NATA, AOPA Spar Over FBO Fees

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image: NATA

image: NATA

Some FBOs are charging too much for minimal services to general aviation pilots, AOPA said in a report posted online last week. “No one is watching,” said AOPA general counsel Ken Mead. "There’s a fox in the henhouse and no one is paying attention.” AOPA has complained to the FAA, citing incidents of transient pilots being charged exorbitant rates for parking or even just stopping on a ramp, and argued that some kind of free access should be allowed since airports are publicly funded. AOPA also singled out Signature Flight Support, which they said frequently buys out competitors and then raises prices. On Monday, NATA (the National Air Transportation Association, representing aviation businesses) responded with a report defending the industry practices.

“[AOPA’s] presentation to the FAA likens FBOs to public utilities and requests the agency examine oversight mechanisms in other industries as possible models,” said NATA President Martin Hiller. “That is a pure and straightforward move toward economic regulation.” FBOs already are regulated by the FAA, Hiller said. “There are existing FAA mechanisms to address situations where an FBO or airport is violating grant assurance requirements to furnish services on a 'reasonable, and not unjustly discriminatory, basis,'” Hiller said. AOPA President Mark Baker disagrees. “Essentially the FBOs are a concessionaire,” he said. “The problem is, pilots don’t have a choice of purchasing services or not. They are charged just for showing up—held hostage, if you will … This is an area where we are not going to give up.”

Comments (5)

At major commercial airports, having ramp or handling fees I can see being justified. There's only so much space on the ramp, and I don't expect to be able to just walk through the gate at SFO, JFK, LAX, etc. under any circumstance.

Pretty much anywhere else though, the idea of having to pay hundreds of dollars just to walk to and from my plane without any services is ludicrous. Good on AOPA for sticking their neck out here. Airports are supposed to be public goods. Reasonable parking fees are fine. Hundreds of dollars just to pick up or drop off a passenger is not.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | April 5, 2017 12:17 AM    Report this comment

Until the FAA gets involved with AIP funds policy to sponsoring entities this issue will not die. Airports are publicly funded properties for the most part. Sponsoring "cities" have to be forced to provide an area where GA airplanes can have access to the city without incurring excessive fees. An FBO ramp fee, handling fee or any such fee is just another name for a landing fee. For commercial operations its a different story. Any publicly funded airport should be required to supply a parking area and rest rooms available to GA aircraft without excessive fees and charges if no "services" are required. FBOs should be required to send fuel trucks to those areas if requested or have self fueling services available.
What do we pay into the aviation system with our fuel taxes for anyway?

Posted by: Cliff Biggs | April 5, 2017 8:13 AM    Report this comment

As long as the cities are charging rent, land lease, etc. to an FBO, why shouldn't the FBO be able to charge a fee to use the space? I agree that a ramp should be available without a charge, but absolutely no services or facilities should be expected on the public ramp. If a city decides that public restrooms, fuel pumps, etc. are a good investment they should be able to install them. The city ultimately owns the airport. Some cities are so small that they simply have a ramp and no facilities at all. Should they be forced to install a bathroom, or self service fueling?

There is no doubt that one flaw in the system now is that public ramp space is not identified and protected by each city. Asking anything more than the space to park is asking the city taxpayers to subsidize airport services. If you tell an FBO that they cannot charge a ramp fee they will not pay as much in rent/lease. This is a pseudo-subsidy. If you put self service fueling in place you are asking the taxpayers to take a risk that may not turn a profit, and will open them up to liability. It will also reduce the rent/lease you can ask from an FBO because of the increase in competition. If you believe taxpayers should subsidize aircraft operations at their respective airports, then you should support city-funded self service fuel, restroom facilities, courtesy cars, and the like.

I ask that you look at it from the perspective of a car owner. Do you expect your city to have a city-funded gas station with restrooms and free transportation? Do you expect to have somebody guide your car into a parking spot, fetch you a newspaper and free fresh coffee, all at the expense of your fellow taxpayers? Some of the expectations of us general aviation pilots are ridiculous when looked at from the perspective of a taxpayer.

There is no doubt that Signature and all of the large FBOs get a monopoly at certain airports, then raising the cost of flying into that airport. If you truly want to protest this do not park on their ramp, do not walk through their door. Do not accept their service. Don't use their bathroom, or talk to their employees. Don't ask to use their car to go to town. Don't use their connections to get a hotel, or rental car. Simply park your airplane and walk off the ramp.

All of those things I say not to do will cost the FBO money to provide.

Posted by: Joseph Houser | April 5, 2017 12:22 PM    Report this comment

Joseph,

At many airports, it's simply not possible to get on and off the ramp without walking through the FBO. I used to fly at Hanscom Field (KBED), and it was actually illegal to be on the ramp without an identity badge from Massport (available to local pilots only) or being escorted by someone with one.

You'd actually get arrested if you tried to just park and walk there.

I'm sure that's the case at plenty of airports that don't need it. At the major Class B airports, I can accept it, but nowhere else. Being able to park and leave the airport should be, if not free, at least capped by the FAA as part of accepting AIP funds.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | April 5, 2017 12:40 PM    Report this comment

Joshua

I completely agree. Public aircraft parking with access outside any fence or gate should be tied to AIP funds.

Posted by: Joseph Houser | April 6, 2017 7:57 AM    Report this comment

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