Flying the Private Skies

Fixed-base operators provide privacy, convenience for charter flights, passengers to Pittsburgh

By BlueSkyStaff

Published July 22, 2019

Read Time: 3 mins


Look, up in the sky. It’s a corporate jet with a CEO on board. It’s a celebrity in a private charter. It’s the Penguins flying in after a Stanley Cup victory. They’re all flying somewhere.

Yet, somehow you never see these high-profile passengers walking through the terminal, lining up at the gate or at baggage claim. Where did they go?

These travelers frequently opt for the flexibility and privacy of charter flights – and they are willing to pay for it.

While these flights offer a level of separation and exclusivity, they are still subject to the regulatory and infrastructure needs of commercial aircraft. Enter the realm of fixed-base operators, also known as FBOs.

“Think of FBOs as smaller, private terminals,” said Traci Clark, vice president of the Allegheny County Airport (AGC). “From corporate jets and charters to private planes and training aircraft, FBOs cater to the executive nature of non-airline flights and their clientele, providing many of the same services.”

An FBO operates close to an airport, providing amenities for passengers, plane maintenance for operators and runway access. With sizes ranging from luxurious private terminal facilities to separate commercial airport entrances, FBO facilities offer convenience, scheduling flexibility, privacy and expedited security screenings.

An estimated 5,200 FBOs operate in the United States, at both commercial and independent airports. Allegheny County is home to three FBO facilities, including two at the county airport and one at Pittsburgh International. Pilots of charter flights arriving at AGC can choose between Lynx and Corporate Air. Non-airline flights to Pittsburgh can also opt to land at PIT, using the services of Atlantic Aviation.

Those options mean charter companies and pilots can choose which FBOs to utilize depending on their clients’ wants and needs, as well as services offered and pricing.

“Having multiple FBO operations in the Pittsburgh market is a great benefit to travelers,” Clark said. “FBO traffic is a natural complement to general aviation traffic at airports. And the competition among providers drives benefits to travelers and operators alike.”

An FBO may seem like a competitor to a commercial airport, but in fact, both entities benefit from the relationship.

“FBOs generate revenue for the Allegheny County Airport Authority through multiple avenues,” said Bryan Orr, general manager of Lynx at AGC. “Fuel sales for private charters generate flow fees for the airport. FBO customers create demand for purchase of parking areas and hangar space. And the arriving and departing air traffic from FBOs generates runway-fee revenue for the airport authority.”

While FBOs sit on airport property, their customers don’t necessarily have to go through the main terminals, where commercial passengers need to check in luggage and go through security. Passengers on charter flights typically drive up and park right at the FBO itself before boarding their flights.

The number of flights to an FBO can vary widely, depending on a variety of factors. At PIT, Atlantic Aviation handles about 18 flights on an average day, said general manager George Bacigalupo.

Lynx FBO Network added Pittsburgh to its roster in November 2018, when it acquired an established 8,500-square-foot terminal facility at Allegheny County Airport from Voyager Jet.

“Allegheny County Airport is a great airport that is well-positioned in Pittsburgh to provide convenient access to financial services, medical facilities and universities in the area,” Orr said. “As an executive gateway to Pittsburgh, Lynx and AGC work to provide services to enhance that experience.”

Through its AGC facility, Lynx provides ramp service, fueling, hangar, de-icing and cleaning for aircraft, while offering executive concierge benefits for passengers.

“Whether it’s a rental car waiting planeside, booking a show for entertainment or a hotel room for the night, service is a differentiator in the FBO industry,” said Orr. “Just as passengers have choices among airlines, the pilots, operators and passengers have choices about FBO selection.”

As a result, FBO operators also offer important services for the pilots, such as entertainment, food and beverage, sleep rooms, showers, flight planning resources and courtesy cars.

“Choosing an FBO can be like choosing a hotel,” Clark said. “In an area, there can be multiple FBO options. Pilots will choose the FBO that is most convenient to their flight path and matches the amenity profile desires of their passengers.”

This level of service is attractive to high-profile travelers. And while he can’t identify the clients by name, Bacigalupo says the clients of FBOs would be very recognizable.

“Movie stars, celebrities, ex-presidents, corporate businessmen and some hometown teams move through our facility in relative privacy,” said Bacigalupo. “Limousines, team buses, personal cars pull up curbside, and after a quick security check they’re on their way.”

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