United's Venture

March 8, 2002


As Avolar goes to market, it seeks vendor input, interestby Lindsay M. Hitch
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, IL - Recognizing that its established competitors have fine-tuned their fractional ownership programs, Avolar is gathering suggestions and bouncing ideas off service providers for ways to deliver impeccable customer service while making the jobs of FBOs, caterers, repair stations, and charter operators easier.

"We're taking our most valued asset, which is our [aircraft] owner, coupled with our most valuable asset, which is clearly our aircraft, and then we're entrusting it out to a third party," explains Lucille Fisher, vice president of vendor partnerships. "It's imperative that we have a great relationship with our partners going into this."

Though the program is slated to top out at 20 operational aircraft by the end of 2002, Fisher says Avolar expects to be treated as the 400-plus-aircraft customer it anticipates becoming.

"We need these people. I need to know that when we have an airplane on their ramp and then another airplane pulls up on their ramp, that we get the service that we need in our airplane first," says Fisher. "I sat outside of an FBO not too long ago and watched them take the rug out from under one airplane and put it under a bigger customer's. It cannot happen with us. We have to have that cooperation."

Paul Reynolds, manager of FBO partnerships, says that now is the time to form those relationships. "Over the last two years I've seen everybody's plans, all the new renovations coming up, the design of the FBO. Everybody's changing what an FBO is. And that's right in line with the type of facilities that we're looking for."


Avolar hosted an open-invite forum for service providers in attendance at the National Business Aviation Association's convention in December. Nearly 120 people attended the forum, the intention of which was to discuss Avolar's plans and get feedback and suggestions from interested vendors.

Unlike Executive Jet's EJ 101, Avolar does not plan to hold classes and will conduct site inspections only at select locations. Avolar is not looking to tell vendors how to do their jobs better, noting that its predecessors have already done a good job at that, executives say.

"We're developing standards, but those are not standards which [we've] come up with on [our] own," says Chris Lin, senior vice president of business development. "We've drafted a set of standards and then we've gone out and said, 'Here's what we're thinking, how does this work for you?'"

"We want [vendor] input now as we're creating this," says Fisher. "We value their input. They've seen the other programs. I call it 'what I wish you knew about how we do our business.'"


Avolar is also asking for input on which of its business practices will make vendor services more efficient. So far, the number one request has been earlier notice.

"From FBOs in particular, the number one complaint was, 'You never tell us you're coming,'" says Lin.

As such, Avolar's policy will be to alert vendors as much in advance as possible, including those at smaller airports.

To aid communication, Avolar has made its information technology tools (including maintenance, scheduling, accounting systems, etc.) accessible via the Internet.

"Take that from the maintenance side," says Mike Wuebbling, vice president of line maintenance. "Allowing someone to see [the] maintenance schedule for that shop and participate in that planning process, knowing that here's the demand and here's how we're going to fill it... That was a big issue with maintenance, too. The airplane shows up and then we find out what has to be done."


Standards for service partners are still being established. Key components will include safety records, clean and modern facilities, formalized line service and customer service training programs, and insurance minimums (yet to be determined). In striving for the highest quality service, executives say Avolar is modeling its services after the world's finest hotels and demands an equal level of service from its partners.

Avolar will evaluate vendor services through its EAR (employee action request) form, which will be completed by all crew members after each trip. Fractional owner feedback will be gathered as well. That feedback will be relayed back to service providers whether good or bad, and Wuebbling says they hope to implement a vendor recognition program down the road.

"People are recognizing the level of quality for which we're striving, and they want to be a part of that," says Steve Fushelberger, vice president of marketing communications.

Avolar is building a database of potential vendor partners and has identified the top 15 U.S. destinations for fractional aircraft. It will concentrate on relationships with service providers at those locations first.