Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com.
A curious thing happened when I stopped into my local FBO this past weekend. As I wandered past the customer service counter, an energetic young man with a bright smile extended his hand in my direction and said something to the effect of, “Hey there, it’s good to see you.”
We shook hands, chatted for a bit, and then I went on my way. But I went on my way thinking that this small exchange, this simple friendly greeting, is something that hadn’t happened to me in many years at the FBO.
Change is in the air at my home airport. And change is a very good thing.
On May 1 the FBO operator at Winter Haven’s Gilbert Field transitioned from the old operator to the new operator. The new gang goes by the name, HOVA Flight Services, and the bright young man who greeted me was none-other than Eli Grimes, the son of owners Tommy and Kim Grimes. He is also a well trained, highly efficient, professional FBO manager who is dedicated to the concept of providing exceptional service to his customers. After all, an FBO is a customer service business. If your customers don’t feel well taken care of, they will eventually find a reason to head on down the road to the next airport where they can buy fuel, rent hangar space, or get their maintenance done.
This isn’t a process that’s taken lightly, or happens often. FBO contracts are often negotiated for a term of a decade or more at a time. So getting a good one is a reason to celebrate. Conversely, being saddled with a bad FBO is a reason for real concern. If for no other reason than this, the municipal body that searches for and negotiates with FBO bidders has to have a clear vision of what it is they expect from their FBO, and they have to be willing to involve actual airport users in the process.
At most general aviation airports, the FBO sets the tone for the field. Everything from the level of service at the counter, to the price and promptness of fuel, to the procedures the flight instructors on the field follow – all stem from the example set by the FBO. The all-important task of marketing your airport’s amenities and services also falls to the FBO to a large degree. And those aspects of airport business and operations that aren’t directly tied to the FBO, still feel the impact of the tone that central hub of airport activity sets.
Admittedly, it takes longer than a weekend to set up a new office, train staff, relocate aircraft, and hire a truly professional group of flight instructors and mechanics. A good FBO, and I mean a really good FBO, doesn’t just snap up the first half-dozen applicants who walk through the door. A really good FBO knows what kind of people they have in mind to get the job done, and they set out to grow not only their own business, but to establish a method of operations that reflects well on the airport as a whole. They set the standard that every other business and independent operator on the field will be measured by.
HOVA is in the house at Gilbert Field. Personally, I’m thrilled to have them setting down roots here in the Sunshine State. Because southern hospitality should be more than just a quaint expression about the way things used to be. And transient pilots should be able to set down with an expectation that they will receive a level of service that is every bit as high as the best regular customer on the field gets.
With a solid FBO in place, anything becomes possible – including real economic growth, substantial educational opportunities, and a real appreciation for the benefits offered by general aviation to the public at large.
So the next time I wander through the doors to my local FBO, whether I come through from the land side or the air-side, I expect to see Eli or one of his staff standing tall, extending a hand and once again saying something like, “Hey there, it’s good to see you.”
But even better than that, I’ll get to respond with real sincerity, “It’s good to see you, too.”
Anything is possible. I like that.
You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com