I’ve been a good customer of many businesses across the country, a lot of them situated on airfields. I use a website called AirNav to look up airfields before I land there. It will tell me if the food is edible, the fuel is cheap, and the people friendly.
FBO (I’ve started a glossary!) stands for Fixed Base Operator. So, unlike a charter operator, which could just own a plane and land places to grab passengers, an FBO has at least one location that is fixed to a particular airfield. They vary wildly in the services they provide. I like both ends of the spectrum. Sometimes I am the little guy visiting the huge, jet-ready FBO, and I get all the luxury that the private-jet crowd is used to even thought I am in a little bug-smasher. Other FBOs are geared toward the learning-to-fly crowd (and, indeed, offer instruction and rental planes) and it can feel like you’ve stepped back into the 1950s when you walk in (the flight training business is not very lucrative). I like walking into those, since it feels like so many pilots have stood on the same worn carpets talking about flying. Adam and I learned at a small flight school, so they also feel familiar all the way back to my student pilot days.
These are the FBOs I visited during August 2007 as Adam and I flew across the country (and Bob and I flew back). Some of the details of these visits are found in other blog entries as well, but I wanted to have all of the FBOs for that summer in one place. I might be stopping at those places again this year.
KSEZ: Sedona, AZ – Sedona Airport Restaurant
Red Rock Aviation fueled the plane while we ate lunch in the restaurant. I can’t really review a fuel truck (um, it showed up?), but the food was edible on the field. Sometimes it isn’t, and when you are doing the sort of flying we were you don’t really have a choice. It’s just burgers and fries, but they were appetizing instead of grey and tasteless.
KABQ: Albuquerque, NM – Bode Aviation (Seven Bar)
We wound up being stuck here for a couple days while they repaired the plane and the FBO could not have been friendlier. While their mechanics were working on the plane we were allowed to use the conference room, the WiFi, the shuttle to and from a nearby hotel or eatery. They had free popcorn and bottled water. Although their business is clearly Eclipse customers and clients, and large charter jets, they never had a problem helping us out. They were so nice it affected my choice of FBO when we were heading back west and saw their Farmington, NM location.
KICT: Wichita, KS – Yingling
It was voted the best FBO in the country. We were dog-tired when we arrived, because we had pushed on until the tanks were at reserve. We were trying to make up for the time we lost being stuck at ABQ. They let us leave our battery charger plugged in while we went to dinner. They suggested a great steak joint and let us borrow the crew car. The place is very new, clean and they have computers for you to check the weather. We called ahead to get a hotel room in St. Louis.
KSTL: St. Louis, MS – Signature Flight Support
They are definitely set up for the charter jet crowd. We were the only little plane on the ramp (although we did arrive after midnight). They shuttled us two and from the hotel, they suggested the hotel to begin with (and it was a nice place to spend a night after a long flight). The plane was ready and fueled when we returned.
I69: Batavia, OH – Sporty’s
They didn’t have any real food. That was a disappointment. They teach flying, and they are fairly isolated, so you would think that they would have a little café or something. No such luck. They were friendly enough, though, and it was nice to visit in person a place from which we had ordered so many mail order goodies.
KFDK: Frederick, MD – Landmark Aviation
The were only FBO on the field, as far as we could tell. They had a mix of clients, but they were definitely upscale. They were very friendly and hustled to fill the plane when we told them it was a quick turn.
KSFZ: Pawtucket, RI – Landmark Aviation
A tiny airport and the only FBO I could identify. It’s where JFK, Jr. learned to fly. He told them, “You’re going to be famous for having taught me to fly.” Oops. I parked right in the way of everything (since I couldn’t find a marked transient area), and bothered them on their night line and they were very nice about it. They fueled the plane while I was asleep and didn’t mind when I showed up first thing in the morning. I look forward to seeing them again.
KBOS: Boston, MA – Signature Flight Support
This is as fancy as it gets. The sleep rooms that Nell and the boys used (they arrived at 6am, I landed at about 8:30am) were totally blacked out. They had sumptuous leather recliners and soft fleecy blankets to sleep with. Dexter still talks about wanting to spend more nights there. It is the only FBO at one of the countries largest airports. The most powerful people in the country pop in and out of here on their Gulfstream jets to grab a weekend at The Vineyard or The Cape. We were, needless to say, the only piston single on the entire field, let alone on the ramp at Signature. They were SO nice to us. It was a drag to have to through security to get out to our plane (if I wanted a gun on the plane, wouldn’t I have flown in with it and left it out there?), but this IS the airport where the 9.11 terrorists took off from.
East Coast Travel
KCON: Concord, NH – Concord Aviation Services
The only choice, as far as I could tell on the web, for renting a car and so forth. Next time it will be tempting to drop Nell here, let her rent a car and meet me at the smaller field closer to Pleasant Lake. I liked the FBO a lot (they said they would wait to top off the tanks, since the temperature fluctuations could result in some lost fuel), but I think the drive to the lake could be shorter.
KBED: Bedford, MA – Signature Flight Support
Not nearly as fancy as Logan’s version, but certainly effective for our quick little visit (one night). They had snacks for the boys when we departed for the wilds of the North, and they had taken care of the plane while we were away. I wish they had some sort of shuttle service to Cambridge or a rail line that went into Cambridge. I guess I wish Cambridge had an airport.
YTZ: Toronto, ON – Porter Aviation
These were some of the friendliest people on our trip. At the same time we landed a fellow landed in his twelve-seat, twin-jet powered helicopters and stepped into his waiting limo. I felt that I had just as good service as he did. It was the only choice (it’s a tiny airport on an island next to the city), but it was great.
NK4: Parry Sound, ON – Terminal Services, Pilot Shop
Welcome to the north woods of Canada! Super friendly, relaxed as can be, and they knew people I knew who flew into the same airport. They helped get the plane tied down on some grass, with some tires as anchors (a first). Fuel was self-serve, which I took care of when I returned and had Adam to help me. Wicked wind shear on take off. The pilot shop was really helpful with Canadian charts.
YXU: London, ON – Katana Café, Diamond Factory
I wish we had planned this better somehow. We were too late for the café by the time we returned from our factory tour, so we didn’t really get to enjoy what looked like a great menu. There should be more signage about where people need to go if they are there to tour the factory. The factory tour itself was a thrill.
KBUF: Buffalo, NY – Prior Aviation
I just parked on the ramp for a moment while I cleared customs. I popped in to use the restroom and grab some free popcorn. They were very nice. They clearly cater to large jet charters rather than the little guys like me, but couldn’t have been friendlier.
KHTO: East Hampton, NY – Sound Aircraft Services
I was stupid about parking in the dark. I called at 11:30pm to make sure I put the plane in the right place and the guy who answered seemed like he was going to go out and get it tied down properly, but he didn’t. They were extremely friendly when I called on the phone to extend our stay. Obviously, Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Spielberg and the rest all park their Gulfstreams there and I am small potatoes for them, but they were really helpful.
KHPN: White Plains, NY – Panorama Flight Service
We dropped in totally unannounced and they were effective, if brusque, calling us a cab and dealing with tying the plane down for a couple nights. When I returned to pick it up they barely had a moment to run my credit card. One of the few places where I felt like I didn’t have a big enough plane to get their attention. Apparently it is the better choice for little planes on the field, but I wish there were another.
KBDR: Bridgeport, CT – Three Wings Aviation
They did an oil change and all sorts of little inspection things for me so that I felt good about making the flight back across the country with the plane. They finished on time and shuttled me to the train station to get back to Manhattan. I would certainly visit them again. The FBO seemed dwarfed by the maintenance operation, but it looks like they do some serious charter and flight school work.
KAVP: Wilkes-Barre, PA – First Flight
Very professional and attentive. I just tied up, topped off and they arranged a rental car for the one night I was in town. They were incredibly quick checking in and out, which was appreciated at both ends.
KCMH: Columbus, OH – Million Air
A surprisingly large and luxurious FBO with the largest lobby and passenger waiting are I’ve been in. I think they do some large charters out of here. It was a bit of a ghost town and we had no problem borrowing the crew car. They were efficient, if a little distracted. They seemed surprise to get a drop-in customer. I bet most little planes stop at littler airports nearby.
KCMI: Champaign, IL – Flight Star
There seemed to be some sort of aviation college associated with the field. I couldn’t quite figure it out. The FBO was very high tech and they were dealing with a couple charter jets as I was tying down. There were more charter jet pilots inside (so there must have been a hanger full of charter jets somewhere), and the whole place had a very professional-pilot vibe. We booked our hotel in Springfield, calculated as our next stop, hung around for our minimum ground time and booked out of there. Everyone was pleasant and professional, but probably recognized us as customers who probably would not be coming through again.
KSPI: Springfield, IL – First Class Air
The Land of Lincoln! And Lincoln’s FBO! Well, everyone was a little on the older side, at least, but they could not have been more helpful. They arranged for a free ride to the hotel, made sure we were entirely properly tied down, and treated us like we’d be moving to the area soon. They had a lot of aviation knowledge behind that desk and it made me wish I could have brought some of it with me on our next leg.
KCOU: Columbia, MS – Central Missouri Aviation
We had to land, there was a thunderstorm front rolling through. We topped off, although that wasn’t really necessary, and they were happy to have us in their break room and waiting area until the storms passed. It looked more like a flight school than a place for the charter jets to pick up passengers, but that wasn’t a surprise given the size of the airport.
3JC: Junction City, KS – Kansas Air Center
Due to a sleeping ATC tower operator, we pressed on to this alternate field to refuel. The FBO was clearly a maintenance depot, but they were helpful fueling and checking the plane.
KMHK: Manhattan, KS – Kansas Air Center
Since we fueled at their other location they waved the ramp fee, helped us tie down and let us have the crew car. They talked with us about local knowledge of the airport, where we were flying to next, and what to look out for. Definitely a professional outfit, but used to dealing with enough little guys that we weren’t a surprise.
KGLD: Goodland, KS – Butterfly Aviation
One of my favorite stops. Butterfly is a throwback to another era. They were extremely helpful with the plane. Their facilities are a little older (they have a great map with Goodland in the center and a weighted string for figuring the range to other places), but they had WiFi and it was comfortable enough.
KCOS: Colorado Springs, CO – Cutter Aviation
We were staying around the corner, so they were happy to shuttle us there and pick us up in the morning. They had just changed hands, so the place was in some disarray, but they handled the plane professionally and treated us like real customers at an airport where we must have been one of the smallest planes they had dealt with recently.
KFMN: Farmington, NM – Seven Bar Aviation
They topped us off and we paced in their waiting room for our set minimum ground time. They had comfortable chairs and WiFi and enough interest that there is probably a stream of little planes through here. I think the other FBO on the field had better reviews, but we stuck with Seven Bar since they were so nice to us at ABQ.