FAA Rejects AOPA FBO Pricing Complaint

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The FAA’s Southern Region Airports Division has rejected an AOPA complaint claiming that Signature Flight Support at Asheville, North Carolina, charges pilots for “unnecessary and unwanted services," and countered that the FBO is entitled to charge fees to earn a return on its investment. The association filed the Part 13 complaint last year against Signature FBOs at three airports: Asheville, Key West, Florida, and Waukegan, Illinois.

In its complaint, AOPA argued that Signature facilities at these airports—the only FBOs on the field—impose high fees for services that pilots often don’t request and don’t need. AOPA said because all three airports receive Airport Improvement Program funds from the FAA, the airports are obligated to provide ready access to the airport and to impose only fair and non-discriminatory fees. AOPA withdrew the complaint against Waukegan after the airport set up a free transient parking area and reduced the price of self-service avgas.

But in a June 7 letter rejecting AOPA’s Asheville complaint, the FAA said, “We found AOPA’s assertions to be unpersuasive.” The agency said a transient operator incurs fees “as a condition of engaging in … aeronautical use Signature’s facility,” and that this is a “common business practice.” Based on the information AOPA provided, the FAA said it couldn’t draw any conclusions about Signature’s rate structure and it added that “FBOs are not required to be transparent with their pricing.” Further, said the FAA, “Signature has assumed a certain level of risk by investing in its facilities at the airport … and is entitled to pursue the business model that provides a return on this investment.”

In a statement issued Tuesday, AOPA challenged the FAA’s reasoning. “How can there be a market rate without competition? The FAA’s decision is based on the false assumption that competition exists,” said Ken Mead, AOPA’s general counsel. “The implications are clear: Signature will continue to charge pilots for services they do not need, want, or use—a business practice the FAA calls ‘common.’ It would also mean that private FBOs at federally funded public-access airports can play by a different set of rules than municipally operated FBOs and airports providing aeronautical services to airlines,” the association’s release said.

AOPA said the decision doesn’t set a binding precedent for other airports, but it believes the FAA’s reasoning is “indicative of a flawed perspective at the FAA that has allowed certain monopoly-position FBOs to impose unreasonable fees on GA users and could worsen.”

Comments (6)

What are the specific "services they do not need, want, or use?"

Posted by: Lawrence Williams | June 13, 2018 7:28 AM    Report this comment

Buyer beware.. If you don't like it, don't go there.. The competition is to choose a different airport/fbo.. Total AOPA overreach ..

Posted by: Tom O'Toole | June 13, 2018 2:11 PM    Report this comment

Lawrence,

As a pilot, I often go to small airports without so much as a water / soda machine. There might be, but not always, a toilet at the really small fields - or the toilet might be locked up if it's "after hours" and no one is there. Truth be told I don't need much other than the runway, a place to park and tie down the plane, a "hole" (gate) in the fence to go meet my ride / get back to the plane upon return, and possibly fuel.

I can pump my own gas, and honestly kind of prefer it. Nothing against the line guys and gals, but then I know it's 100LL in the plane and not Jet-A, or vice versa if I'm in a diesel burner. Yes, it's rare (thank goodness) but misfueling can happen.

That is not to say FBO's are completely unwelcome, or that I'm unwilling to pay when I want to use an FBO's services for various reasons. I just prefer having the choice of what I'm using, and quite honestly find most major city FBO's to be annoying. I'd rather park somewhere far out of the way, and not have them touch the plane at all, than be parked close to the door even in the rain.

Posted by: Joe Servov | June 13, 2018 3:40 PM    Report this comment

Tom,

I don't understand your reaction. Maybe you've never flown into an airport where all you want to do is tie down the plane and leave (or better yet, pick up or drop off someone). I don't need a fancy lobby, 24-hour services, and an air conditioned hangar.

In many towns, the FBO is the only place to park and the only way to get through the fence. I simply have no choice. "Go to another airport" doesn't make any sense, all of our taxes paid quite a bit to provide the field on a public use basis. I'm a member of the public, but I cannot use the airport unless I fork over to the local FBO operator who is given a license to charge whatever he wants to everyone.

I don't mind FBOs charging whatever they feel like, but if the airport is public use, it should not be a *requirement* to pay a private company for services I do not need or want. What services? Facility, Handling, Ramp, Security are just some of the fees I've been charged. Often without even setting foot into an FBO facility.

I think AOPA did the wrong thing by conflating "charging too much" with "charging for public access".

Posted by: Steve Miller | June 13, 2018 5:21 PM    Report this comment

Maybe Tom and Lawrence are not pilots and/or have a vested interest in an FBO. I am a pilot and a partner in an FBO. I don't agree with what many FBO's charge and I do my best to avoid the known unscrupulous FBO's. Sometimes I have no choice but to be ripped off though, and it is very annoying .

Posted by: STEPHEN SARACINO | June 13, 2018 7:37 PM    Report this comment

"I think AOPA did the wrong thing by conflating "charging too much" with "charging for public access"."

Agreed. "Too much" is subjective.

I make it a point, and I think it would go a long way in solving the problem; upon landing and when the FBO gets on the UNICOM asking about how long you're staying, do you need any fuel etc. etc. Just simply say "I need the public ramp". Do you need fuel? "No. I need the public ramp. Do you need tie down? "No, I need the public ramp". Do you need ground transport? "No, I need the public ramp" Do you need an overnight? "No, I need the public ramp". Make it perfectly clear you're not asking for services. If the person on the other end insist that there is no "public ramp" ...that's impossible. It's a public airport therefore, there has to be some sort of public space available to....the public.

Of course, the whole "landing fee" sometimes comes into play and at my local field, the De Facto airport manager IS the FBO (now there's a conflict). If the State/Local/County has determined the need for a landing fee, and further determined that the local FBO should be the one to collect it; make it a point that 1. It is a county fee that is being collected and not an FBO fee. 2. That the transaction taking place is with the county and the FBO is simply representing the county; you're not asking for services or "tie down" from the FBO.

Posted by: Robert Ore | June 14, 2018 4:04 PM    Report this comment

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