Catherine Gaisenband is founder and chief executive of Spanish fixed-base operator Assistair. With five FBOs in Palma, Ibiza, Valencia, Barcelona and Girona, she directs the development of the business

How did you begin your career?

I never imagined this kind of job existed. Really, my career in handling happened by chance. I wanted to work in aviation so sent a CV to Palma airport. A flight services company contacted me and that's how I discovered the FBO business. I worked there for a couple of years. Finally I decided to set up my own business and on 1 May 1995 Assistair was launched and remains a family business today.

Catherine Gaisenband
 © Assistair

What makes Assistair different?

We are very much focused on the personal touch from the beginning to the end of our service. We like our clients to feel really special and cared for. We know what individual clients prefer, which crews prefer which hotels, and we remember all these details.With the current economic landscape, and particularly with the Spanish economy, things are more of a challenge but we are still trying to focus on the details.

Where do you spend most of your time?

Assistair has its headquarters at Palma airport, where our first FBO was opened in the general aviation terminal, so I spend quite a bit of time there. However, I have to travel between all my bases to make sure everything is running smoothly. My unofficial office is a lovely cafe bar in Palma marina called El Pesquero. I have many of my meetings there and it is refreshing to get away from the confines of the airport, it means I can think more freely.

Who are your typical clients?

As we have different FBOs it is difficult to say what a typical client is. In Palma we handle seasonal commercial charter flights from France and eastern Europe, along with corporate and private jets all year round. In Barcelona it's a real mix as it is an industrial gateway and popular leisure destination, and we see similar patterns in Valencia. In Girona it is mainly business aviation, while Ibiza is more seasonal.

What is the biggest challenge facing FBOs today in Spain?

Our biggest challenge is the economic situation, and how to offer the best service when all clients are looking at ways of reducing their costs. We have to be flexible, but we also have to remember we are a business with overheads. This year has seen a small improvement, but the challenge is to maintain growth again. Local and international rules alter on a daily basis and it is a challenge to manage all the new legislation.

Describe your working week

It's hard to say, I do so many different things. One of the key elements of my business is my team and we are one of the very few small companies in Spain to operate in line with the UNE- EN ISO 9001-2000 quality management system. This means I spend time making sure the team have the resources they need, and the training in place to be able to deliver the level of service we are known for. As I have little time to meet clients they also are my key source of customer feedback. I also have a lot of meetings with the airport. I'm always looking out for new ideas so conference attendance features highly on my schedule. It gives me an opportunity to tell people about Assistair and to make new contacts.

What do you enjoy most about Assistair?

I'm really proud of the fact that I launched the company as an independent business, and that we still remain independent today. This means we can be creative about what we offer and where we decide to focus next. For example, 18 months ago we underwent a complete rebranding, developed a new logo and image which reflects our professionalism and focus. We didn't have to pass it by any stakeholders and shareholders. I also love working with my team. I'm lucky to have a fabulous set of people around me.

Source: Flight International