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Want to Deliver a Better Customer Service Experience? Start with External Operational Audits

By John L. Enticknap

What does an external audit program have to do with delivering a better customer service experience? Let’s explore the possibilities.

One of the most popular events at the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) FBO Success Seminar, conducted by the Aviation Business Strategies Group, is a discussion on lowering FBO insurance rates through better operations management. This includes training the CSR and executive staff on safety, customer service, technical procedures and practical application of quality aircraft ground handling techniques.

­­As part of the seminar, we discuss having a good “insurance story” – which essentially tells your insurance agent how the FBO strives to be proactive in preventing costly mishaps. It all starts with a comprehensive safety and training program. Your “story” includes the positive efforts of proper training with programs such as NATA’s Safety 1st. 

One element of your safety program is an internal or self-audit of: your training, standard operating procedures, ramp operations and fuel quality control. Internal or self-audits are a positive part of your standard operating procedure. However, as you are aware, your FBO also is subject to external audits from airlines, FAA, airports and your insurance carrier, among others. 

Suffice to say, self-audits are necessary, but are not enough. When you do a self-audit, the problem is, you have a built in “human fudge factor”. It’s like giving yourself an annual physical and pronouncing yourself fit, instead of going to the doctor. 

Therefore, external operational audits need to be a part of your standard operating procedures and not just under the line service section. External operational audits also need to be a part of your Customer Service Program. Yes, we said Customer Service Program. What better way to demonstrate to a customer that you are concerned about their total customer service experience than by delivering: 

  • Excellent marshaling of their aircraft
  • Parking directions
  • Proper chocking
  • Ramp safety cones
  • Marshaling into hangars with two wings walkers
  • Fueling the aircraft with wing mats, without fuel spills, with the proper amount
  • And yes, with the proper grade of fuel 

Superior customer service is all about earning the customer’s trust in your operation. It is not just about the fancy FBO facilities, or the smiles and pleasant greetings at the front counter. It’s also about your ramp operation and the customer’s perception that their aircraft is secure and out of harm’s way. 

External Audit Programs are the best way to assure your operation is running in accordance with your high standards. Not only safe operations, but conducting operations in such a manner that the customer has confidence that you’re doing things right! Some of the benefits and advantages of external audits include: 

  • Providing a true validation of your internal or self-audit program
         – Self-audits are not enough
         – Need an unbiased ‘third party’ audit
         – Eliminates ‘fudge factor’
  • You become a more efficient and safe FBO
  • Verifies your Standard Operating Procedures
  • Follows-up and benchmarks your training programs
  • Keeps you in compliance with regulatory standards
  • Enables you to establish a Safety Award Program
  • Helps build a positive insurance story for your  brokers
  • Can result in lower premiums, less costly accidents 

So, what kind of external audits should you conduct and who should you hire to complete the program? Having done numerous audits over the past several years and recently completed the NATA Accredited Auditor Training, my recommendation is to hire someone with proven experience and good references.

One of the newest audit programs available is the NATA Safety 1st Ground Audit Standard. This program has two primary objectives:

  1. To create a consistent operational safety standard for FBOs, airports, and others while increasing the overall safety level of these operations.
  2. To provide on-demand charter, fractional and corporate aircraft operators with an alternative to costly proprietary audits of FBOs, airports and others.

So what does the Ground Audit cover? The audit screens seven separate operating areas within an FBO: Management Systems, Safety Management Systems & Quality Assurance, Training, Standard Operating Procedures, Security, Occupational Safety & Health and Environmental Policies & Procedures.

Who conducts the audits? NATA Safety 1st manages the audit standard, but does not actually conduct the audit. For third party external audit certification, the FBO contracts with a NATA Safety 1st trained Accredited Auditor. You may also do a self-certification, but the Accredited Auditor must be trained by NATA Safety 1st.

For more information on this program visit

In conclusion, here is a recap of benefits from conducting an external audit: 

  1. Safety. Not only for the customer, but for everyone involved in delivering the end product.
  2. Better Customer Service Experience. A customer watches how an FBO works and determines, through perception, whether or not the FBO is taking care of business.
  3. Lower Churn and Better Margins. A happy customer is a loyal customer. One willing to recommend your FBO, and also willing to pay a higher price to receive a better product delivered in a professional way.
  4. Benchmarks Your Deliverables. Quality external audits will help measure your success in delivering a quality customer service experience. Utilized consistently, it will provide a benchmark for your service deliverable. It will reveal whether or not you’re on the right track - that your systems are operating well and if quality control is being maintained to its highest level. 


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Accredited Auditor




Look for our next FBO Success Seminar in September 2012—Dallas, TX

Ron Jackson
Ron is Co-Founder of ABSG and President of The Jackson Group, a public relations agency specializing in aviation and FBO marketing. He has held management positions with Cessna Aircraft and Bozell Advertising and is the author of Mission Marketing: Creating Brand Value and co-author of Don’t Forget the Cheese! the ultimate FBO Customer Service Experience

John Enticknap
John founded Aviation Business Strategies Group in 2006 following a distinguished career in aviation fueling and FBO management, including as president of Mercury Air Centers. He is the author of 10 Steps to Building a Profitable FBO and developed NATA’s acclaimed FBO Success Seminar Series.

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