ORLANDO – How do you host a large, multi-multi-million dollar display of the latest business aircraft, along with thousands of visitors and scores of additional flights, while running your normal fixed base operations like nothing is out of the ordinary?
If you’re Showalter Flying Service – Florida’s oldest and largest family-run FBO – you spend months preparing, you work with the State of Florida to resurface 25 acres of ramp, you recruit top line and customer service pros from across the land, and then you do what you’ve always done, take care of your clients like you have for the 22,000 other days you’ve served Orlando Executive Airport (ORL).
When the 2012 National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Annual Convention rolls into Orlando, with a static display of the latest executive aircraft drawing a steady stream of visitors, Showalter Flying Service will be ready, says Kim Showalter, President and CEO of Showalter Flying Service. After all, it will be the eighth time Showalter Flying Service has hosted the NBAA display – while handling a dramatic jump in transient flights, pumping thousands more gallons of jet fuel, and serving based customers like it’s just another normal week for general aviation in Central Florida.
“We love to host the NBAA display,” says Showalter. “The demands are large, the work hard, but it gives us a great opportunity to reach out to both our customers and visitors from all over the world. Many of the NBAA visitors get their first impression of Showalter Flying Service during the convention, so this is our chance to show what we can do.
“It circles back to our purpose, which has been the same since the FBO began in 1945. We’re here to show people how convenient and satisfying business and general aviation can be.”
In fact, when Howard and “Sandy” Showalter and their cousin “Buck” Rogers bid to become the FBO at Orlando in 1951, they were flying against the grain of an airport facing decline. The city-run airport had a reputation for poor service, the story goes. Transients were avoiding the place, and only three aircraft remained based there.
But the Showalter brothers and Rogers saw an opportunity.
“Their premise was that they were not in the business of selling fuel and servicing aircraft, they were in the business of taking care of pilots and passengers,” explains Kim Showalter, who has headed up the FBO since 1994.
Today it’s clear the founders of Showalter Flying Service succeeded. The FBO, still run by the Showalter family, is one of the most successful in the South.
But this longtime Phillips 66® Aviation-branded dealer does more than focus on customer service. The Showalter family is immersed in promoting general aviation, and the good it can do for local communities.
Public benefit flying
When natural disasters have struck the Atlantic and Caribbean region, Showalter Flying Service has responded.
There are patients needing urgent medical care to be flown, doctors to be delivered, and desperately needed supplies to be ferried. During two recent disasters – the devastating 2010 Haitian earthquake and the destructive 2011 Hurricane Irene – the Orlando FBO stepped up, supporting volunteer humanitarian flights with fuel, line services, logistical support and their own aircraft.
This September at a special ceremony in Washington D.C., Showalter Flying Service was honored for Outstanding Achievement in Public Benefit Flying, an award presented by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) and the Air Care Alliance (ACA).
The award recognized Showalter “for committed support of public benefit flying organizations in times of national and international crisis,” notably for efforts supporting relief work following the Haitian earthquake, which left a million souls homeless, and Hurricane Irene, which wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico and the Bahamas before turning into the fifth costliest hurricane in United States history.
Advocacy for an industry
There is another commitment the Showalters have made over the years: advocating for general aviation.
Before Kim took the helm at the FBO, she was Chair of the Business Management Committee for NATA (National Air Transportation Association) and has served on the Phillips 66 Aviation Dealers Council Since 2004. Her son Sandy Showalter, the FBO’s Vice President of Marketing and Sales, serves as President of the Florida Aviation Trades Association (FATA), and led the charge to win three major legislative victories during the past two years. FATA actively promotes and protects the rights, interests and development of the state’s aviation industry.
Daughter Jenny, the FBO’s Customer Service Manager, served as Vice-Chairperson of Angel Flight Southeast, a nonprofit group that arranges free flights by private aircraft owners to faraway medical facilities when commercial service is not available, impractical or just not affordable. The group of volunteers flies hundreds of patients a year – most of them children battling terminal illness.
Jenny also spent 10 years volunteering for NBAA’s Schedulers and Dispatchers Committee, chairing it in 2008. Two years ago, Brad Elliott, Director of New Business Development for Showalter, picked up the reigns from Jenny to serve on the NBAA committee.
And this summer the Showalter crew launched yet another advocacy mission to promote private flights to the Bahamas. Working with the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation, Elliott was named a Bahamas Flying Ambassador.
“Within this last year, I've answered at least one call per week from someone who wants to fly to the Bahamas,” says Elliott. “Pilots want to know someone who's done it, so they know exactly how to fly there. We are a Bahamas Ministry of Tourism Gateway FBO and we can walk them through the step-by-step process, including customs at our airport, to make sure it's done right, so that there are no worries about doing it wrong or paying fines.”
Static display: anything but static
For the 2012 NBAA Convention, the static display will feature more aircraft on more square footage than when the Showalters last hosted the event two years ago.
The Florida Department of Transportation is rebuilding and expanding Orlando Executive’s north ramp to an open area of about 25 resurfaced acres. The $1.1 million project will finally repair damage sustained eight years ago during Hurricane Charley.
And while the NBAA static display is open to the public for three days, it takes over the ramps at Showalter Flying Service for over two weeks. Setting up, hosting and tearing down the display – while accommodating the 175 based aircraft on-site – makes the event a logistical challenge.
It’s an effort that requires Showalter to recruit extra line techs and customer service reps from FBOs across the country – and immersing them in Showalter’s customer service training.
“Whether you fly into Orlando Executive Airport during the NBAA convention or any other time, you will be met by a group of people completely dedicated to serving our customers and guests,” Kim Showalter says. “The event poses some complex logistics because we want to make sure our based customers can come and go as they please. Our crew just makes it all happen.”
When the private planes fly in for NBAA, it’s virtually nonstop, filling up two pages of Showalter’s flight tracker.
To quench the visitors’ thirsty demand for fuel, Phillips 66 Aviation provides extra refueler trucks and management personnel.
Showalter Flying Service also uses the WingPoints® Reward Card program from Phillips 66 Aviation to build loyalty among flight departments and pilots, explains Showalter. WingPoints are awarded for refueling at participating Phillips 66 Aviation dealers, and are redeemable immediately online for debit or gift cards.
Every year, Showalter Flying Service holds a Customer Appreciation Day, a celebration of general aviation with barbecue, flying contests and tours of the airport. Typically more than 150 people attend – giving the FBO a chance to personally connect with pilots, plane owners and their families.
“We believe that the people who choose to be our customers have blessed our business,” says Showalter. “We put our customers first. It’s not lip service. It’s just how we work. And it’s something we enjoy doing.”
For more information on Showalter Flying Service, visit www.showalter.com.