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Moving on up
Following the news that Marshall Aviation Services will open its first FBO at Birmingham Airport in February, James Dillon-Godfray, vice president of business development, talks about the expansion plans and how to provide a successful service
Why did you decide to move into the FBO business?
It’s two fold really. Firstly, it was opportunistic – the facility at Birmingham Airport became available during the course of 2014 and it was equidistant between our two key facilities – Cambridge Airport, which we own, and Broughton Airport, where we have a large engineering and MRO facility – making it an attractive proposition.
Secondly, we have a clear strategic plan to enhance our offering to the business aviation marketplace by creating a full portfolio of services. We do everything from aircraft sales and acquisitions, acceptances and deliveries, all forms of maintenance, upgrades and refurbishments, aircraft management and aircraft charter. FBO services were the one thing missing from our spectrum of services. We have made it a point in our long-term plan to get into the management and operation of FBOs because it plugs in very nicely to everything else that we do in the group.
Why did you choose Birmingham?
Geographically Birmingham is very advantageous – it is central UK and it is also the industrial heart of the country. There is a very strong, thriving automotive industry there and typically in the automotive industry there are quite a lot of people flying around privately for various events. The hierarchies of some of these motor groups are flying in and out of the airport quite often.
Birmingham is 24 hours, which is another distinct advantage, and it also has a huge runway so aircraft of any size can get land there. It is also relatively low cost in terms of the fees and charges – whether you’re talking about departure or parking fees, it is notably less expensive than any of the typical London options and it only and hour and a half up the road from the London region.
Birmingham is evolving and developing a lot in terms of the amenities and facilities nearby – there are lots of stadiums, conference centers, a new casino is being built right next to the airport, and so because of the stadiums and the big event venues that they have in Birmingham, there are a lot of celebrities coming and going for big pop concerts, for example. There is a good core market on the doorstep with what we believe is good scope for greater use and growth in that part of the world.
How will you develop the Birmingham FBO?
We will enhance the look and the aesthetics of the place, although it was pretty nice to begin with. We have inherited a good design scheme that we’re happy with in the main, but we will enhance it as best we can. We will put up new signage and I would argue that it would be moved up market a little bit compared to where it was a year ago. The FBO presents extremely well compared to other facilities of that ilk elsewhere in the UK and Europe – the level of amenities available are very comprehensive for both crew and passengers, and the structure is relatively new as it was built in 2012. Our intent is for the upgraded facility to be fully functioning by the tail end of February 2015.
Where else do you plan to open FBOs?
Our strategy is very clear and concise – this is one of a handful of FBOs we may have under our control in the years to come and we may look at any opportunities that arise in the UK, Europe and the Middle East – we are not geographically constrained in terms of where we might look at next.
How will you remain competitive?
The catchment area for business aviation is fundamentally controlled by Birmingham – to the north there is East Midlands, to the east there’s Coventry, but in terms of competition on site there is only one other incumbent who is offering a smaller operation. We expect to win business through offering the best service possible. We have got a snazzy, smart facility but the next part, and the most important part, is to offer a fantastic service at good value. We don’t want to charge crazy sums of money but if we offer a fair market price for an excellent service we should gain market share.
How will you ensure that great service?
We’ve got great people on board. The FBO manager, Freddie Judge will be the day-to-day FBO manager – he was manager at the previous entity and is well known and has a great reputation. In fact in 2013 the Baltic Air Charter Association (BACA) named the FBO Best Handling Agent/FBO, and that was down very much to Freddie and his team. He is re-recruiting some of the old team and getting some new blood in. We will be very hot on training standards and quality control and SMS.
We also have Pauline Smith, our customer service manager, involved. She is well known in the industry and has well over 20 years in FBO management with some of the bigger players in the market including ExecuJet and Harrods. She also set up and ran the DhabiJet facility at the Al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi. She is hugely experienced, highly respected and she is coordinating the project of getting this new Birmingham facility up and running and will have an overseeing role as it continues to operate in the future.
What are the key things that make a successful FBO business?
Anticipating customer requirements each and every time is key. You will begin to have regular visitors and remembering what they wanted the last time and being ready to support them in anything they want is important. You need to take note of what was important to them the first time they came through and be on the ball the next time they come. Another critical thing is looking after the operator and their crew, and look after the airplane of course. If you’re focused on that primarily you’ll tend to give an excellent service.
Read more on Marshall Aviation Services' Birmingham FBO here.
January 28, 2015