1. Home
  3. Leading fixed-base operators

Leading fixed-base operators


Best FBOs navigate industry trends and invest for the future.

By Melissa Lucas Thomas
Contributing Writer

Monterey Jet Center MRY (Monterey CA).

The most celebrated FBOs across the globe in this year’s Professional Pilot PRASE Survey have a game-changing trait in common – They have built undeniable recognition. We reached out to the best of the best to understand the various industry trends that have an effect on their businesses and learn how they continue to invest in the future.

Economic trends

Global economic upsets are tricky for FBOs to navigate. Every general aviation (GA) industry segment affects the FBO business model, including charter, aircraft management, MRO, flight schools, and FBOs themselves.

The trickle effect in good economic times is positive, and can be capitalized on with thoughtful strategic leadership and management. In tough times, however, there is a direct negative impact that requires savvy leadership and stringent financial management practices. Having strategic plans for both scenarios creates long-term brand sustainability and success.

Market growth and consolidation

Our industry has both established legacy aviation brands and a continuous stream of new entrants. The FBO segment is true to form, with a mix of ownership changes, green field construction developments, and mergers/consolidations. The latter is a trend on every FBO’s radar, since the need to strengthen competitive advantage is always in the forefront. The largest of chains continue to find acquisition opportunities to add meaningful locations to their footprints.

This changing landscape has spurred the divesting of some FBO locations during such acquisitions, as required by the US Department of Justice (DOJ). Together with the pace of independent FBO acquisitions, this has resulted in new small chain FBO networks. Professional Pilot magazine’s PRASE Survey categorizes a small chain as 3 to 10 locations, while large chains are 11 or more locations.

Odyssey Aviation NAS (Nassau, Bahamas).

Modern Aviation outgrew the small chain category in just 6 years. It now has 16 locations and continues to express growth aspirations, specifically pursuing FBO acquisitions and development opportunities throughout North America and the Caribbean.

Similarly, Aero Centers, one emerging small FBO chain, is gaining momentum. In June 2022, Aero Centers appointed industry veteran Jeremy Epperson as president and COO, signaling investment in a long-term growth strategy. In January 2023, Epps Aviation PDK (DeKalb–Peachtree, Atlanta GA) became part of the Aero Centers network. With this addition, it currently has 5 locations – CPR (Casper WY), ILM (Wilmington NC), LAL (Lakeland FL), PDK, and SFF (Felts, Spokane WA).

FBOs and technology

FBOs embrace technological advances to enhance their operations, improve efficiency, and provide a seamless experience for their customers. New technologies create meaningful customer experience and improve processes in the private FBO industry, especially in the areas of digital booking and reservations, mobile apps, self-service kiosks, digital communication, automated fueling systems, remote monitoring and surveillance, digital payment solutions, and data analytics. Those FBOs investing in and embracing these technologies stay ahead in an increasingly digital and connected world.

Atlantic Aviation ORL (Exec, Orlando FL).

Real estate, equipment, and sustainability

Today’s modern FBOs are reinvesting in their business to prepare for the future. Aircraft OEMs are making bigger planes, so there are only 2 choices for FBOs – building larger hangars or raising the roof on an existing one. Consequently, FBOs and investors are racing to acquire airport real estate leases in popular markets.

Much like technology, equipment is continuously evolving, becoming smarter and more energy-efficient. Leading aviation businesses take advantage of such developments to enhance their operations and improve sustainability. Years ago, electric vehicle charging stations were only found at places with the coldest of climates to address freezing winter temps for gasoline vehicles. Today, charging stations are becoming more common. Moreover, FBOs have taken advantage of tax benefits in certain states to add solar panels to rooftops.

Implementing waste recycling receptacles and installing water systems to reduce plastic bottle use demonstrate an FBO’s sustainability efforts and are easily recognized by customers. Business Jet Center was one of the first FBOs to introduce a water system that provided both still and sparkling flavored water options for customers at the FBO.

Beyond the FBO experience

Banyan Air Service continues to concentrate on customer experience by looking for new ideas and ways to show value. The company also has maintenance and avionics services, aircraft sales and acquisition, parts solutions, and the Jet Runway Café. It’s also home to the world’s largest pilot shop.

Banyan continues to work together with Sheltair to develop properties at FXE (Exec, Fort Lauderdale FL) to meet the needs of the next generation of business jets. For example, FXE just began the environmental study for a 1000-ft runway extension which will allow safer operations and maximize fuel loads.

Pentastar Aviation PTK (Pontiac MI).

Pentastar Aviation celebrated grabbing top honors in the PRASE Survey as one of the best US FBOs overall, best independent US FBOs, and most improved FBO. The excitement at Pentastar is soaring. Last month the company invested in the launch of its new branding and website with a fresh look to propel them into the future.

Kawai Lopez of Monterey Jet Center (MJC) reveals that a big trend right now at the FBO is the demand for MJC merchandise. “We have introduced some items that are constantly selling out, and get phone requests for them all the time,” she declares. “We have custom Hawaiian shirts that we 100% custom designed, and lots of MJC-branded items for kids too.”

Galaxy Aviation is proud to take top honors in the Best Small FBO Chain category.  Galaxy ADS (Addison TX) General Manager Jamie Munoz says that employee retention and advocacy are at the forefront for the company. “We are investing time in enhancing our employees’ experience in the workplace to show we genuinely care about each one of them,” he adds. “We can attract and retain some of the best and brightest in the industry.”

A recently launched partnership with a local flight school provides part-time employment opportunities for flight students. This creates a mutually beneficial relationship that helps support the operation and attract candidates with a focus on a career in aviation.

Galaxy FBO HOU (Hobby, Houston TX).

jetCenters of Colorado offers flight services for business, general, commercial, and military aircraft operations at its 3 locations – APA (Centennial, Denver CO), COS (Colorado Springs CO), and FNL (Fort Collins–Loveland CO). They are proud to serve the Rocky Mountains’ gateway cities and to be voted one of the best FBO networks in the US once again.

Million Air has started to build a legacy FBO brand. Its journey to becoming the Best Large FBO network started with a 5-star approach for establishing positive corporate first impressions and delivering a consistent Million Air experience. Furthermore, the company’s stated emphasis on “Dream, Spirit, Character, Promise, Focus, and Beliefs” offers insight into its philosophy. Million Air states that caring is a powerful business strategy, which seems keenly pertinent to the success of any individual or business. It is clear that Million Air invests in a well-defined strategy for the continued success of its people, customers, FBOs and brand legacy.

Atlantic Aviation grew significantly with its merger with Ross Aviation, which brought a wealth of highly experienced leadership, including Brian Corbett, now Atlantic’s chief commercial and sustainability officer. “We’re on a mission to be visible sustainability leaders and do our part to help business aviation reduce its impact on our environment,” he states.

Atlantic has completed network-wide assessments of its Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and is implementing plans to reduce and offset carbon emissions across the network. In addition, the company is committed to supporting its customers’ sustainability goals, and is one of the largest suppliers of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to GA today. Leading the way in sustainability is good business and creates corporate pride for team members.

Atlantic’s expansion efforts include FBO locations at IAD (Dulles, Washington DC) and 5 Hawaiian islands, and major construction projects are now complete or are well under way at several locations, such as BED (Bedford MA), BNA (Intl, Nashville TN), SDL (Scottsdale AZ), and FXE. These improvements include acres of additional ramp space, efficient hangars, and state-of-the-art terminals.

Hong Kong Business Aviation Ctr HKG (Hong Kong).

Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre (HKBAC) is a repeat winner in the Best Asian FBO category, but the company isn’t resting on its laurels. HKBAC is celebrating its 25th anniversary in July 2023. This is an enormous milestone for the entire team, and one where the company will highlight its major achievements – including its PRASE Survey recognition.

Over the past few years, HKBAC has continued to invest in improvements to its apron. Today the company can easily accommodate a wide variety of large aircraft, including up to 7 Global Express 7500, Boeing 737 MAX 8, and Boeing Business Jets (BBJs). HKBAC has also shared information that a 3rd runway and a facility expansion are under way at HKG (Hong Kong, China).

Odyssey Aviation, voted Best Caribbean FBO, is prioritizing environmental stewardship and adopting sustainable practices wherever possible. This includes investing in environmentally friendly technologies, reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste, promoting recycling, and complying with environmental regulations.

Regardless of where in the world an FBO operates, the “best of the best” aviation ground service providers are all acutely aware of global trends. As a result, they are taking measures to execute on strategies to ensure they remain industry leaders and recognized brands.

Melissa Thomas is the founder and CEO of Moxie Global Consulting. She served as senior director of brand extension for Signature Flight Support, and has held senior leadership positions with Flight Options/Flexjet and The Walt Disney Company.