Coming in first place in the EBAN FBO survey is an enviable achievement, and one which has been the culmination of a decade of hard work from founder and president Bengt Grafström and his team at Grafair. His facility, based at Bromma airport in Stockholm, Sweden, has been threatening the top spot for some time, and in 2014 he is delighted that the consistency and quality which his staff stands for has been formally recognised: “Of course it is fantastic that we have hit number one, yet we have understood for several years that we were number one! This has come from customers – they have been telling us so,” he says.
“NetJets is a big customer of ours; they fly all over Europe, they are always letting us know that we are the best. But we hadn't been there yet in the EBAN test, so it was certainly very pleasant to be there.”
Grafström moved to Florida in 1976 after finding it extremely tricky to run an aviation business from Sweden. He started a flight school and then a small FBO in Vero Beach, Florida, the home of the Piper factory. Cessna approached him about becoming a dealer and eventually he found himself selling business jets and turboprops to Sweden: “The customers in Sweden were asking me how they should operate the aircraft they were buying from me because they didn't know any mechanics or pilots. So I thought to myself we had better start a management company,” he explains. Ten years ago the company which has come to be known as Grafair Jet Center was brought to life, with a key principle being to provide outstanding service. “At the time, the airport at Bromma didn't have any service, and it was a similar story in all of Sweden. According to the American guidelines of what an FBO is – and the word itself comes from the US – we are the first and only FBO in Sweden, where we take care of private jets exclusively and where you can park jets and cars in the vicinity.”
Grafström puts his FBO victory down to two crucial factors: “The first of these is control. You have to have control over your operation at the airport, because otherwise you get stuck in regulations and the airport director's rules.
“We leased a piece of the property, a piece of the land on the airport, which is our territory. On our territory we then bought all the equipment that we needed. We quickly saw that the snow removal team didn't work effectively; they were always behind and took the airlines first. The day after everyone else they would come to us and move the snow, and we couldn't accept that of course.”
He immediately gave orders to his colleague Johan Emmoth to go out and get a snow-moving tractor so that the company could be independent in that regard. “But we then found that every time we called for de-icing of aircraft, we were told that other aircraft had more importance and would go before us, so we had to wait.”
Grafair knew that high-end directors flying in private aircraft were unlikely to tolerate delays, and consequently a de-icing truck was swiftly purchased. This same pattern was true of the lavatory and water service, until the company found that it had everything it required for complete self-sufficiency and for 'leading a life of its own.' As Grafström highlights, “If you're going to beg someone else to do it they always say 'well, I have two more customers and we are coming tomorrow.' That is not good enough for us – we have to do it right at that minute!”
It seems very apparent that control is an essential asset. Yet all the infrastructure and equipment will quickly pale into insignificance without a superb team of staff to carry out the requisite services. “The most important thing to me is that my employees love to give service. You feel much better if you give something than if you get something, and it is a pleasure to give good service. You just have to pick the people that have that feeling.”
FBO manager Emmoth quickly emerged as the right man: “Johan was working at the fuel station at that time, fuelling up aircraft. He gave such a good service that I simply had to have him working for me.
“He really thinks about the customer and gives good service. That's why I hired him. He was already a pilot and flight instructor too. He is a fantastic FBO manager and a fantastic man; he works day and night on our projects.”
Grafström also heaps praise on his reception team, especially Malin Novak Eriksson. “These two have been the two key people running the FBO: Malin running the ladies, and Johan running the whole FBO.”
He does not believe that anything has particularly changed in the past year to push the company to the very top. Instead he feels that it has been an ongoing process of self-critiquing which has pushed Grafair on to greatness. “We always keep in mind that we have no competition at the airport, so for that reason we have to compete with ourselves and make every month better than the foregoing month,” he says.
“Every aircraft we have here will have a red carpet in front of the door when they open it, that is our policy. The ladies in reception take care of everything with coffee, ice cream, flight plans and weather. They all deserve this.”
The FBO will now host a celebratory week in mid-February, where it will rearrange the facility and invite its customers to enjoy live entertainment. Grafair's 28 employees, not to mention resident parrott Papegojan, will have time to savour the moment.