fueling 172

The unofficial FBO rulebook – what your CFI didn’t teach you

4 min read

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.

Fueling Cessna 172I 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.

10 replies
  1. Ann Pollard says:

    When arriving at an FBO, STOP at the entrance of the ramp and let the FBO know how long you will be parking, what services you need and any special requirements (cart for luggage, elderly peassenger on board, etc.). Better yet, call ahead! This will help the FBO provide the best service possible. AND, you won’t end up in a parking spot that will soon be receiving jet blast from an arriving jet or helicopter, or blocking a spot reserved for a based aircraft.

  2. Jon says:

    ALWAYS be kind to the folks behind the desk. Remember that the kid behind the desk is likely just trying to do what they can to earn flying money so they can be in your shoes one day. Share advice with them, ask about their flying, just don’t be a jerk.

  3. Mike says:

    When being marshaled into the parking spot, turn off your taxi light or landing light. All the light will do is blind the guy trying to direct you in.

  4. Michael Dulitz says:

    Former line guy
    1. The standard SafetyFirst training that many FBOs have their employees do heavily emphasizes customer service. After parking an aircraft, I always hang around to find out what your needs are, how long you are staying, and help point you towards the door. I had many people simply tell me “no fuel” and walk away. That is only a small part of why I am there. I am there to serve you.
    2. Tips are never expected but appreciated when received. I loved this aspect since it really showed appreciation when we did receive something. We generally shared the tip equally among everyone working unless it was for a specific deed.
    3. Don’t abuse the system. Our FBO closed at 10pm and we always had one flight school notorious for flying in at 9 or 9:30 on Wednesdays to take the courtesy car and go for wings. This left the FBO paying overtime and the flight school with a poor reputation among staff that could have been easily remedied by coming in at 7 or 8pm. We are happy to provide for you, just be mindful.
    4. FBOs are glorified gas stations. Our exsistance relies on selling fuel. While I never had an issue with a person who wouldn’t take fuel, be mindful of the FBO, especially if they don’t charge ramp fees. A top off every once in awhile shows appreciation and helps ensure we don’t end up having to add fees.
    5. I really miss the job, I loved working at the FBO, especially the variety. I could go from fueling a C172 to a MH-60 Blackhawk to a MD-80 all in a day’s work.

  5. Rich says:

    Amen to this! I spent 15 years in GA working up through the positions until Operations Manager at a regional airport for a major FBO chain and I think this nails it!

    I like the four comments before mine, but definitely turn off your taxi light once you’ve established a clear line of sight to where the marshaller wants you parked. And no matter how much of a hurry you’re in taxiing at a high rate of speed only endangers lives and property. Plan ahead and don’t rush.

  6. Ron Cox says:

    Worked on the line at several FBOs years ago saving $ for flying lessons and plane rentals. 22,000 hours later I try to remember to taxi at a slow jog, turn off the lights and take time to talk flying with anyone who shows an interest. You never know how your interaction might affect some young aviator.

  7. Ross Clarke says:

    The old chestnut!!!……….Dont start up where your propwash will blow into an open Hangar. I have seen this happen and the damage it can cause not only from debri being blown in, but its downright dangerous!
    Comes back to a little forethought and AIRMANSIP!

  8. Lane says:

    I don’t why but it seems like almost all beach jet pilots have no common courtesy they will go to their plane shut the door and fire the engines without telling anybody they were ready to leave still having chocks down and the gpu hooked up then they are crying on the radio for a line guy. A little common courtesy is very much appreciated

  9. Craig Petersman says:

    I’m a newer pilot, about 250 hours all in a C172. I appreciate the input here, both from the writer and the comments. We have had outstanding service at most FBOs and I can’t say enough how much that is appreciated from a pilot of a trainer. We are treated the same as the larger planes and most experienced pilots. At My first FBO visit, in Ukiah, CA, the desk clerk drove my family, including our two year old daughter, to a hotel in town – in her own vehicle. Thank you to all the folks who work the ramp, the desk, fuelers, maintenance – every one of you. I am sure you don’t get the thanks you receive every single day. It is appreciated more than words can say.

  10. Jim Macklin, ATP CFII ASME says:

    How to scare your passengers re:
    3. Five ways to scare your passengers away from flying.

    The phrase, “Hey y’all – watch this!” has no place in the cockpit. ”

    Never say to your passenger before landing, Fasten your seat belt, we’re going down.
    Even if you are crashing, don’t scare them. Fasten your seat belt and shoulder harness, we’ll be landing shortly.
    Certain a passenger will know there is a problem is the windshield is covered with oil. But your flying problem isn’t helped by screaming and wailing passengers. Don’t lie to them, but stay calm yourself and chose your words carefully.
    NEVER stop actively flying the airplane. You can fly the airplane 1 foot off the runway for a mile 1 kt above stall speed, you can maneuver, correct for position as long as you keep the wheels aligned with the direction the plane is moving.
    Use a grease pencil to draw crosshairs directly in front of the pilot so what you think is straight really is straight.
    As an instructor I have administered flight reviews to King Air pilots who did not really know what was straight. Once they were shown their error, they appreciated the instruction.
    Look at the nose wheel tire on most airplanes and you will see that most are worn out on the right side and sidewall. Think about why that happens, misalignment on touchdown and no follow-through on the flare.
    Poor and good alignment can be seen when airplanes swerve left, the right two or three times when the take-off roll begins.

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