Fuel sellers respond to growing schedulers and dispatchers role
Av depts say S&Ds now pick FBOs 70–80% of the time.
Bruce Foods Aviation Dept Mgr & Chief Pilot Charles O’Neal (L) and Exec Asst & Scheduler Robin LaSalle check fuel prices online before selecting an FBO at a distant location.
He says, “We’ll spend 2 or 3 days either side of an event, visiting flight departments. We’ve found it very successful in building trust. “We often talk about the issue of fuel prices and how important that has become lately,” Hall continues. “Certainly we have to be competitive on fuel price, but if we have established a relationship it makes it easier to work something out.
A customer who stops routinely might call to say they were thinking of going somewhere else because of a price issue. That would give us the opportunity, maybe on this one trip, to make an adjustment so we can keep the business.” Schedulers also say they can sometimes negotiate price concessions.
“We are often able to negotiate fuel prices and handling fees with FBOs where we are frequent customers,” says Kay Butts, a scheduler/dispatcher for Nestlé-Purina. And if the scheduler doesn’t pick your FBO for this trip, there’s always next time.
“We watch traffic and see if a flight department comes to Omaha and doesn’t happen to use us,” says Mansfield. “We will contact that flight department, usually through the scheduler, and say, ‘We’re sorry we didn’t see you when you were here, and would you give us a chance next time to show you our great prices and great services?’
We’ve found that’s an effective way to maintain contact and keep our name in front of the customer,” he says.
Fargo Jet Center at FAR (Fargo ND) maintains a proactive program to maintain close contact with the schedulers and dispatchers it sees as key customers in today’s competitive business aviation environment.
It’s not just FBOs that are reaching out to schedulers and dispatchers—the major fuel companies have active programs.
“We generally regard the S&D as the customer of our FBOs,” says Air BP VP of Sales and Marketing Steve McCullough. His company has a multifaceted approach to courting schedulers and dispatchers, including a major presence at the NBAA S&D conference, where the company has been an exhibitor for many years.
It also includes a fuel purchase rewards program open to flight department personnel, including schedulers and dispatchers, and a company credit card that provides a fuel discount and Web access to preferred fuel pricing information at branded FBOs in the US and Canada.
Russ Standefer, vp of contract fuel for Avfuel, says his company communicates with schedulers and dispatchers on a daily basis using telephone or e-mail.
Then there is Air BP’s scheduler of the month program. “Air BP places a lot of value on schedulers and dispatchers’ professional role,” says McCullough. “That level of appreciation prompted us to recognize a scheduler of the month in each issue of Pro Pilot.
This feature allows the industry to learn more about the role and best practices of S&Ds. It’s an important part of our monthly communication efforts within general aviation.” Chevron Global Aviation’s Northwest Territory Mgr Kim Ruth says her company has been playing a key role in the NBAA S&D conference for many years.
The company began exhibiting nearly 10 years ago, and is now in its 8th year of making contributions to the NBAA S&D scholarship program. Ruth says Chevron strongly supports having its own employees attend the event and serve on the S&D committee, and has been a gold-level sponsor of the conference for 9 years. Ruth was a committee member for 5 years.
Chevron also supports continuing education programs for schedulers through the committee. “For the pilots there is a requirement that they have recurrent training,” says Ruth. “There is no such requirement for schedulers, so some flight departments don’t want to invest in it even though the scheduler still needs a high level of expertise and understanding of the regulations so they can do their job.
Air BP VP Sales and Mktg Steve McCullough says his company has long regarded schedulers and dispatchers as key customers and has multiple programs designed to reach them.
We think that’s very important.” In addition to its support of the conference, Chevron has a customer loyalty program available to schedulers and other flight department personnel. Accumulated points can be split among members or the entire flight department can pool points and distribute them as awards redeemable at over 200 retail merchants.
Russ Standefer, vp of contract fuel for Avfuel, says that, in addition to his company’s considerable participation in the S&D conference, “Avfuel interacts with the scheduler/ dispatcher on a daily basis, either by phone or e-mail. Many schedulers and dispatchers also work with Avfuel through the pricing, authorization and account maintenance portion of our website.”
Price over service?
Meanwhile, even as FBOs offer increasing levels of service, high-class amenities and outstanding safety, there is evidence that fuel price is becoming a more significant discriminator than ever before.
“It is pricing in many cases that, unfortunately, seems to be dictating what FBO is being used,” says Panorama’s Healy, “rather than factors that should really matter—such as service, facility and the safety record of the FBO that’s handing your multimillion-dollar asset.”
Some schedulers see price becoming more important than service in the current operating environment. “Unfortunately, this is true,” says Charlie Stockton, corporate aircraft scheduler for MidAmerican Energy. “Fuel costs are the number one expense we can try and control, so it is definitely the number one factor in our decision making.”
Others say the decision is not so clear cut. “It’s still a delicate balance,” says David Small, flight ops administrator for Cox Enterprises in Atlanta GA. “Price has definitely come to the forefront but fabulous service is always easier to pay for.” Nestlé-Purina’s Butts says, “Price has always been important, but service is first.
Nestlé-Purina Scheduler/Dispatcher & Office Mgr Kay Butts says price is important for her company but service is the key discriminator in choosing an FBO.
When service is comparable, then price determines the FBO we use.” “Price is becoming a lot more important in many areas—handling services, fuel, rental cars/car-and-driver, hotel—but it has not yet overtaken service,” says Melanie Carney, senior flight coordinator at ACM Aviation, an aircraft charter and management company in San Jose CA.