Fuel sellers respond to growing schedulers and dispatchers role
Av depts say S&Ds now pick FBOs 70–80% of the time.
By Mike Potts
John Deere Flight Scheduler Katherine Carroll (L) and Supervisor Flight Administration Dorette Kerr are typical of schedulers who routinely select FBOs based on service, amenities, safety and cost considerations.
As more than 2000 aviation professionals from throughout North America prepare to attend NBAA’s 21st annual Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference in San Antonio TX, the growing role of schedulers and dispatchers in arranging and affecting fuel sales throughout the business aviation industry is increasingly being recognized.
In more and more flight departments, the scheduler or dispatcher is selecting which FBO to use and what fuel to buy. That decision is based on a multiplicity of factors, including fuel price, service, ramp size, location, amenities, safety factors and existing relationships.
In response to this changing environment, FBOs and other organizations on the jet fuel supply chain, up to and including the major oil companies, have come to see the scheduler/dispatcher as an important customer and are targeting their marketing efforts accordingly.
At the same time, as rising fuel prices have come to represent an ever larger percentage of the cost of flight operations, pressures have risen on schedulers and dispatchers to maximize efficiency and find the best deal for their flight departments.
Some schedulers say this has reduced FBO selection criteria to a single factor—Who has the cheapest fuel? To assess the state of these critical trends in scheduling, we spoke with a representative selection of professionals in jet fuel sales and the scheduling industry. Here’s what they had to say.
Panorama Flight Service VP & Principal Ken Healy says pricing is playing a bigger roll in FBO selection than ever before.
Darren Hall, vp of marketing for Fargo Jet Center at FAR (Fargo ND), says, “When we’re talking about business aviation—King Airs and up—70 to 80% of the people who call to make reservations for an airplane coming to our facility today are schedulers or dispatchers.” Ken Healy, vp and principal of Panorama Flight Service at HPN (White Plains NY) agrees.
“Now more then ever,” he says, “the scheduler/dispatcher of the Part 91 or Part 135 operator of the aircraft dictates what FBO the aircraft is going to utilize at their desired destination.” This trend is true from coast to coast.
Flightcraft operates FBOs at PDX (Intl, Portland OR) and EUG (Eugene OR). Flightcraft VP & General Mgr John Frevola says, “We’re seeing more and more flight departments using the scheduler and dispatcher to determine where the aircraft goes.
Elliott Aviation OMA VP & General Mgr John Mansfield calls NBAA’s S&D conference a premier event for FBO marketing.
The schedulers and dispatchers have become the primary point of contact, as opposed to the pilots.” “In the old days,” says John Mansfield, vp and general mgr of Elliott Aviation OMA (Omaha NE), “the pilot decided if he wanted to use you as an FBO.
Today, depending on the size if the flight department, it’s generally dispatch that you are talking to.” Ken Palmer, FBO manager of Branson JetCenter at BBG (Branson MO), says, “The scheduler/dispatcher is a daily decisionmaker when it comes to the movement of a company’s aircraft fleet.
They are always on the lookout for the best fuel prices and the most efficient stops. In that respect, the scheduler/dispatcher is crucial to our success as an FBO.”
In response to the emergence of schedulers and dispatchers as key decision makers, FBO operators and others in the fuel distribution business are developing strategies to reach them.
Flightcraft VP & General Mgr John Frevola says his company networks actively with schedulers and dispatchers at regional and national S&D events.
Promotional programs, direct mail, mass e-mailings, participation in industry events and personalized visits are among the techniques fuel sellers say they are using to communicate with schedulers and dispatchers.
A major point of contact is the annual NBAA schedulers and dispatchers (S&D) conference, which Flightcraft’s Frevola terms “one of the best marketing opportunities for FBOs.” “It’s a very target-rich environment,” says Millie Becker, vp of business development for First Aviation Services at TEB (Teterboro NJ), who has been attending the S&D conference since 1993.
“The attendees are decisionmakers. It’s a wonderful opportunity to establish and maintain relationships,” she says. Elliott’s Mansfield believes the S&D conference is a better venue for FBOs than the main NBAA convention. “NBAA seems more geared to manufacturers,” he says. “S&D really has a lot more to do with the FBO industry.” Hall says Fargo Jet Center has been an exhibitor at S&D for nearly a decade.
“We see the value in building relationships with schedulers because often they are the people we are talking to when they schedule their airplanes in to Fargo. If we’ve met them at the conference, now there’s a personal relationship there, and they know their airplane, crew and passengers will get more personal attention than if we didn’t know them at all.”
Professional development programs such as this one at the NBAA Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference in Long Beach CA in 2009 help prepare attendees to make critical decisions about which FBO to use on their next trip.
In addition to exhibiting, Hall has been active on the NBAA S&D committee for years, and next year will serve as its chairman. The NBAA S&D conference is not the only venue for vendors to interact with schedulers and dispatchers. There are numerous state and regional aviation groups around the country catering to S&D professionals.
Hall says Fargo Jet Center has sponsored regional conferences and provided speakers—yet another tactic to keep the company name in front of customers. Beyond interacting with organized groups, much of the marketing to schedulers and dispatchers by FBOs comes down to personalized contact and individual initiatives. Use of the Internet is a frequently mentioned tool, as is personal contact.
“We do an e-mail blast once a week,” says Becker. “We use an internal proprietary customer database that we’ve developed, and we send them our fuel prices. I also send pictures of our facility and talk about our competitive advantages,” she says. Fargo Jet Center’s Hall says he makes frequent personal visits to flight departments, particularly in conjunction with meetings and conventions.