Estimated reading time 9 minutes, 48 seconds.
It has been said that once you have tasted flight, you will always walk through life with “eyes turned skyward.”
Sylvie Santini is the president and CEO of HUB FBO – a (fortuitously) female-dominated fixed-base operator located at Montreal Saint-Hubert Airport (CYHU). Today, as she roams the newly renovated 200,000-square-foot property, she admits that there was no looking back as soon as she entered the aviation charter industry.
As a former charter director for one of Montreal Trudeau airport’s FBOs, Santini’s experience with “important clients” and VIP ground service led her to her current role. It inspired the birth of HUB FBO, where the goal of a personalized charter experience came to fruition.
In May 2022, the FBO, whose signature colors are rose gold and grey, celebrated a decade of offering 24-hour services at CYHU. “Expert handling, concierge service, TSA-approved screening, and sports and entertainment CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) Cost Recovery Agreement for after-hours flights” are among the assets that set the operation apart.
Women in aviation
Beyond the five-star Google reviews, you’ll find a female-led management team consisting of Danie Buteau, VP of sales and operations; Penelope Asselin, social media manager; and CEO Santini.
Behind the soft pink font and thoughtful décor, these three women greet every opportunity to welcome loyal and would-be clientele with the same amount of care and attention.
The business-savvy trio allotted time to speak with Skies about where they came from and what direction they’re headed in. They admitted that spoiling clients is the goal — offering hospitality ranging from “proper sleeping rooms,” brand-new showers, and a kitchen and cafeteria, to booking hotels and arranging transportation.
Typical HUB FBO clients operate “private VIP flights, recreational flights, and weekly large charters.” HUB, which is located approximately 15 minutes from Montreal, also helps facilitate access to “remote areas of northern Quebec with weekly flights to mining areas.”
“After purchasing the original Pratt & Whitney hangar called ‘Hangar 18’ in 2012, CYHU H-18 Services Inc. was created,” said Santini. “That’s where it all started for us before our name rebrand.”
In 2019, HUB FBO was born out of the groundwork laid by H-18. According to the president and CEO, “attention to every detail” is their “main philosophy,” acknowledging that an inclusive environment on the tarmac and in the office space is among the priorities. Although the team is predominantly female, a diversity of both male and female perspectives and voices remains the focus of the operation.
The 83-percent female team seemingly ends at the ramp, where you will still find “mostly men.”
“Although, we occasionally have women who work alongside the male ramp agents, who have proven to hold their own rather well,” Asselin clarified.
“Being a predominantly female-managed business was not planned, but simply happened over time and worked out well,” added Buteau. “When a new position opens, we always choose to hire the person who will thrive the most at their job and help the team succeed. We believe it’s not about gender as much as it’s about what each individual can bring to the table.”
The launch of HUB FBO’s new space coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, which meant facets of the FBO’s reinvention were “temporarily put on the back burner.” But the luxury of having extra time also meant that the team was given more allowance to be thoughtful with the upgrades “and time to do it right.”
Buteau added: “We managed to keep going, and we’re here to stay. Through our expansion, we hope to contribute to the success of YHU airport. The more we succeed, the more we help YHU thrive.”
HUB FBO is situated just off YHU’s 7,800-foot runway 24R. With 80,000 sq ft of ramp space and 25,000 sq ft of hangar space (situated in a 47,000-sq-ft hangar building), the FBO hosts all types of aircraft, from “single-piston engines to 737s.”
For HUB, a fresh perspective and new facility solidified “a positive reputation and trust” with the FBO’s clients and within the aviation community. It offered the team the chance to “raise the bar even higher.”
On this topic, Asselin offered a story that exemplifies the lengths the team will go to ensure a VIP experience: “A charter client put in a request to have a daily newspaper aboard his aircraft that was scheduled to depart the next morning,” she said. “The CSR supervisor contacted all the shops, but none would be open early enough to deliver on time. Finally, she managed to find one small shop that claimed the newspaper was delivered to them daily anytime from 3:15 a.m. to 6 a.m. She then decided to take the 40-minute drive at 3 a.m. that morning. She drove to the shop, put her hands on what was probably the freshest copy of that day’s news, and brought it back on time to be put on our customer’s flight.
“One happy customer who has no clue what it took for him to read the news aboard his plane,” Asselin jested.
What lies ahead…
“Having a brand-new facility opens endless possibilities – meaning, we were able to design our space exactly how we wanted and how we knew would best suit our clientele,” said Santini. “Every detail was taken into consideration – and that’s something we’re excited about.
“We expect to reinvent how we operate in a more sustainable way,” she told Skies. The FBO is aiming “to gain the trust of more business partners and clients” with tactics like “cleaner aviation fuels and electric aircraft.”
Looking ahead, HUB FBO hopes to grow and expand into “the preferred FBO in Montreal” while also contributing to the development and expansion of YHU.
The future, as the team sees it, is one where the entire ecosystem flourishes – employees, clientele, and the airport.