Signature prepares for Middle East signings
Signature Flight Support is the world's largest FBO chain with 100-plus facilities worldwide but, so far, the Middle East has been an arid region for the company. Now, as James Wynbrandt reports, all that is starting to change.
Signature Flight Support has been making quiet, steady inroads into the Middle East market and redoubled those efforts with two recent initiatives – an expansion of its Europe-Middle East-Africa (EMEA) handling support, and the launch of Signature Select, an affiliate programme that will add the company’s name, training and technology to independent FBOs.
Orlando-based Signature, a BBA Aviation company, laid out its Middle East strategy at MEBA 2010 in answer to when it would open an FBO in the region.
The company said it would first need to have sales personnel in the area to build relationships, develop an understanding of the market, and then find a proper partner and promote the brand. Barely two months later, in early 2011, Signature opened a Middle East sales office in Bahrain. This April, the company announced a “further evolution, extension of that concept”, adding sales offices at Luton Airport in the UK and Le Bourget, Paris, to assist Middle Eastern operators in Europe.
“The fact that the Middle East sales office in Bahrain was the first of the three sales offices thus far should speak to the importance we place on that region,” said Joe Gibney, vice president and managing director for Signature’s EMEA regions.
The added staff and footprint is intended to further expand the company’s customised fuelling, ground handling, concierge and aircraft storage solutions, which are designed to complement the individual flying profile and needs of each customer.
“We can be face-to-face with customers on the same time zone,” said Gibney. “We can offer seamless access from that sales representative to the global network, one phone call to the sales rep, and that person can make available our entire global network.”
Karl Bowles, sales manager Middle East, based in Bahrain, is responsible for managing customer relationships for the region. He is currently developing a unique pricing programme for his customer base.
The Signature Select programme, launched in October 2011, is an affiliation scheme that will bring the Signature name and service standards to independent FBOs worldwide. FBOs that join the programme will get training and technology from Signature to ensure the facility can meet the standards and deliver the services Signature’s customers expect. The FBOs will retain its independent branding but will have a service mark denoting its affiliation with Signature, and be part of the company’s marketing programme.
“We think there’s going to be a lot of opportunity in the Middle East for this product,” Gibney said. He offered no clues to when a Signature Select partner in the region would be named, or how many the Middle East could ultimately support, calling such information “fairly proprietary”.
Of course Signature Flight Support doesn’t have to be in the Middle East to provide its FBO services to Middle Eastern aircraft, and the company touts its rarefied ability to routinely handle transport category VIP aircraft as a means of drawing traffic from the Middle East to its facilities around the world.
“One of the unique elements of the Middle East demographic is they tend to have large aircraft, in particular a lot of Boeing and Airbus products – and not just the BBJs and ACJs but more traditional transport category aircraft, up to Boeing 747s,” Gibney said. “It’s quite important for the handling company to have that capability and Signature has a full complement of expertise across the board in dealing with transport category aircraft.” Gibney singled out Signature FBOs at Le Bourget, Heathrow and Newark as locations that handle VIP aircraft as large as 747-400s, frequently from the Middle East, on an almost daily basis.
The company expects its new TailWins customer loyalty programme will also help attract business from transient aircraft from the Middle East. Aimed at pilots, TailWins will award points for fuel and handling service purchases redeemable for merchandise from a regionalised online catalogue.
Signature has also been developing the understanding of the region it talked about acquiring in 2010. A prayer room at its FBO in Le Bourget is one illustration the company points to.
“Any company that’s truly global in nature will tell you it’s important to understand the regional cultural differences,” said Gibney. “We certainly do that, across our entire network.”