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Catch a rising star

Montreal residents, more than any other in Canada, will certainly be able to appreciate just how special a hat trick is in the world of professional hockey.

September 6, 2013  By Matt Nicholls and Rob Seaman

Montreal residents, more than any other in Canada, will certainly be able to appreciate just how special a hat trick is in the world of professional hockey. The storied Montreal Canadiens have produced countless National Hockey League stars who have lit the lamp for magical three-goal games.

Providing a strong commitment to recurrent training and hiring employees with just the right attitudes goes a long way in determining an FBO’s success, says Patrick Sniffen, vice-president of marketing for Signature Flight Support. PHOTO: Rogerio Barbosa


Well, it’s time to add another hat trick to the city’s portfolio, this one in the form of a three-peat for Starlink/Signature in Wings magazine’s third annual survey of top fixed-base operators (FBOs) in Canada. Awarded annually to the FBOs offering top-notch customer service, impeccable on-site amenities, dedicated employees with a “can-do” attitude, value-added pricing options and more, these organizations represent the crème de la crème of FBO choices north of the border.

“Obviously, it’s a top honour and a testament to our outstanding team,” says Zoran Bratuljevic, president/CEO of Starlink/Signature Montreal, when presented with the award in Montreal in early August. “Basically, when you win an award like this more than once it reflects on the continuous levels of service that you provide in all areas of the business. It shows that you indeed sweat the small stuff, because sweating the small stuff is so essential. And that’s what we do here . . . every employee is committed to delivering it.”


Sweating the small stuff and providing a level of service excellence that exceeds expectations is indeed a corporate philosophy that connects employees at all levels – a commitment to providing a customer experience that will leave an indelible mark and keep them coming back. It goes without saying, Bratuljevic notes, that all employees live and breathe this philosophy at the Starlink/Signature property.

“Let’s just say 10 customers come in at the same time and the line technicians are out there servicing aircraft, everyone is busy, but some of the crew needs transportation to the hotel,” Bratuljevic says. “It’s in our culture that no matter what position a person may hold, they will react to that situation and help out – someone will jump up and service these people. We are all basically equal when it comes to our customers, we are here to serve them and create a great experience. The nice thing is, everyone here enjoys doing it.”

Patrick Sniffen, vice-president of marketing for Signature Flight Support in Orlando, maintains delivering a consistent experience at all Signature properties is what makes customers comfortable with the brand – they know what to expect and they keep coming back. It’s the same quality of service that can be found at Signature’s newest Canadian FBO in Edmonton.

The key to establishing such service levels, Sniffen notes, is consistent training and selecting just the right employees to carry out corporate objectives. Signature’s training program – Service with a Leading Edge developed in concert with hotelier Ritz Carlton – helps lay the groundwork in doing just that. It also provides
customers with the peace of mind that within the Signature brand, service levels will always remain high.

“With a lot of companies, the service training is limited to the employees that are on the CSR desk or on the line, but with this training program, everyone top to bottom no matter who you are in the company has to undergo annual recurring training,” says Sniffen. “And the program establishes the fact that everyone is working off the same sheet of music.”

Providing a harmonious experience for customers at Skyservice Calgary is what Jill Timmins and her team are all about. Timmins, the vice-president, Western Canada for Skyservice Business Aviation, says choosing the right FBO to meet the needs of Canadian aviators is much like a marriage – a client/service provider bond based on the utmost respect, careful nurturing and above all, trust. Ensuring your partner is comfortable and content can make or break the
relationship; for top Canadian FBO providers, nothing can stand in the way of delivering service levels that keep relationships humming right along.

Timmins and her crew are obviously humming right along: Skyservice Calgary captured the top spot in Western Canada for the second straight year. “What we do is very much like a marriage . . . and the last thing you want to do is have it end in divorce,” says Timmins laughing. “That’s why we are fanatical about details.”

Timmins says her Skyservice Calgary location provides its customers with everything from impeccable line service from ramp employees, top-of-the-line customer service, cost-effective pricing options, maintenance service 24/7 and more – service with a smile that always exceeds expectations. “We know what our
customers want and cater specifically to their needs on all levels . . . some would say we are obsessive about details, but I like it because that’s what it takes to consistently deliver the type of service we need to.”

Numbers game

Service excellence, catering to customers needs, offering sound price points – all are key drivers when it comes to creating an FBO that delivers a high-end experience. The Wings  annual FBO survey was designed to identify properties that deliver on these important value propositions. For the third consecutive year, we asked readers to identify their top Canadian FBOs, fuel brands, and charge or credit cards. In an industry driven by service impressions as well as price, the survey offers a unique overview of the Canadian market and this market alone.

Immaculate attention to detail and a “can-do” attitude from all employees has helped Starlink/Signature Montreal three-peat as Wings FBO winners. These pros make it all happen (from left): David Bruneau, FBO manager; Yuliya Marunych, executive assistant to president/CEO; Zoran Bratuljevic, president/CEO. PHOTO: Matt Nicholls


The methodology for the survey was straightforward. Respondents were allowed the opportunity to select up to five FBOs and rank them based on everything from service and pricing to the bricks-and-mortar aspects of the site. Respondents were asked for a rating on each section using a scale of one through 10 for such attributes. As in previous years, participants were also asked to indicate how important pricing and customer service is to their FBO choice.

What makes the Wings’ FBO survey unique is it is based solely and completely on respondent recall without prompting – readers choose an FBO based on their experience only, without a cheat sheet or prompt list. Our research and experience over several years has shown this to be a proven method to not only focus on Canadian service and support providers, but also allow for the inclusion of all airports from across the country on an equal footing.

With the end scores totalled, we then were able to see how the selected FBOs rated overall for their markets – both in the number of times they were selected and in the total scores by attribute. A winner was selected region to region across the country and an overall winner was determined based on the total votes cast and related scores.

Once again, the survey illustrates that customers do remember their service experience – and when it is good, they feel loyal enough to comment. As any professional from the service and retail sector knows, most customers don’t say much about your service until it is really great – or conversely, incredibly bad. And it is seldom expressed directly to the company, so a survey like this provides a valuable third-party insight into how the people who put money into your cash register see you.

Listed below, are the winners broken down by region:

  • Best FBO in Canada: Starlink/Signature YUL (Repeat overall winner three years in a row)
  • Best FBO in Western Canada (B.C., Alta., Y.T., N.W.T): Skyservice YYC  (Repeat winner from last year)
  • Best FBO in Central Canada (Sask., Man., Nunavut): Kreos Aviation YXE  (New winner for this region)
  • Best FBO in Ontario: Skyservice YYZ  (Repeat winner in this category)
  • Best FBO in Quebec: Starlink/Signature YUL  (Repeat winner in this category)
  • Best FBO in Atlantic Canada: (N.B., N.L., N.S., P.E.I.): Gateway YHZ (New winner for this region)

A new ranking we added for this year’s report includes the top three fixed-base operators in each region of Canada. This list includes:

Top 3 Western Canada

Skyservice YYC
Esso Avitat YVR
Landmark Aviation YVR

Top 3 Central Canada

Kreos Aviation YXE
Kelly Western Jet Center
Esso Avitat YWG

Top 3 Ontario

Skyservice YYZ
Million Air YKZ
Landmark Aviation YYZ

Top 3 Quebec

Signature/Starlink YUL
Pascan Aviation YHU
Skyservice YUL

Top 3 Atlantic Canada

Gateway YHZ
Irving YQX
Irving Goose Bay

Priming the pump

In terms of the fuel market, the survey once again revealed that FBOs continue to accept a variety of fuel cards and charge services to remain competitive and responsive. Here are the top fuel brand choices and preferred fuel card providers:

Top 3 fuel brands

  • Petro T/Avjet (New winner for this category)
  • EPIC
  • Shell

Top preferred cards for fuel

1.    Visa (Repeat winner for this category for third year)

2.    Colt (Up one position from last year)

3.    Mastercard (Same position the past two years)

4.    Multiservice (Down from second last year)

5.    AMEX (Down one from last year)

6.    AvCard (Same position as last year)

7.    UVAIR (Same position as last year)

8.     Avfuel (Same position as last year)

9.    EPIC (New card/rating this year – two properties tied for ninth place)

9.    Airworld (Same position as last year)

10.    Ascend (Same position as last year)

Customer service vs. price

There’s no doubt top-notch customer service is critical for the success of any FBO property, and once again, results from the survey indicate when weighing its importance compared to price in selecting an FBO, the comparison isn’t even close. Some 74 per cent of respondents indicated impeccable customer service was their top reason for choosing a specific FBO while price was the top-determining factor for some 27 per cent.

These results note an even higher trend towards service excellence this year than last (64 per cent in 2012), underscoring the premise that service with a smile is key to customer retention.

“We’re always looking to find the right people to provide the level of service that will keep our clients coming back,” says Paul Weeks, vice-president of maintenance at Skyservice in Toronto. “We’re lucky because our staff has a tremendous amount of experience and know the pilots who come in by name. This is the type of personal touch that makes a difference.”

High service standards can often go farther than that: providing clients with a sense
of coming home.

“Pilots are at ease and comfortable coming here knowing what they can expect from the pilot’s lounge, the line service, everything. I know it makes a difference,” Weeks says.

Independence day

While major FBO chains provide service standards aviation professionals can rely on, it doesn’t mean independent FBOs can’t rise to the lofty heights of FBO prominence. Take Saskatoon’s Kreos Aviation for example, winner of this year’s Top FBO in Central Canada. Established in 2009 to fulfil the executive needs of the burgeoning Saskatchewan natural resources-based industries and tourism markets, Kreos now gives the city
another option in high-level executive comfort – Shell Aviation Centre is its main competition. Kreos is rapidly gaining a reputation for its excellent service and quality standards. The same can be said for Pascan, located at the Saint-Hubert Airport in Quebec, another small independent that flexed its muscles in the survey this year.

Skyservice Calgary staff are fanatical about details, a practice which puts them in a whole different class.
PHOTO: SkyService


“Being so small, we are a little bit different than a lot of FBOs but certainly we can deliver that level of service quality that the big chains do,” says Sherry Franks the FBO manager at Kreos. “We’re always looking for new ideas, new opportunities. And to us, the experience of our pilots is so important. We ask them about their experiences, we ask them how can we improve this, how can we improve that. We have done the surveys, we follow up with clients in detail. It’s all about taking into account their perspective and building on that. You need to understand what they want.”

Even the smallest details are important to the Kreos team, such as providing pilots with Bernard Callebaut airplane chocolates – a little thing, yes, but a nice thing. The FBO itself is also decorated throughout in a strong aviation theme, with aviation-themed furniture, lamps etc., providing many small nuances a larger FBO might not. It’s all about going above and beyond – catching a rising star so to speak.

“I mentioned the chocolates, and it’s a small thing of course, but we are always looking for something new. And no one is going to come here because of the chocolates . . . but they are really good,” Franks says laughing. “In the end, the reason people are going to come here is the people. The FBO is led by great people, we have a great team. We have a passionate, committed team and we have a large quantity of loyal customers that we are building to fuel our success.”

A high commitment to detail, a fanatical approach to creating just the right customer experience and a passionate team dedicated to carrying out the right corporate philosophy. These are key ingredients that make up each winning FBO highlighted in this year’s survey. Wings  congratulates all of the 2013 winners.


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