Explaining Fixed-Base Operators

What is an FBO lounge for private jets?

FBO is short for Fixed-Base Operator. They serve as a lounge for private aviation users. If you are new to private aviation, here is everything you need to know about FBOs before you fly.

What is an FBO? Explaining Fixed-Base Operators

What is an FBO lounge for private jets?

FBOs are private jet terminals, but unlike airlines and airport terminals, you have a choice and they aren’t everywhere. Here’s what you need to know before your private jet flight

FBO is short for Fixed-Base Operator. In simplest terms, they are private jet terminals. When you book a private charter flight, your broker or operator will typically advise you which FBO your flight will be departing from.

What do FBOs do?

Fixed-Base Operators offer a lounge for passengers departing and arriving on private aviation flights at that airport. However, their principal revenue source is gas stations for private jets.

They provide crew lounges, weather and flight planning assistance, and some facilities at major international airports even offering sleep rooms and showers. Some FBOs also have hangar and office space. Some also provide maintenance, management for aircraft owners, and charter services. Charter brokers and other related businesses serving business aviation often lease office space, the former so they can meet and greet local clients.

Do all airports have FBOs?

Private aviation in the U.S. accesses over 5,000 airports compared to less than 500 that are served by the airlines. However, not all airports have FBOs. In those cases, your charter operator uses a local handling company. Generally, there will still be a waiting area for passengers.

Is there more than one FBO at an airport?

Like a busy intersection of highways have multiple gas stations, busy private aviation airports have multiple FBOs. In airports with high volumes of private jet flights like Teterboro Airport serving New York City and Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles, there are as many as six Fixed Based Operators. It’s not uncommon for even smaller airports to have at least two FBOs.

What passenger facilities do FBOs offer?

Basic amenities are a seating area with comfortable chairs and end tables where you can wait for other members of your party to arrive and meet your pilots. There is also free WiFi and toilets. If you are flying on turboprops, light, or even midsize jets where the onboard lavatory may be cramped or limited, most fliers like to make a stop before they board to freshen up.

From there it varies widely. Private meeting rooms are fairly standard. Some FBOs offer shower facilities, movie theaters, gift stores, duty-free shopping, car rental desks, concierge services, and even customs and border facilities.

You may find televisions streaming cable news. Before COVID-19, there were often free magazines and newspapers for you to pick up before boarding. However, most FBOs have now cleared these away as part of enhanced health-hygiene protocols.

What type of food and beverages are offered?

If you are used to international first and business class lounges on airlines like Cathay Pacific, Emirates or Lufthansa, you may be disappointed. Typically you will find bottled water, coffee, and perhaps a popcorn maker on a complimentary basis.

Beyond that there are sometimes complimentary candies and packaged snacks. Think pretzels and biscuits. More often, sodas and packaged snacks are offered via vending machines.

Some FBOs have restaurants or a coffee shop designed to serve the local airport community, but open to passengers as well.

Who chooses the FBO?

While you choose the airports you want to fly into or out of – one of the benefits of private travel, your operator will select the FBO. This is typically based on contracts they have for purchasing fuel. Remember, FBOs are gas stations for private jets.

Fun Fact: In the days before private jets had the range to go nonstop from coast to coast, refueling stops in Kansas and Nebraska competed for pilot loyalty by offering free steaks and other perks.

Can I request a different FBO?

Most operators will allow you to select a different FBO, however, there might be a surcharge, typically in the hundreds of dollars.

Are FBOs at an airport all located together?

FBOs are often on the opposite side of the airport from passenger terminals, and are sometimes distant from each other, as in miles apart. If you are arriving on an airline flight and then switching to a private jet or vice versa, make sure to find out in advance how far they are, and the best way to transit between the two.

Where do I park my car?

FBOs generally have complimentary parking spaces allotted for charter customers who want to leave the cars. In some cases, it is in a secure area. Some FBOs also provide valet parking. As soon as your operator or broker provides you the FBO information for your flight, it makes sense to call ahead if you are going to need any extra services.

How can I find the FBOs at the airport I’m flying from/to and where they are located?

I subscribe to the paid edition of Ac-u-kwik, a worldwide guide to FBOs and handlers. You probably don’t need to. Location maps and basic information is free. FBOs change hands from time to time, new ones open and old ones close or relocate on the airfield. I find information on airport websites and even via Google can be out of date, so if you have special requests, call to verify.

Will my car service have trouble finding the FBO?

The passenger lounge areas of FBOs are often tucked next to or behind hangars or in between what might look like a series of office buildings. Google Maps is a good tool, however, if I am going to an FBO I haven’t visited I call for directions. I also ask if there are any special instructions if I am being picked up. I’ve found in a number of cases the location drivers might get from their Uber or mapping apps aren’t accurate.

Do I need to arrange transportation in advance?

Most brokers or operators will offer to arrange ground transfers when you book at an added expense. Pilots will often ask as well when they meet you, so if you need transportation, they can take care of it. While big-city folks like me assume Uber, Lyft, or at least taxis are everywhere, I’ve arrived at rural airport FBOs where I needed to wait the better part of an hour for a local taxi service. That’s right, no rideshare drivers available.

What about being dropped off or picked up directly from the private jet?

Planeside drop-off and pick-up varies by airport and is based on security rules for that airport, so always subject to change. It’s less likely at airports where there are also commercial airlines, although that also varies. As mentioned, if you are flying on small private jets or turboprops, you will likely want to use the restroom in the FBO to freshen up before and after your flight.

When I arrive at an FBO, what happens with my luggage?

A member of the FBO will assist you. If it’s not a busy FBO, you may have to go inside and ask for assistance at the reception desk. As always, don’t leave valuables in luggage that will be out of your control. While chances of theft are slight, take the same care as when you check-in to a hotel.

The FBO will coordinate loading the luggage with your flight crew, so you don’t have to do a thing. Some private jets have luggage compartments that are not accessible from the cabin, so if there are specific bags you want with you, make sure you specify. Of course, once you get to the plane, if you need a bag in the cabin, your pilots will be happy to get it from the hold prior to departure.

How do I check-in for a private jet flight?

When you get to the FBO, go to the reception desk and let the staff know you are looking for your pilots. Unlike airline flight numbers or passenger record locators, the identifier you will use is the tail number of your aircraft. Your operator or broker should provide you this around 24 hours before departure if not sooner, sometimes when you book. When you get your tail number, you might be able to track it and see where it is coming from via FlightAware.

What about security when traveling by private jet?

In the U.S. all passengers on a Part 135 charter flight, either on-demand or via jet cards, will need to provide current and valid government-issued IDs. They’ll also have to be on the passenger manifest, so make sure if you want to add passengers you do so with your broker or the operator in advance. In airports outside the U.S., there may be additional screening, including luggage and full-body scanners.

Who owns the FBOs?

FBOs are a mix of independent, locally owned and operated businesses, franchises, and chains. In some cases they are operated by the airport authority, however, most operate under a license from the airport or local government. Signature Flight Support is the largest with over 200 locations across the Americas and Europe. Atlantic Aviation has over 50 locations in the U.S. Million Air with about 25 private terminals is known for having plush lounges (Houston Hobby terminal pictured in the header) and upscale refreshments. Signature tends to be more utilitarian.

Jet Aviation and Clay Lacey Aviation, which both offer jet card products, also operate FBOs in several locations.

NetJets and Flexjet have their own private lounges at busy airports like Westchester Country, Teterboro, and Palm Beach, generally as a separate entrance to an FBO. Jet Linx operates its own terminals exclusively for its aircraft owners and jet card customers in 19 markets.

These lounges typically offer more significant snacks as well as complimentary sodas, juices, wines, and spirits. You can even request your favorite libations. Jet Linx will valet and detail your car while you are away, having it ready for you when you return.

Private Jet Card Glossary: A to Z

private jet

Private Jet Card Comparisons has developed our exclusive Private Jet Card Glossary, specifically around 65 comparative points that differentiate the programs.

Aircraft Sourcing Standards –  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets minimum standards for operations, maintenance, and pilots for aircraft on charter flights under Part 135. Beyond that, some jet card providers use additional standards set by third-party auditors and organizations such as ARG/US, Wyvern, and IS-BAO to guide the sourcing for their jet card programs.

Annual Dues – In addition to hourly rates and other fees, some programs have annual or monthly membership fees. QUICK COMPARE FLIGHT PRICING amortizes those fees into your hourly rate so you can compare actual flight costs head-to-head between providers.

Applicable Aircraft – Private jet card programs offer either specific jet types or categories such as Very Light or Small Jets, Light Jets, Midsize Jets, Super Midsize Cabin Jets, Large or Cabin or Heavy Jets, and Ultra Longhaul Jets. Additionally, some programs allow you to buy into a specific aircraft type. When you buy a category program, you will receive a variety of aircraft in that category. If you have specific preferences, for example, cabin height, you probably want to buy into an aircraft-specific program, particularly for midsize and super-midsize jets.

ARG/US level – ARG/US or ARGUS provides safety audits of private jet operators spanning over 500 operators globally.  There are three levels:  ARGUS Gold Rated Charter Operator, ARGUS Gold Rated Plus Charter Operator, and ARGUS Platinum Rated Charter Operator.

ARG/US Gold Rated Charter Operator – Requires operating certificate for at least one year, at least one turbine aircraft on the certificate, in-depth historical safety analysis, and pilot background check and aircraft operational control validations.

ARG/US Gold Rated Plus Charter Operator – Requires all of the Gold Rated requirements plus an on-site audit with no safety of flight findings.

ARG/US Platinum Rated Charter Operator – Requires all of the Gold Plus rated standards plus on-site audit with zero findings, plus functioning SMS and Emergency Response Plan.

Black Out Days – Some programs do not guarantee service on specific dates. These are typically referred to as Black Out Dates. The provider won’t provide guaranteed availability on these dates.

Broker – Many jet card providers are brokers. Charter brokers don’t own or operate the aircraft you will fly in. Instead, they source aircraft from charter operators. These programs typically sell by cabin category, although some offer specific aircraft types. However, many operators also broker when their own fleets don’t meet the needs of jet card customers.

CPI Escalator – Hourly rates of some jet card programs are subject to increases based on the Consumer Price Index. This means rates are subject to increase based on CPI at a specific point in time. In some cases, your rate will be increased to the higher of the CPI or an alternate number, meaning your rate will increase regardless of the CPI at that point.

Destination Surcharge – Some jet cards have surcharges for travel outside the Continental U.S. These typically apply when flying more than 220 miles off the U.S. border. Surcharge to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Canada generally range between 10% to 25%. Some providers also for surcharges for high-density airports. This is more prevalent in Europe. 

Expiration of Hours/Deposits –Many programs expire your hours or deposits after specific periods, typically 12 to 24 months. However, some jet cards never expire your funds. If you aren’t sure how much you will be flying, make sure to research the expiration policy of the jet cards you are considering.

FBOFixed Based Operators are private jet terminals and they also provide fueling and services for the plane.

FBO Choice – Some programs allow you to choose a specific FBO. In these cases, there can be extra charges, typically around $500.

Federal Excise Tax (FET) – Some programs include FET when marketing hourly rates. For other programs, the rate being promoted is without FET.  If you are flying within the Continental U.S. or within 220 miles of the northern and southern borders and to, from, or between Hawaii and Alaska, the government assesses the 7.5% tax on top of your hourly rate, including fuel surcharges. As part of the CARES Act, the tax was suspended through Dec. 31, 2020.

Fixed One-Way Rates – Fixed One-Way Rates mean that you won’t have to pay for ferry fees to reposition your aircraft either before or after your flights within your Primary Service Area. By choosing a program with fixed one-way rates, you can more accurately budget how much your private flying will cost in advance. 

Flight Attendant Inclusion –  Some programs provide flight attendants on specific aircraft types – typically super-midsize and large-cabin – while other programs offer flight attendants as an option for an additional fee.

Flight Cancellation DeadlineCancellation policies for jet cards refer to the lead-time in which you can cancel your flight without penalty. Lead times can vary based on peak and non-peak periods as well as for domestic versus international flights. Cancellation windows can be as short as four hours. However, some programs make peak days bookings non-refundable.

Fractional Fleet – Some jet card providers use aircraft from their fractional ownership and lease programs to sell jet cards. These programs are more likely to enable you to choose a specific aircraft type instead of broker programs, which are more typically sell by category. 

Fuel Surcharge – During periods of fuel price increases, some programs reserve the right to impose fuel surcharges. Others have fuel surcharges as part of their normal pricing. Fuel surcharges are typically updated monthly or quarterly.

Guaranteed AvailabilityGuaranteed availability refers to the contracted lead time before your departure; your provider will arrange an aircraft for your flight. Providers that also give you a fixed rate typically require six to 96 hours lead time. Lead time is longer during Peak Day periods. Guaranteed availability and fixed one-way rates are considered two key benefits of a Jet Card vs. On-Demand Charter.

Guaranteed UpgradeGuaranteed upgrades enable you to reserve a larger aircraft than the type you bought. This is useful if you are traveling with a larger group or need a longer ranger jet. Some programs such as NetJets only guarantee downgrades and make upgrades in aircraft size as available. When you upgrade, you will need to pay the rate for the larger aircraft. In some cases, there is an interchange fee, a surcharge for doing so.

Guaranteed DowngradeGuaranteed downgrades enable you to trade down from your contracted jet type or size to a smaller jet. This can save money if you are traveling alone on a shorter flight and want a smaller plane to save money on your hourly rate.

Hourly Rate – Hourly rate is the rate per hour your program charges per your contract. Flights are typically billed in six-minute increments or to the nearest 1/10th of an hour.

Included Catering – Most programs include basic catering. That might include non-alcoholic beverages and packaged snacks. Some programs include more substantial catering such as sandwiches, fruit plates, hot meals, gourmet preparation, alcoholic beverages, or credits. All programs allow you to order for an additional charge catering to meet your needs.

Interchange FeesInterchange fees are surcharges if you upgrade or downgrade the size of your aircraft or go between two service areas in a program, for example, North America and Europe.

Initiation Fee – Some programs have a one-time initiation fee. Our exclusive QUICK COMPARE FLIGHT PRICING amortizes initiation fees into your flight cost providing apples to apple comparisons.

IS-BAO – The International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) was introduced by the International Business Aviation Council, LTD (IBAC), in 2003. The industry developed IS-BAO for the benefit of the industry. It is a code of best practices designed to help flight departments worldwide achieve a high level of safety and professionalism. There are three levels or stages.

IS-BAO Stage 1 – Stage 1 of IS-BAO indicates that an appropriate Safety Management System (SMS) has been established.

IS-BAO Stage 2 – Stage 2 of IS-BAO takes years later and ensures that safety risks are being effectively managed.

IS-BAO Stage 3 – The IS-BAO Stage 3 Certification is the highest level of achievement and validates BJA’s commitment to developing and maintaining an effective Safety Management System (SMS).

Lavatory Type – Not all aircraft have fully enclosed lavatories or lavatories you can stand up in. For longer flights or personal preference, you should ask for pictures of the lavatories on the aircraft types that will be part of your program. Not all light and very light jets have full lavatories. 

Liability and Risk Coverage (Insurance) – Programs provide varying amounts of liability and risk coverage.

Managed Fleet Operator – Some jet card providers use aircraft they manage for individual owners to sell jet cards. Owners want charter revenue to offset their operating costs. They allow their management company to charter their aircraft when they don’t need it. Like a broker-based jet card program, Managed Fleet jet cards typically sell by size category. That’s because you have a variety of aircraft types in each category, meaning you are likely to get a different jet type per trip.

Minimum Seating Guarantee – As you select a vendor and program, you should think about the number of people, including children, you will be traveling with. You will want to make sure your missions can be accommodated by the type of planes used in your buying program. That said, it’s not unusual for jet card users to be members with two programs based on divergent needs. Within a category, providers might offer guarantees ranging from six to eight seats. Don’t assume how many seats are provider. Compare seat guarantees from the providers you are considering.

Minimum Flight Time Charged – Programs have widely varying minimum daily and segment flight time charges. A 40-minute flight might be charged as one hour by one provider, two hours by another, and 40 minutes by a third. If you are taking a lot of short flights, you will want to pay attention to this. Minimums are typically one to two hours and can depend on the size of the plane. If you multiple same-day short hops, a program with only a daily minimum may be advantageous. 

Multiple Same Time Aircraft Access – This allows you to use two or more planes at your contracted terms from a single program simultaneously.

Owned/Leased Fleet Operator– Some jet card providers own the aircraft they use to sell time for their jet cards. These programs are more likely to enable you to choose a specific aircraft type instead of broker programs, which typically sell by category. 

Part 135 – The U.S. government regulations and rules that all domestic private jet operators providing on-demand charter and jet card flights operate.

Pilot Experience – Jet card companies have varying minimum requirements for pilot experience, sometimes above government requirements. They cover both Captain and First Officer and include total hours of flight time and time in the type of aircraft they will be flying you.

Peak DaysPeak days are high-demand days, typically around holidays and major sporting events such as the Super Bowl or The Masters. While 15 to 30 peak days are the norm, some providers have more than 50 peak days. In addition to longer lead times for bookings and cancelations, which in some cases aren’t permitted, providers have the right to move your departure time by +/- 3 hours for operational reasons. This can put a damper on a getaway weekend. There are also surcharges (see below).

Peak Day Surcharges – Most programs have surcharges for peak travel days. The number of peak days varies by the program, as do the surcharge amounts. If you are buying a jet card in anticipation of flying during busy holiday periods and aren’t flexible to move your dates, you should study any peak travel surcharges or blackout dates. Peak day surcharges range up to 40%.

Pet Policy – Most programs allow you to take certain types of pets. Some programs have mandatory or discretionary cleaning fees. If you are using a broker or managed fleet program, it pays to triple check their policy since they don’t have the final say on pet policies – that’s up to the actual owners or operators of those aircraft. 

Program Hours Denominations – Jet card programs are generally denominated in hours, for example, 10, 15, 25, 50, or 100 hours. The more hours you buy, typically, the lower your hourly rate and additional benefits. Some providers use dollar denominations (see below).

Program Dollar Denominations – Some deposit jet card programs are denominated in dollars, for example, $25,000, $50,000, $100,000, $250,000 or $500,000.

Refund Policy – Some programs will refund unused funds, while others are non-refundable. Some allow you to roll over unused funds or hours to a new contract. If you are unsure you will use all your hours or funds, you will want to pay attention to the Refund Policy and rollover options.

Refill Policy – Refill policy refers to enabling you to add money or hours to an existing program you purchased at the original terms.

Reservation Lead Time – Non-peak day lead times to book your jet card flights range from four hours to five days. Lead times are longer during peak periods or for international flights. Lead time for programs that have fixed-rate pricing tends to be longer than those that offer dynamic pricing. Fixed-rate providers will often still arrange flights inside the booking deadline. However, they will charge you market rates at the time you book. Booking lead times are also referred to as call-outs.

Roundtrip Discount  – Roundtrip flying is more efficient for the operator, so jet cards typically offer discounted roundtrip rates. Published discounts range up to 40%.

Roundtrip Discount Qualification – What qualifies for a roundtrip flight discount in private aviation varies. The efficiency for the operator is when they can use the same aircraft and flight crew for the entire trip. The contracted definition requires at least two billable flight hours per day, starting and returning to the same airport. All your day’s flights need to be completed within FAA-mandated crew duty time limits (14 hours including preflight duties). For multi-day trips, there has to be mandatory overnight rest of at least eight hours. A trip from A to B to C to D and back to A with a total of eight flight hours completed in four days (8 divided by 4 = 2) would qualify. In addition to the discount, you may be billed for crew overnights and hangar or airport charges.

Service Area (Primary Service Area) – Some programs enable you to travel globally at your contract rate. In contrast, others will only fly you in a limited area. Some U.S. programs include parts of the Caribbean, Mexico, or possibly Hawaii. Some service areas aren’t country-specific but refer to a mileage limit outside of the Continental U.S. border. Ensure the places you will be flying are within the primary (or fixed rate) service area of your program. Otherwise, you will likely pay expensive ferry fees.

Service Recovery – Outside of weather, different programs have different commitments for mechanical delays, pilots running out of flight hours, etc. This is another benefit compared to on-demand charter

Taxi Time Billing – You will typically be charged for taxi time, generally 12 minutes per segment. This means if your hourly rate is $8,00, your account will be debited $1,600 per segment for taxi time. Not all programs charge for taxi time.

Unaccompanied Minor Travel Policy – Age limits for sending an unaccompanied minor privately vary by provider. Not all providers permit this. You will need to pay additional fees for a flight attendant to accompany your child in some cases.

Wyvern WingmanWyvern Wingman is a third-party rating system of private aircraft operators measuring adherence to ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) standards for safety management systems, emergency response plans, and internal evaluations. Its Wingman level rating Includes a two-day, on-site audit recurring every 24 months. There is also a Registered level.

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