We visit the world’s first drive-through FBO

Meeting the team at Provo FBOLast year I took a trip to Providenciales in the Turks & Caicos Islands, which is one of the most popular private jet hotspots in the Caribbean.
PrivateFly’s Carol Cork with Debby Aharon and Lyndon R Gardiner.

There I met Debby Aharon, CEO of the Provo Air Center, which handles private jet flights from all over the world at Providenciales Airport.

This FBO epitomises a colourful and luxurious welcome (where else would I see a lush green pet park, a pirate’s cave and the world’s first drive-through customs hall?) and it was a pleasure to chat to Debby about Provo’s unique private jet experience.

When did you open the FBO?

Provo Air Center is owned by Lyndon R Gardiner (who also runs the airline InterCaribbean Airways). The original building opened in 2001, which he intended to be mainly a small handling stop for refuelling. But that’s when Provo was just being discovered by the jetset, and within months we were handling major movie stars. The new building was constructed in 2014.

I became involved after working as a dive tour operator in Philadelphia (where I grew up). I was frustrated when organising dives for my clients to the Turks & Caicos as nothing seemed to get done there! So I targeted Lyndon to up his game with his airline, and eventually he got so tired of listening to me, he told me to get over there and help him sort it out! I started work at InterCaribbean Airways but moved across to run the FBO, as customer service is my speciality. I intended to stay for a short project, but never left. And the rest is history!

FBO at Providenciales airport

What kind of clients do you look after there at Provo?

An incredible range, which makes the job so interesting. Military, agriculture crop sprayers, dentists & doctors, corporates, celebrities, and royal families from just about every country in the world.  We see all kinds of planes from small experimental aircraft, to VIP airliners with gold plated bathrooms.

Our main markets are from North America, followed by South America. But we also see a sizeable proportion from Europe, and the Middle East.

Client privacy is paramount for our team, with absolutely no photos or autographs. But there are many famous celebrities with houses here in TCI, most of them on the beautiful and exclusive neighbouring island resort Parrot Cay, accessible only by boat. Lyndon grew up without TV and fails to recognise even the most famous, to the constant amusement of the staff. But this no nonsense approach to celebrity continues today, which is what our guests enjoy so much.

Provo FBO interior hall

What role does business aviation play in the economy of the Turks & Caicos?

Business aviation plays a constant role in the TCI, and holds fairly steady. There will always be bankers, hoteliers, construction companies visiting their projects, and real-estate is growing here again. Tourism is the biggest contributor here, and that applies at the top end of leisure arrivals too.

How many aircraft do you handle each day?

On a typical day we might see 30 planes, and in the busy season, especially around Christmas we often handle 85 arrivals. Our all-time record is 115 aircraft, which was in 2011.

The challenge is in the short-notice aspect, where we go to bed thinking we’re expecting 20 planes and wake up to discover it’s 40! With experience, we know how to manage these peaks and patterns, and can anticipate what guests needs sometimes before they tell us. My team are incredible, most of us have been together for nearly 15 years.

You recently introduced a pet park and a pirates cave – tell us more!

Provo FBO pets and children

It’s said never work with children or animals, but we absolutely love working with both!

The very fact that you’re taking your pet with you on vacation tells us they are a very important member of your family. Our dedicated pet park is right next to the customs hall, so you can hit it on your way in. It’s a nice spot to relax, especially when the purple vines on the picket fence are blooming.

And the kids lounge with a pirates cave is amazing, our guests love it! It gives our FBO a relaxed feel even at the busiest times. I sometimes find the flight crew have sneaked in there! As well as toys and crafts I’ve added my favourite books from my childhood – Dr Seuss, Good Night Moon, Madeline…it’s very nostalgic and also creates the home-from-home environment that is so important to me.

Lyndon’s mother and my mother both sadly passed away before the new building was finished. They both saw the journey of the airline and the FBO. That’s why the customs halls (which both share views of our interior garden) are called ‘Vanderlene’ and ‘Evelyn’.

You’re also the world’s only drive-through FBO…

Comfort and convenience are the driving force behind the private aircraft market, so why shouldn’t this extend to the ground experience?  Walking in the hot sun or occasional rain from the airplane to the customs hall can be a bit challenging or uncomfortable for older folks, children and babies. It isn’t far but we wanted to enhance our arrival experience by offering a comfortable seat in a golf cart from the aircraft straight through the building and out to their waiting vehicle. It’s also just fun!

The World's first Drive Through FBO

The architects were a bit taken aback by this request at first, but solved it by establishing both a walk-through and a drive-through track, with the Customs and Immigration desks in between.  We simply had to build automatic doors wide enough to accommodate them.

How have you invested in looking after crews as well as customers?

Passengers are usually just at the FBO briefly, but flight crew often spend hours with us. So we’ve established areas such as their own lounge, a private snooze room, flight planning, an onsite laundry and catering kitchen – so when departures book or get changed at short notice, we can react very quickly.

It’s all about communication with operators and this is where technology is key. We’ve automated the process as much as we can, giving detailed updates on flight activity. Our new website will allow flight plans, handling requests and catering to be ordered.

Talking of catering, how do you make that part of your unique welcome?

We wanted the arrival experience to rival that of luxury hotels here in the Caribbean. Everyone is met with cold towels and beverages, and welcome snacks such as our signature welcome ‘conchtail’ (local seafood Conch in a shot glass salad). My team are the ultimate multi-taskers! Our ramp chief is also an amazing food stylist. We use an outside caterer, but then he’ll add flowers and finishing touches that make our food look like art.

A delicious welcome at Provo FBO

What’s the best and worst things about your job?

The best thing is also the most challenging – this is down to the people. Our staff set the atmosphere and service level. They are a remarkable group of people (evidenced by the emails I get every week, year in year out, applauding them). The challenge? Finding the right people to add to our growing FBO family. And we choose our members carefully – I think of us as a family of control freaks!

the team at Provo FBO

You welcome all kinds of aircraft there – but do you have a favourite?

For me it’s a toss-up between a Gulfstream and a Falcon. We find that Gulfstreams are most popular with the US and Brits, while our European arrivals prefer the Falcon family. I’ve been on lots of amazing private Airbuses and BBJs, but my all-time favourite was an older private B727. This was decorated to look like an old western saloon, including flocked wallpaper and plush red cushions. It was so homey and inviting, I just wanted to curl up on the sofa. That’s the same kind of home-from-home feeling I want from our FBO here at Provo – I think that’s what the private aviation customer wants most of all.

For private jet charter prices to Providenciales (or any global route) contact us or call the PrivateFly team on +44 (0) 1747 642 777

For more information about the Provo Air Center visit provoaircenter.com or call +1 649 941-3035/ +1 649 339-4101