We have been thrilled that Flexjet and Executive Jet have been more concerned with quality, on-time (service), the training and ability of the staff. They ask for a fair price, but they have not squeezed at all. (But) I feel the day's coming because they have incredible purchasing power, but it hasn't come yet."
Apart from the promise of increased business, EJ offers no guarantees about business volume; it doesn't even guarantee that an FBO that signs the requirements document will get all EJ business at a particular airport.
"Any FBO that's interested in seeing this package," Liston says, "and doing business with EJ, we welcome them to study it and try to meet the requirements. We will work with them on it.
"It's really important that the industry understand how EJ picks an FBO. The number one reason is the owner of the aircraft makes the selection. We give them the choices; they tell us where they want to go. If they don't have a preference then it reverts to EJ's number one FBO on that airport.
"That number one status depends on whether or not they're satisfying the requirements package, what kind of relationship we've had with them historically.... We're not going to be jumping around from one to the other, and we aren't silly enough to think that every single FBO is going to be able to satisfy every single requirement. We're just saying that in a perfect world, this is the kind of FBO we want to exist everywhere."