by Keith Beebe
SUGAR GROVE—In the world of aviation, earning a spot on Aviation International News’ (AIN) survey of the top 40 fixed-base operator (FBO) facilities in the country is like winning the Super Bowl. Earning the No.1 spot on the list is like winning baseball’s Triple Crown.
So which FBO topped the list in 2011? That would be the J.A. Air Center, located at the Aurora Municipal Airport. The J.A. (Joliet Avionics) Air Center has been open since December 2008, and was previously located at the DuPage Airport in West Chicago, as far back as the mid-1990s.
“(Earning the top FBO spot) is a dream come true. It’s what we had planned when we decided to move our business from DuPage Airport out here to Aurora—to provide a world-class facility,” J.A. Air Center President Brad Zeman said. “We were just hoping to someday get on the survey. Optimistically, (we said), ‘Hey, top 10 would be phenomenal,’ but to win is just completely over the top. For a private company, where you’re competing against a lot of companies that are owned by Fortune 500 companies and others that are owned by government entities that have budgets well beyond private owners, it’s just absolutely amazing (to win).
AIN is the most widely read publication regarding corporate aviation, which is essentially any business that has an airplane—single-engine planes up to business jets. The publication’s FBO Survey is compiled from the opinions of pilots and dispatchers, and grades FBOs on areas such as line services, overall facilities, and pilot and passenger amenities.
Zeman credits the J.A. Air Center’s service as a major reason why the facility earned the top spot on the survey.
“Our people give the best service anywhere, and we treat our customers like family and friends,” he said. “In everything we do, we try to anticipate the pilots’ needs, but also the passengers’ needs.”
A strong example of the J.A. Air Center’s commitment to providing great service includes the facility’s 25,000-square-foot canopy that can provide total cover for even the largest business jets. In the event of rainfall, a customer can taxi their airplane underneath the canopy and get in and out of the aircraft without getting hit with a single raindrop. Other amenities include a drive-up canopy for people to keep dry when they exit their cars, and doorless bathrooms.
“People getting in and out of airplanes always have things in their hands, and we designed the bathrooms so there are a series of turns and walls (instead of doors),” Zeman said. “Yeah, you do a little bit of zig-zagging, but there are no doors to have to deal with.”
The J.A. Air Center also bakes fresh cookies in-house every day, and offers Lou Malnati’s Pizza for people who are traveling through on business. Zeman said it’s a nice way for visitors to take home a little taste of Chicago.
The J.A. Air Center, which beat out other FBOs such Global Select at Sugarland Regional Airport in Sugarland, Texas, and XJet at Centennial Airport in Englewood, Colo., also earned the highest score in the history of AIN’s FBO Survey, notching an overall grade of 9.52. Global Select’s grade of 9.45 was the next highest, followed by XJet with a grade of 9.16.
So what’s next for the J.A. Air Center after earning the right to be called the best FBO in the country? Zeman said he expects the increased publicity to help put the Aurora Municipal Airport on the map.
“I think what we’ll find is more corporate aviation is going to come through Aurora Airport to experience the service that we provide, and that’s good for the community as a whole because it brings more businesses through the front door of (this) community,” he said. “The truth of that matter is this is the best location for business aircraft in Chicagoland. It’s the only one that has direct access to the tollway, and there’s only one stoplight between Aurora Aiport and the Chicago Loop, and this is the only airport that can say that.”