My first job in aviation was working at a Fixed Base Operator (FBO): driving the fuel truck, tying down airplanes and cleaning windshields. I enjoyed it immensely, since the job paid me to hang around airplanes all day. I got really good at naming airplane types from a distance, but I also learned a lot about the way different pilots approach aviation – some good, some bad.
I try to keep that experience in mind when I visit different FBOs, this time as a pilot. There are some small things we can do as pilots that have a major impact on both safety and camaraderie. You might call this the unofficial FBO rulebook – tips we all need to know as pilots, and they don’t appear in the FAR/AIM book or on the FAA written test.
- Always stay with your airplane when it’s fueled. You’ve just landed and you’re desperate to visit the bathroom and get a cold drink. But not so fast – if you ordered fuel, it’s a good idea to stay with the airplane. Most FBO employees are very conscientious, but everyone makes mistakes. Check to make sure it’s the Avgas truck and not the Jet A truck (if you ordered Avgas). Also make sure the right amount gets added to your airplane. Trying to fix either mistake after it has happened is a real pain, and if you don’t catch it the result could be fatal.
- Don’t be afraid to tip friendly line guys. Pilots’ approaches toward tipping tend to vary greatly, and in most cases a tip is not required for typical line service. But if someone really goes out of his way to help (staying late to fuel, loading lots of bags in on a hot ramp, etc.), don’t be afraid to thank them with a few dollars. It goes a long way.
- Return the courtesy car with more gas than when you found it. The whole concept of a courtesy car – a vehicle pilots can take for free to get lunch – seems too good to be true. But the system works very well, assuming we all obey the classic advice to leave things in better shape than you found it. Take a few minutes to clean up your mess, and add a few gallons to the gas tank. This “pass it on” attitude is part of what makes the aviation community special.
- Sign the guestbook if it’s out. Some small airports like to leave a guestbook out for transient pilots to fill out when they arrive. It may sound a little old school, but I’ve found it to be a wonderful tradition. Take a moment and fill in your name and N-number. Also stop to read where the last few visitors came from. This is a great way to strike up a conversation with the local airport bums.
- Don’t sit with the engine running in front of the FBO. Be a good airport neighbor – after you start the engine and have your headset on, pull away from the FBO door to complete your checklist. It’s both unsafe and a little rude to sit in front of the door for 15 minutes while you run down every last item.
- Leave your parking brake off. If you’re parking overnight, be sure to leave the parking brake off in your airplane. You never know when the FBO might need to move airplanes around, and if your brakes are on you will be a major inconvenience. Worse still, if severe weather moves through, they won’t be able to move your airplane into a hangar. So leave the brakes off – and bring a pair of chocks if you want some insurance.
- Update fuel prices online or in your favorite app. Many of us check fuel prices religiously before a trip, but most of those fuel prices are only as good as the pilots who submit them. If you buy fuel, take 30 seconds and update the price on Airnav.com or ForeFlight or whatever you use for pre-flight planning. Some of these sites and apps also allow you to leave reviews of the FBO’s facilities and service. These are very helpful too.
- Help another pilot if you notice something wrong. If you’re walking to your rental car at 11pm on a Sunday night and you notice another airplane is untied and unchocked, take a moment and secure the airplane. Sure, 2% of pilots will complain that you touched their airplane, but 98% will appreciate the gesture and you may save an airplane from damage. If nothing else, it prevents that airplane from becoming a danger to other airplanes. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, talk to the FBO and point out the issue.
Now it’s your turn – what rules should pilots obey at FBOs? Add a comment below.
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