By Lance Gurwell
A few years ago, the owners of Montana’s Yellowstone Club, the world’s only private ski and golf community, located near Bozeman, realized that since a large portion of their member base would have access to private corporate jets, it was important to help provide a traveling experience that would match their upscale living experience. The result was Yellowstone Jetcenter, established at Gallatin Field Airport (BZN) in 2000, after the purchase of Sunbird Aviation’s fixed base operations, to provide top flight FBO services for recreational and business travelers year-round.
General Manager Kent Foster said that a top priority for the owners was ensuring that the service standards at the FBO would be at the level they wanted.
“They didn’t want to leave that up to somebody else to control,” he said. “They wanted to make sure that when members flew in, they would get the services they wanted them to get.”
Once they acquired Sunbird, the owners set about turning their full-service FBO into something that would earn rave reviews. A glance at comments registered at www.airnav.com gives some idea of what visitors encounter. One Wisconsin resident said that the “red carpet was rolled out” when they arrived at the “beautiful” FBO, and talked about the courteous service and amenities, including a heated hangar, great flight planning facilities, and the fresh baked cookies given to his sons upon departure. Another visitor said Yellowstone Jetcenter, “probably the best FBO in the country,” had facilities that would “blow you away.”
“You know you’re at the right place when restroom mirrors are made out of engine nacelles,” he commented, adding that FBO employees “go out of their way to help out.”
That person also commented on the “very nice” general manager.
“He not only told us where a good place to eat was, but he also gave a gift certificate for the place so it was free of charge,” the visitor commented. “Most the time when we’re here, they have hot food cooked up for us. I wish every FBO were like this place.”
“Pilots definitely appreciate our personal touch,” Foster said.
He explained that BZN, an historically low-volume airport, has seen a marked increase in traffic over the last few years, based on the area’s increasing attractiveness as a second home and vacation destination for both commercial and private aircraft passengers. New resort development and ski and golf clubs like the Yellowstone Club, and The Club at Spanish Peaks, a private second home community with its own championship golf course and ski-in ski-out access to the Big Sky Resort, have drawn a wave of affluent travelers to the Bozeman area.
“The valley is just growing in leaps and bounds,” he said. “People have found Gallatin Valley, Big Sky and the region.”
Those people, he said, buy property and spend time there at different times of the year, depending on their “sport of choice.”
“If they’re big skiers, then obviously they come up in the wintertime,” he said. “If they’re fishermen, they come up in the summertime. It’s all pretty much a tourist/recreation location.”
The Yellowstone Jetcenter has its share of famous visitors. However, said Foster, those visitors like their anonymity, and their identities are private information.
The pilot amenities and customer service at Yellowstone Jetcenter include a flight planning room equipped with WSI, snooze rooms, a private reading room, kitchen and showers. The FBO also offers executive catering and courtesy transportation.
Its line service group has the full complement of aviation and jet fuel, and offers on-site rental cars. The Yellowstone Jetcenter, besides being a full service FBO and FAA-certified repair station, also pumps fuel to all the major airlines at Gallatin Field, including Delta, Northwest, Horizon and SkyWest.
Among its three hangars is the largest hangar in Montana.
“It can hangar two 737s at the same time,” Foster says.
That hangar is over 35,000 square feet. The total capacity of the FBO’s three hangars is over 65,000 square feet, all heated. The FBO also has a de-icing truck to de-ice planes when needed in the winter.
Heated hangars and top line crews are the norm for the FBO, but what separates the Yellowstone Jetcenter customer facility from most others requires a walkthrough. Since many of the FBO’s customers journey to the area for the glorious scenery and western lifestyle, the FBO specially designed a “beautiful, welcoming environment” that complements the rugged beauty of the state. Foster described the FBO as being elegant “in a Montana way.”
“Flight crews don’t mind staying at the Jetcenter,” he said. “They can sit here all day and become comfortable, because it’s just like or better than their living room at their house.”
He said pilots visiting the lounge for the first time are overwhelmed.
“They’re like, ‘This isn’t like any pilot’s lounge I’ve ever seen!'” he said.
The pilot’s lounge looks as inviting as the finest home family room. Overstuffed lounge chairs and a large-screen television set graces one end of the area, and finely framed photographs of classic airplanes decorate the walls.
The FBO’s main lobby is two stories tall with panoramic views of the Bridger mountain range; its centerpiece is a massive stone fireplace. The room features antiques and warm, soft lighting. A boardroom that would look at home on New York’s Fifth Avenue is available for conferences, and a computerized flight planning room is also available to pilots.
It hasn’t taken long for the new entity to become a favorite with pilots, guests and the club’s homeowners. The new owners set extremely high standards, which are reflected in Yellowstone Jetcenter’s motto: “Where the service is as spectacular as the scenery.” That’s a tall, yet critically important charge, as the club’s homeowners are used to the finest amenities.
The Yellowstone Jetcenter is situated in the expansive Gallatin Valley, surrounded by mountains. The Bridger Range is to the north, Big Sky is to the south, and Yellowstone National Park is about 80 miles south of the airport. The airport is easy to access, and will soon have radar, which will make it even more popular with pilots.
“A lot of people that have been going to Vail, Aspen and Jackson are finding Bozeman can be a nicer location to fly into,” Foster said.
He said that since he’s been there, Yellowstone Jetcenter’s business has grown over 40 percent.
“We have a beautiful facility, but more importantly, we have a fantastic staff and we do everything we can to provide the best service possible, and to be prepared to meet demands,” he said.
The Yellowstone Jetcenter has about 30 employees, including line, maintenance, customer service and administration. The aircraft mechanics have formal factory training in a vast number and type of piston and jet aircraft, ranging from the Cessna Citation to the Gulfstream to the King Air. Additionally, it has helicopter technicians, also with formal factory training.
Foster is right on target when he talks about a capable, well-trained and courteous staff. No amount of fancy buildings will make people revisit a facility if a non-professional cadre of service workers treats them badly.
“A good manager needs to have a work team that understands and buys into the philosophy and the direction that you want to go-that understands what your customers desire,” Foster said. “Most of the time that’s very simple; a customer just wants to be recognized that they’re here.”
He adds that people make the concept of “customer service” more complicated than it is.
“They think there’s a magic potion or something out there that just makes it very difficult,” he said. “For us, it’s simply having a friendly face, a very friendly atmosphere, employees that smile because you’re there. I allow the staff free rein to do whatever it takes to make sure a customer is happy.”
Foster says that as the manager, he allows his staff to do the job he knows they can do.
“When a customer arrives, we want to meet that airplane, and provide a friendly face and help them out with whatever they need,” he said. “Customers have a level of expectation when they arrive at an FBO. When they get the service they expect, they’re happy, but not to a point that they tell the whole world. We strive to provide service that is not expected. This is what will set us apart and cause our customers to tell others within the aviation community to visit the Yellowstone Jetcenter.”
Foster is constantly thinking about public relations and marketing.
“Every first Tuesday of the month, we do a small informal lunch,” he said. “Employees bring in food, I’ll cook, or we’ll do something else. It’s not by invitation; it’s just kind of word of mouth.”
Foster says he came up with the lunches partially as a way to regain customers that had been lost due to dissatisfaction under prior management.
“That’s just one of the different things I did to get people back in the door-not so much to do business, but to just say, ‘Hey, Dan, how’s it going? I haven’t seen you in a while,'” he said. “People realize that things are different. That’s something that’s just goodwill public relations.”
Foster’s background before coming to Yellowstone Jetcenter explains a little about his efforts to make the FBO the best. Although a non-pilot, his aviation experience goes back to his Navy days, and continued after he departed the Navy in 1988. He then began working as a lineman at an FBO in Virginia called Flight International, located at Patrick Henry Airport (now Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport).
In 1989, he began working for Citijet at Love Field in Dallas. He started on the line, and then moved up to line service/customer service manager. He credits his managers there for some of the techniques he’s put in place since arriving at Yellowstone Jetcenter.
“I learned a lot from Bob Vie and Paul Shealey, such as how to deal with customers and what their needs are,” Foster said. “They pretty much set the groundwork for what I know today. They opened up that facility in 1983, and they were the number two FBO in the country for many, many years.”
The number one FBO was AMR Combs. That FBO acquired Citijet in the early nineties.
“It was fierce competition for many years,” he said. “We tried really hard. If we had stayed Citijet, we probably would’ve taken that number one spot.”
After the purchase, Foster stayed on, and went to the company’s Dallas-based corporate office, where he was eventually in charge of training and overseeing its point-of-sale systems.
“We were setting up a new POS system at all the AMR FBOs that they had at the time, which was about 11,” he said.
During his stint with the company, he and another employee, Ann Goodwyn, spent a year training line and customer service representatives for AMR Combs/SACSA in Mexico, after SACSA decided they wanted to Americanize their operations. Eventually, AMR Combs decided to return to its core business, and sold off assets that fell under the category of global services. In 1999, Foster found himself working for Signature Flight Support.
“I was at the corporate office helping Signature and AMR turn over the business,” he said.
That same year, Foster became the operations manager at Signature San Francisco. He was there for three and a half years working under Steve True, the general manager.
“That’s where this job came up,” he explained.
When he arrived at Yellowstone Jetcenter in November 2002, part of his task was overseeing the completion of their new facility.
“The new facility was open in September 2002,” he said. “When I arrived, there were parts of this building that were still unfinished. The conference room was nothing but drywall. We moved that forward.”
Yellowstone Jetcenter has several successful tenants, including Sunbird Aviation, which is now a charter company, Big Sky Aviation, Summit Aviation a flight school and Barnard Construction. Foster doesn’t see any business slowdown in the future; in fact, he expects the region’s population will continue to increase as more people learn about the area.
For more information, visit [http://www.ysjet.com/] or call 800-700-5381.