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What is an FBO? Private jet terminals explained

A Fixed-Base Operator, aka FBO, is a private jet terminal, which like commercial airport terminals, offers a range of facilities and services. 

What is an FBO? 

Private jet passengers don’t use the main facilities when they arrive at the airport. Instead, they skip the crowds and queues and head to an FBO. In many cases, an FBO is a separate, purpose-built part of the airport away from the main terminals. Sometimes the whole airport will be dedicated to private aviation, for example, Farnborough in the UK or Teterboro, New York. 

Essentially, an FBO is a chance for private jets to fuel up. However, they also offer a lounge for passengers arriving and departing on private jets. Typically, they provide crew lounges, passenger lounges, and flight/onward travel planning services. Plus, some FBOs at large international airports even have spaces to sleep, shower and work. 

Additionally, some FBOs will also provide maintenance and management for aircraft owners as well as charter services. Some will even have office space for charter brokers and other aviation businesses to rent.

FBOs are a mix of locally owned businesses, franchises, and chains; sometimes, they’re owned by the airport authority. However, most will operate based on a licence from the government.

Where do FBOs come from?

Dating back to the days of civil aviation in the 1920s, when aircraft were relatively inexpensive due to a surplus of ex-military aircraft available. So, pilots started to offer passenger flights, travelling locally and across the US. However, the US Air Commerce Act of 1926 required new licensing for pilots, as well as the regular maintenance of aircraft. Pilots, engineers, and mechanics were expected to register as businesses at fixed addresses, creating Fixed Base Operations. 

As the industry grew and developed, plus private jet flights became more popular, there was a need to create spaces for facilities for the planes, passengers, and crew – for example, refuelling, bathrooms, and refreshments. 

Frequently asked questions about FBOs

Are there FBOs at every airport? 

No, there’ll usually be at least a waiting area for private passengers, but not every commercial airport has an FBO. There are over 5,000 airports in the US for private jets, so there’ll often be one close by. 

Some airports have more than one FBO; think of large international airports operating similarly to service stations. When high volumes of private jets fly in and out, there needs to be increased support. Whilst there might not be an FBO at every airport, it’s pretty standard that even smaller airports would have at least one or two. 

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You will often find that FBOs might be a bit out of the way from commercial passenger terminals, and it might take some time to get out to your FBO, and it’s always worth asking the distance in advance. 

What happens when you arrive at an FBO? 

When you arrive at your FBO, typically, you’ll be greeted by the reception staff and introduced to your captain. There’ll be a place for you to sit and wait, but usually, passengers move through FBOs very quickly. 

What passenger facilities are available? 

So, we know what FBOs offer the crew and private jets, but they also provide a variety of facilities for passengers. Facilities can vary from a comfortable seating area where you can meet your pilots, take advantage of free Wi-Fi before your flight, and have bathrooms to much more sophisticated options. Some FBOs offer cinema screens, duty-free shopping, car rental, concierge, and showering facilities. 

In terms of food and drink, typically, there aren’t many options available like at a commercial airport. It’s not comparable to the first and business class lounges offered by airlines. However, you’ll usually find bottled water and tea or coffee-making facilities.

Who decides which FBO you go to? 

As a private jet passenger, you can choose which airport you want to fly in/out of, but your operator or broker will be in charge of selecting the FBO. This is due to partnerships and contracts in place for refuelling. It’ll probably be possible if you want to request a different FBO, but it will likely come with a surcharge.

What do I do with my luggage? 

Someone from the FBO will help you. At smaller FBOs, you may need to go to the reception for help, but the FBO will ensure your luggage is loaded onto your flight and communicate with your cabin crew on your behalf. You don’t have to do a thing! As with a commercial flight, ensure that anything you may need on the flight with you is in your on-person luggage, as the hold area isn’t always accessible from the cabin. 

How to check in and go through security at an FBO?

Just go to the reception desk at the FBO and let the reception staff know that you’re looking for your pilots. Private jet flights are identified by their tail numbers, and your broker will typically provide you with this information 24 hours before your flight. 

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Typically, you need to provide your government-issued IDs ahead of your flight. Depending on the regulations of the country that you’re visiting, there may be additional screening. 

How to get to an FBO, and where do you park? 

Your broker will provide information to get to your FBO, such as the address and directions. Passenger waiting areas are often tucked behind hangers, so if you’re unsure, just call ahead. Most FBOs will have complimentary parking for passengers, and some will also have valet services. If you need car parking services, it’s best to speak to your broker. 

To save any issues finding your FBO or with parking, many brokers will arrange transport for you to get to the passenger waiting area. Some FBOs will offer planeside drop-off and pick-up, but it varies by airport. If you require this service, it’s best to call or speak to your broker. 

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