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Annual FBO Fuel Sales Survey: 75% of FBOs Report Positive Fuel Sales in 2018

Results of our Annual FBO Fuel Sales Survey are in, and we are happy to report that 75 percent of FBOs responding to the survey experienced positive — increased or the same — fuel sales in 2018 compared to 2017.

This is the third consecutive year we have seen an increase in fuel sales by more than half of FBOs responding.

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The Cost of Aviation Fuel

Why is the price continuing to increase, and what can an FBO do?

“Business, more than any other occupation, is a continual dealing with the future; it is a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight.” – Henry R. Luce

We think it’s fair to say we are all feeling the impact on fuel price increases over the last six months or so. As a pilot, I’m seeking the best fuel price and am modifying my flying patterns to get the best deal.

Historically, after an initial spike in oil prices, the market tends to settle down. So why haven’t we seen a stabilization in Jet A fuel prices? What’s causing the volatility in the open and spot fuel markets?

Besides the obvious affects of world events, including the disaster in Japan and political upheaval in the Middle East oil-producing regions, there are other underlying dynamics that contribute to rising aviation fuel prices.

What Others Are Saying

Let’s review a few articles that have been written lately.

As discussed in Charles Kadlec’s article, the current Fed policy of keeping the value of the dollar low in the international markets is one of the main influences. Because it takes more dollars to buy a barrel of oil, the low dollar value pressure drives up the costs. It’s not necessary to review the entire article here, but suffice it to say the continued low value of the dollar is not going to reverse anytime soon.

In the article “Oil Spike Prompts Airline Profit Fears,” the authors discuss in detail the increasing cost of fuel and its effects on the airline industry. The airlines anticipated the increasing cost of fuel to be in the $75 to $90 range, but now a barrel of oil costs more than $108 this week. The economics of the airlines are such that a $1 increase in the price of a barrel of oil will increase the costs to the airlines more than $1 billion in a year.

As a result, the airlines are looking at a $10 billion cost increase in 2011 with fuel costs, on average, representing approximately 29 percent of the airlines’ operating costs. In order to gain back revenue, airline ticket prices are going up. Expect to see more fees and reduced flights with higher load factors.

The NBAA article details some similar statistics. They indicate 20 to 25 percent of a turbine operator’s cost of operation is fuel. The article notes, as we have discussed in previous blogs, that corporate operators are utilizing tactics such as using contract fuel providers, discounts with their base FBOs, tankering fuel and other fuel savings measures.

What Does the Crystal Ball Say?

As Henry Luce noted in his quote, in business we are always trying to look into the future. So looking into the crystal ball, what is going to happen with fuel costs, and what can we do about it? With the continued world unrest in the Middle East, oil prices will probably remain volatile.

The wild card in this equation is the Fed monetary policy. If the dollar remains weak, it’s our opinion the price of a barrel of oil is not going to go down anytime soon. Unfortunately, these factors are also going to slow down the economic recovery.

The bottom line: Just as the airlines are dealing with higher fuel costs, the cost of operating your FBO is going to go up and will probably not get any better soon. You’re also going to continue to see increased pressure on your fuel margin as aircraft operators, faced with their own budget problems, seek to negotiate better fuel prices.

So how do you survive during this fuel crisis? First, you must reconnect with your customers. Get out from behind the desk, and be a pro-active owner/operator. Be the restaurant owner!

Get to know your base customers and your transient customers. Learn their needs, wants and desires. By knowing your customers’ requirements, you can negotiate your own fuel delivery program that is customized to their operating parameters. At the same time, you minimize outside influences and maximize your returns. With regards to transient customers, you should already know who is flying into your location, so meet with them, and negotiate a reasonable service fee program which includes your fuel delivery.

Secondly, remember the Pareto 80–20 Principle.

Generally, the Pareto Principle is the observation (not law) that most things in life are not distributed evenly. It can mean all of the following things:

  • Twenty percent of the input creates 80 percent of the result,
  • 20 percent of the workers produce 80 percent of the result,
  • 20 percent of the customers create 80 percent of the revenue,
  • And on and on.

The Pareto Principle helps you realize the majority of results come from a minority of inputs.

As the FBO manager and chief marketing/sales person, this principle can help you concentrate your efforts by identifying your top customers — the important 20 percent that generate 80 percent of your business. That is the best bang for your buck. Know these folks well. This understanding of the vital few is what will make your business successful, and you can manage the change in cost of fuel.

Remember our premise as we forecast for the future. Concentrate on what you can control in a measured and methodical manner. We have little control over world events or what the Fed is going to do with monetary policy.

How are you dealing with the higher fuel costs? I’d like to know. Please email me at

John Enticknap

John Enticknap 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.