FBOProps Wants To Help Pilots Find Memorable Airport Experiences

New app offers reviews and information like ‘Yelp for airports.’

Airports can be hard to judge from the air. The FBOProps app seeks to reveal what arriving pilots can expect. [Courtesy: Shutterstock]

You are in the middle of a long flight and this feels like a good time to take a break, top off the tanks and possibly grab a bite. You see an airport ahead but you do not know much about it beyond basic chart information. Is it a nice place? Is there a restaurant on the field? Can we get in and out quickly?

These questions can be difficult to answer when you are also trying to decide whether or not to make that 10-mile-out radio call to let them know you are coming. Wouldn’t it be nice to know ahead of time when developing our flight plans?

“This happens to pilots all the time. You ask yourself,’ Do we drop down or do we keep going,’” says Josh Harrell, founder of  FBOProps, a new app that uses reviews to inform pilots and their passengers about the type of reception and the range of services they can expect at airports. Of course the term “FBO” represents a diversity of airport facilities, from sleek terminals with rental car desks, lounges, restaurants and conference rooms to a modest shed with a pickup truck and snow plow parked outside.

Harrell grew up in a family with several aviators (for a time his father flew mail in a Douglas DC-3), so he understands that stopping at any type or style of airport could be the beginning of a wonderfully memorable experience. “One of the things I’d like to do is get into the nuances that make an airport special,” he says, “Kind of like Yelp for airports,”

It was a rather unspecial experience that drove Harrell to start FBOProps. He and his family were returning to Arkansas after a trip to Florida when they decided to stop for fuel in Mississippi. On paper and from the air the airport “looked perfect” but the impression changed after they landed.

“The tower controller was really short with me and once I landed I kept expecting to be handed off to ground but nothing happened," Harrell says. “Finally I got instructions from the tower about where to park, but even then I was dodging loose tie-down chains and other debris scattered on the ramp.” Everything seemed just a bit “off,” he says.

Making the scene even stranger was an aircraft storage and disassembly facility—what many call a boneyard—occupying part of the field. Dozens of airliners, some partially stripped, were parked there giving the place a “Twilight Zone” feel, Harrell says.

“Long story short, it turned into this drawn-out stay. It took about 40 minutes just to get fuel,” Harrell says. “At that point I started thinking that I need to figure out how to crowdsource aviation.”

Launched three months ago, the app is growing but of course, relies on participation through reviews, updates and word of mouth. A sampling of reviews we found addressed the sorts of things pilots want to know about, like “great restaurant” and “clean restrooms.” Others noted runway conditions, shower facilities and attractions within walking distance.

“We are also trying to give people who aren’t pilots, like my wife, something more socially engaging,” Harrell says.

Phase two is next, he says, and it will include portal access for FBOs to update information, make announcements and promote events like pancake breakfasts, fly-ins and airshows. The app will also begin to focus more on private airstrips, a segment Harrell says is missing now.

“When I started working on the app I didn’t grab the private airports because I was too focused on FBOs. But many of them are absolutely beautiful and the people there would be happy to see visitors,” he says. “We want to unlock these interesting places around the country.” 

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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