FBO Ownership: A Day in the Life

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GUEST COMMENTARY. We pilots are often quick to criticize Fixed Base Operators anytime they're not Johnny-on-the-spot with the red carpet, fuel truck and rental car. But have you ever wondered how the world looks from the other side of the nozzle? AVweb readerMark Blaisdell (an FBO owner as well as a professional pilot) offers this glimpse of what a day in FBO hell feels like.

ATISI don't know for sure if this is intended to be a funny story or a plea for advice, but after two days of internalizing it, I do know for sure that I must put this down on paper.

I am one of three family members that are as a group the owners of two FBO's located in the midwest. In December of 1997 we finalized the purchase of two FBOs at the same time. Life has had its highs and lows since the acquisition and for the most part we just keep sailing along. Two days ago, however, I thought that for sure I was going to evaporate into a cloud of smoke.

The dreaded phone call

At about 6:00 AM two mornings ago, my wife (one of the owners) and I were called by the line service manager of our largest FBO informing us that our only avgas truck at the time, had locked up brakes and that we were presently unable to deliver any avgas to our customers who were anxiously awaiting fuel. I told the manager that I was on my way, everybody just hold still for a few minutes! It would take me about an hour to get to the FBO.

We have two other avgas trucks that we use as storage trucks until our new above ground fuel farm is approved to be launched into service. So as I'm driving to the FBO, it occurs to me that the simplest solution would be to put some avgas in one of the storage trucks, and press that truck into service. No problem, right? Wrong!

Upon arriving at the FBO and explaining my proposed solution, I'm informed that one truck has no battery. Hmm, it did have a battery last I knew...where did it go? No big deal, I say, we'll take one out of one of the other trucks and put it in this one. I'm now informed that this would have been a great idea, except that the truck also was just discovered to have a broken PTO cable, so it can't pump fuel.

I'm also informed that we have customers who want avgas RIGHT NOW!

Well, okay, let's go get the second storage truck and use that. No can do. That truck, I'm told, has a broken PTO cable, won't start, and leaks fuel from the hose fitting!

It's now five minutes after my arrival at the FBO, and it's apparent that all the options I came up with during my drive have just gone up in smoke.

Plan B?

Well then, why don't we just use the main truck the one with the locked up brakes and simply pump avgas from where the truck was parked, as if it were a fuel island? You know, bring the airplane to the truck instead of bringing the truck to the airplane? (Sometimes I'm amazed at my own brilliance and creativity!)

I'm told that this would have been an excellent approach, except that the clutch on the main truck was burned out this morning when someone tried to move it with the airbrakes locked. No clutch, no PTO, no pump, no avgas. Back to square one.

I walk back into the lobby to ponder over alternative solutions, just to be faced by the pop-up catering request of a professional flight crew operating a 16 million dollar business jet. Catering is generally not a problem but it can be when you have less than two hours to order and receive a very type specific elaborate catering request and your customer service representative is handling her first day!

We worked that challenge out on time but it did require some spontaneous creativity.

Plan C's the charm

Now I return to the challenge of how to pump avgas. Someone suggested that we designate one of our jet refuelers as an avgas truck. I seize on this immediately as a wonderful idea, and wish I could take credit for it myself!

To convert a jet truck to an avgas truck you must drain the jet fuel, flush the system, change the filters, and relabel the truck. We had to do all of these tasks in short time. Not trivial, but at least it's a plan.

As the truck conversion job was being executed, I take a break from the chaos. I just stand in the shade and rest my mind...briefly. The reverie is shattered by a strange noise that causes me to look up to see a new-hire line serviceman attempting, for his first time, to drive the manual transmission Chevy pick up truck that we use as a crew car. When one pops the clutch on this kind of truck it tries to pop a wheelie!!! He knows how to drive a stick shift now!

I confess that I am among the few remaining people who still smoke cigarettes... I notice I've smoked a whole pack in about two minutes.

Aftermath...

Well, we manage to convert the jet truck as required, service our now-very-ready avgas customers, send the broken truck out for repairs, and finish out the day somewhat uneventfully.

Oh, did I mention that when I received the first call in the morning, I made a mad dash for the door, unshaven and wearing the worn and tattered blue jeans and old baseball cap that I wore the day before when I tended to needs around the house and yard. What a sight!

I wish to with hold our names and location in order to protect our employees who by all right did make some huge mistakes but without any doubts were sincere and more than willing to find a way to patch up the day and make the business work smoothly. Thanks guys, we did it!

I have been a fan of John Denver for many years. I think of the lyrics to one of his songs: "Some days are diamonds, some days are stone." I believe that day represented granite! But life goes on.