Business aircraft travel is ramping up again, and FBOs are modifying their procedures to help ensure the safety of crew members, passengers and their own employees during the pandemic.
How are FBOs adapting to COVID-19 while maintaining a high level of service? What can you expect at your next destination? We talked with representatives from six organizations, ranging in size from companies with a few domestic locations to those with worldwide networks.
The first step in keeping FBO customers and employees safe and healthy was to perform risk assessments and then develop mitigation measures to address each specific risk in a reasonable manner.
“We identified the risks and implemented safety measures to mitigate them and limit potential exposure,” said TAC Air Chief Operation Officer Joe Gibney. “Our first step was approaching all cleanliness and safety guidelines through our regular, rigorous standards. Then we set up a team focus to make sure we met the NBAA and CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines.”
A Variety of New Procedures
One of the most noticeable procedural changes at FBOs is how transactions are conducted. Most operators surveyed have installed plexiglass barriers at customer service desks. Others have implemented contactless ordering and payment options through apps or other payment methods.
“We’ve taken extra measures from behind the transaction counters to be as touch-free as possible and diligent in our cleaning when it’s not.”
Bob Schick Director of Operations, TAC Air
“We’ve taken extra measures from behind the transaction counters to be as touch-free as possible and diligent in our cleaning when it’s not,” said Bob Schick, TAC Air’s director of operations.
Many FBOs also have implemented new policies regarding baggage handling, with line service people typically asking flight crews if they would like assistance, instead of automatically loading or unloading baggage.
Most FBOs surveyed also have changed their practices for handling third-party catering, as well as ice, coffee and refreshment services. Don’t expect to see cookies or popcorn in the FBO lobby. Individually packaged items might be provided instead. Coffee service might also be different. At most FBOs, ice and third-party catering are only handled by gloved personnel. At TAC Air and some other FBOs, catering is sealed with a sticker that is similar to tamperproof tape.
FBOs have implemented special policies for air ambulance aircraft or those carrying presumed positive passengers. Ideally, the pilot should notify the FBO prior to the aircraft’s arrival. FBO personnel will not interact directly with passengers and will communicate with crews only remotely via radio or other means. FBO personnel will also don appropriate personal protective equipment prior to servicing the aircraft.
Ground Transportation Policies Vary
Ground transportation procedures vary by location. While most FBOs continue to provide ramp-side delivery of personal or rental cars, if permitted by the airport, others have temporary halted this service.
Some passengers now prefer to sit in their own personal vehicle prior to departing from their home airport, rather than waiting in an FBO lobby. Geoff Heck of Signature Flight Support says his staff is prepared to accommodate that preference.
Tony Marlow, president of aviation operations and business development at Cooke & Castle, says the company’s Honolulu location encourages passengers and crew to avoid coming into the FBO by providing sanitized ground transportation on the ramp to minimize exposure at the facility. The FBO is NATA Safety 1st Clean certified, but nonetheless the company is discouraging unnecessary contact points. “We are encouraging a streamlined, cleaner arrival and departure process,” said Marlow.
Those FBOs that are providing ramp-side vehicle delivery are disinfecting surfaces such as steering wheels, knobs and door handles after a user has driven the vehicle. Most FBOs have continued valet parking services with similar sanitization procedures in place.
“TAC Air is using safety green ‘sanitized and clean’ stickers on door handles of shuttle vans and courtesy vehicles to indicate the vehicle has been disinfected between uses,” said Schick.
Emphasis on Personnel Hygiene, Sanitization
All FBOs surveyed shared a significantly increased focus on cleaning and disinfecting of common areas of their facilities, including lobbies, restrooms and offices. These areas are being cleaned more frequently and thoroughly several times daily.
“Customers can still expect great service, just tailored to fit safety protocols for both customers and employees, including increased cleanings and sanitation throughout the day, as well as hand sanitizers available throughout the FBOs,” said Glenn Rivenbark, general manager of Wilson Air Center Chattanooga.
Ross Aviation, which has connections to the hotel business, looked to that industry for guidance when implementing its sanitization, laundering and other procedures.
FBO personnel are encouraged to wash their hands frequently and stay home if they are feeling sick. Some FBOs, including Ross Aviation, are using infrared thermometers to take employee temperatures prior to each shift. Many FBOs have implemented remote work options for employees able to work at home and staggered shifts or separated workspaces for those who must work at the FBO.
FBOs are either requiring or encouraging their employees to wear masks or face coverings, in accordance with state requirements, typically when they are within six feet of another individual. Cy Farmer, Ross Aviation’s COO, said his company has issued “pan-dana” face coverings to all employees. But you won’t necessarily see ramp personnel wearing masks if the individual is fueling an aircraft far from other people.
Communicate and Collaborate
Collaboration – within an FBO organization and with industry partners and customers – is the key to successfully mitigating the risk of COVID-19 at ground facilities.
Perhaps one of the most significant impacts of the novel coronavirus has been the challenge of maintaining personal connections and networks during the pandemic, says Scott Harrold, president of consultancy SKYAviation International. Therefore, he and other experts recommend that aircraft operators and FBOs work closely with other industry partners, including aviation service providers and NBAA, to ensure a reasonable and effective approach to COVID-19 risk mitigation that will enable the industry to continue to provide outstanding customer service.
“Signature Flight Support took a collaborative approach between safety, operations and human resources to come up with a COVID playbook,” said Heck. “Consistency is the key.”