Guest Blog: Landing Fees A Waste Of Time And Money

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A mere five months had gone by when a bill arrived from Cincinnati Lunken airport for a landing incurred from when I landed a friend’s Cessna 340 there. A long billing cycle no doubt, but the fee was almost comical if not wasteful. But, upon receipt, we sent the check for the $6.00 fee. I figure by the time they received it the airport spent more staff time, mailing and printing fees, and administrative processing effort than could be gained by any benefit of the receipt of the $6.00. But whatever, they got their landing fee. Right? Oh, I forgot to mention, this fee was only payable by check through the mail. A highly modern billing process no doubt. 

Sadly, this isn’t the only example of a landing fee I have personally encountered that seems to have little potential positive impact or value to an airport. 

Similarly, we were recently assessed a $5.00 landing fee from Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland. The best part of this example was that I know the airport has this landing fee, and when we went into the FBO I inquired if we could pay it on the spot. Unfortunately, I was told that wasn’t possible, that the airport had to send a bill. This one was at least billed within approximately three months. 

On another trip, to Indianapolis, I got billed a landing fee as a part of my ramp services bill one day, but three days later when I went to the same airport, bought the same amount of fuel and used the exact same services, the FBO waived it. Why the landing fee applied one day and not another I have no idea. 

Even more interesting was the $16.50 landing fee that was billed about three months after I had “landed” at the Battle Creek airport. The odd part was that on the day the landing fee was assessed, I hadn’t actually landed there. I had shot a practice ILS approach on the way home, cancelled my IFR clearance and then continued to our home base airport about 30 miles away. Hmm. So, wait, I got billed when I didn’t actually land there? Yup. 

I wasn’t really all that disagreeable about the fee itself since I had landed there twice the month before without getting any bills for those landings. But it did raise a question: Sometimes I was billed and not others. So, I called the airport operations manager to get to the bottom of it. 

It turns out that they bill “landings” based on reviewing logs on FlightAware.com that look like they terminated at the airport. The problem with that is that the airport doesn’t actually know if aircraft that weren’t captured on FlightAware.com landed at the airport or if aircraft that look like they terminated there actually ended up landing at Battle Creek’s airport. Oh, and on top of that, it appears that this really only reliably captures IFR traffic. The result, and this was confirmed with the conversation with the airport operations manager, is that the airport is actually unable to reliably apply its published landing fee structure because it has no reliable way of telling what aircraft actually land at KBTL. 

Did our conversation change anything in their process? Well, I don’t think so. The result of our conversation was an indication that it was the best they could do and that they would keep doing it. The bad news is that, and I am sure they are not the only airport with a similar potential liability, they are disparately billing pilots for landing fees, unable to apply landing fees within their own published fees structures. 

Why should we care as pilots? These and other examples I have run across, and I am sure many of you readers have numerous other examples, highlight an inefficient and ineffective structure of billing for landings at many airports we visit. And it is all done with very minimal benefit for the financial support of these airports. 

These fees are haphazard in their administration. Sometimes you can pay them on the spot, sometimes not. In some cases, the FBO has the ability to waive them, in others, they don’t. Some airports publish official fee structures, others seem to bill in a less structured manner. When it comes down to it, there is no real rhyme or reason throughout our airport system when it comes to landing fees for aircraft or airports of differing sizes. In most cases, the administrative process by which they are charged is unsophisticated. 

Landing fees have become a wasteful bureaucratic process that is commonly ineffective in its administration, for what I can only think is a minimal benefit. Is there any chance that the time it took for someone at Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront airport to track that we had landed there, document it in whatever system they use for billing, send a bill, then receive our payment and log all this was actually something that made the airport any money? Is this a really beneficial process or a make-work effort to create a job at the airport? 

I am not advocating that as a result every airport increase the costs of landing fees so they become highly profitable. Instead, it may be time for airports to evaluate if the minimal fees they are charging are actually helping the bottom-line operations budget or just an annoyance (and when disparately applied, a potential legal liability) to the pilots that use the airport. 

One must wonder, is it even logical to bother charging these? 

It is likely that staff and management of many airports that have fees such as this are just doing the job that their administrative body, such as a city council, has tasked them with doing. To some degree, it comes down to us as pilots to identify these illogical fees, and bring them, and their potential legal pitfalls when inequitably administered, to the governing body for review. This can improve awareness of a need to better administrate the fees, or when not possible to do so, to request they be eliminated. 

It is important our airports have operating budgets that allow them to be successful, to maintain their facilities and, hopefully, thrive and expand. But it is also important that unnecessary fees are eliminated when they don’t actually contribute to that success. I encourage all of us as pilots to work with the airports at which we operate, and others that we visit, to carefully consider what fees are in place and how they are conducted. Get involved with administration at these airports, and ask them to honestly consider if these fees are beneficial or are just make-work efforts. If they are the latter, help our industry to eliminate wasteful barriers to the use of our federally financially supported airports by pilots wanting to fly for business and pleasure.

Comments (16)

I can't speak to your specific examples above, but I believe the months-long delay in billing is to 'bundle' multiple landings into one bill. For example, if someone flies into a particular airport once a week, it serves no one to mail a separate $5 invoice for each landing. It's more efficient and easier (for both airport and owner) to send one bill quarterly, for example, with three month's worth of landings.

It's only for 'little guys' like us that may only frequent such an airport once or twice a year that such a tiny bill arriving months later seems silly.

As for paying only by check and only by mail - if the airport is owned by the city or state, then such billing practices are likely due to city or state rules to prevent corruption. It's not a 100% solution, but it's harder to abscond with city/state funds if the government collects them directly. History is rife with stories about fees being collected by private individuals (especially cash payments) and not being passed on to the government. Not just aviation, but any government service - building inspectors, waste management, tolls, etc.

As for fairness in collection - I've been to a number of airports that use Vector to collect the fee for them. In addition to flight plans and flight tracks, they also have a camera installed beside the runway that can read the tail number of passing aircraft. They handle all the billing on behalf of the airport, collecting a portion of the revenue in the process. Love it or hate it, but they seem to capture all traffic equally, both IFR and VFR.

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | February 28, 2018 5:53 AM    Report this comment

(addendum) - just Google "Vector Planepass" for more details on how their system works.

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | February 28, 2018 5:55 AM    Report this comment

Three thoughts:
1. With the emerging ubiquity of ADS-B, your friendly federal government easily could provide takeoff and landing data to interested entities.
2. Landing fees are "user fees."
3. Be careful what you ask for. That nose probably has a camel.

Posted by: YARS (Tom Yarsley) | February 28, 2018 7:02 AM    Report this comment

"With the emerging ubiquity of ADS-B, your friendly federal government easily could provide takeoff and landing data to interested entities."

Even that is sometimes guesswork. Here in the northeast, there is often no ADS-B coverage below 1500' MSL, and at my home airport (which is basically in a valley), aircraft often disappear from flightaware/flightradar24 when they descend below pattern altitude. I have often seen aircraft that I know where doing low approaches or touch-and-goes appear to have "landed" when they in fact did not.


"Even more interesting was the $16.50 landing fee that was billed about three months after I had "landed" at the Battle Creek airport. The odd part was that on the day the landing fee was assessed, I hadn't actually landed there. I had shot a practice ILS approach on the way home..."

There are at least two airports near my home base that actually charge not just for landing but also practice low approaches. You'll receive a bill (usually on the order of $10-20) a couple months later, even though these are only Class-D airports. So, everyone in the area knows to avoid those airports unless they really need to land there. To me, this is entirely counter-productive to the airport, if the airport is actually intending to earn a profit. If it's more a purposeful deterrent from the town because they don't want those annoying little planes flown by those annoying 1%ers making annoying noises, then it's working.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | February 28, 2018 8:31 AM    Report this comment

Technology is coming to a government near you. Soon they will be able to pick our wallets at will. ADS-B and Electronic Tolls on highways are as Yars said just the nose of a very big camel. The state of Taxachusetts a.k.a Massachusetts just instituted electronic toll taking. Now the politicians are looking to rip more $ from people stuck in the infamous Boston traffic. Need to go in town, no problem, we will jack up the toll. When electronic toll collection was being sold to the public there was never any mention of these "enhanced" tolls.

As for ADS-B, I have always been suspicious. When FAA management puts so much effort into forcing aviators to equip, I believe there is an ulterior motive. That motive is of course additional "user fees". Soon we may even be charged things like overflight fees. Don't laugh the devious little devils in government are already lusting over this. When we start using the electric airplanes that are being promised in the next few years, what will happen to the fuel tax revenues? Perhaps they will be supplemented by ADS-B generated user taxes.

What does the future hold? Good question, perhaps requiring ADB-S to be on and enabled 24/7 so that big brother can tax us for ground use, tie down fees, hangar fees, ramp fees, environmental fees, use of O2 fees (or for electrics additional O3 fees), sun shine fees etc.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | February 28, 2018 8:50 AM    Report this comment

Here in the People's Republik of Taxachusetts, our legislators now are "studying" implementing electronic tolls on highways that have been toll-free since their construction. And a "mileage tax," to be assessed - and collected - during the annual safety-and-emmissions inspection that is required of all vehicles that are registered in the state of Massachusetts. When observers noted that Massachusetts drivers often log many of those miles in adjacent states, the "studiers" responded with a "suggestion" that technology could track every move of every car, to give the state the ability to tax just those miles driven within Massachusetts. Driveway-to-driveway coverage!
I feel better, already.

Posted by: YARS (Tom Yarsley) | February 28, 2018 10:11 AM    Report this comment

Question: Who is or would be the beneficiary of the "user fee" ?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | February 28, 2018 10:47 AM    Report this comment

Used to fly a N registered Arrow IV here in Germany. After paying EURO200/ hour wet per hour you would usually pay landing fees between EURO13.50 - EURO37.50 depending on where you went. The variances in prices was justified by a "Gebuhrenordnung", which varied from airport to airport and was based on the dB noise catalog. That was well before 2004. Once the landing fees get charged (and they are not at all reasonable) the fox is in the henhouse. I suppose our capitalists won't rest until GA is what it was meant to be, a sport and status quo index for those who can. Just another fee. If you have the choice, skip landings at airports who charge them.

Posted by: Jason Baker | February 28, 2018 1:21 PM    Report this comment

I don't care UNLESS the fees are not stated up front. If a bill comes in by "surprise" then I don't see a need to pay it (since it was not agreed upon beforehand).

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 28, 2018 2:44 PM    Report this comment

$ - Hangar fees
$ - Tie-Down Fees
$ - Fuel Taxes
$ - Hangar Taxes
$ - Terminal Fees
$ - Passenger Fees
$ - Landing Fees
$ - ... etc fees & taxes

Where does it all go? The airports I've been to are always broke and haven't done many improvements in decades. One of the $100,000/year managers said it was all going to insurance. If government airports were actually 'capitalist' they would shop for a cheaper insurance career.

The truth is it goes to the "General Fund". The council or board members that control the general fund only objective is to create a bigger general fund. They send out the memo to every bureaucrat to get creative and collect more money. "Taxation with representation" is just an old fairy tale. The taxman has absolutely no care where the money goes just how can they collect more and more and more...... The ill advised campaign celebrity in politician clothes allocates the general fund monies....

Show up to your local council meetings and be an adviser. Good way to get our voices heard at these meetings, we join an alphabet aviation groups and give more money. In turn we get some of the fees and taxes allocated in our favor. Sometimes we can even advise a better more efficient collection system. Just don't ever expect a politician to terminate a collection.

Posted by: Klaus Marx | February 28, 2018 2:49 PM    Report this comment

Landing fees? I'm sure there's a perfectly rational explanation for them. Similarly to aircraft registration fees. Let's see ... I'm 75, my flight instructors certificate is good til mid 2019. Life is good!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | February 28, 2018 4:09 PM    Report this comment

It's much akin to Yars' comment on the TTx blog about 'vastly overpricing (new airplanes) making perverse economic sense." These landing fees are penny wise and dollar (not to mention customer) foolish! Suddenly, the FAA Airport Pricing paper is starting to fit into a narrative ... a BAD narrative. I thought the AIP grant assurances were supposed to take care of these things. Maybe it's already time for Rev B of that document? And that was only last December.

Ironically, before I parted with my ADS-B $$ at Airventure 2017, I was asking questions about being "anonymous." Talking to a reasonable FAA guy, I was told that the FAA did not intend to use ADS-B as a means to violate pilots. I never once gave any thought to others using it to generate revenue. Looking at MY flight signatures on Flight Aware now that it's installed, they've "got" me. Since 91.215c specifies that transponders must be turned "on," the only two ways to NOT report your N number would be to use the UAT + anonymous method (and not use ATC services) OR ... take the damned thing out and stay away from airspace where it is required. I guess you could 'forget' to turn it on, too. That's the secret O-F-F mode.

Reminds me of when I bought a second airplane, never brought it into FL but because of the registered address got a "hey, you owe us some tax dough" letter within 30 days. I declined.

Leo ... the ADS-B box I bought has a pin to provide 'keep alive' voltage to the GPS sensor going around the master switch like a clock so that it's always on. Inside a hangar, that's insane. It's one step more to keeping it on all the time, though. I didn't wire mine up.

This is all getting too hard. You guys are scaring me. I think it's time to start prepping to fold my aviation tent and find something else to do. I smell a camel and maybe a rat, too.. I have a retired airline pilot friend who frequently says that computers are going to be the ruination of the world. I think he's right. And watching the populace walking around with one plugged into their face ain't much better.

RAF ... I had no idea you were a certificated fossil. :-)

Posted by: Larry Stencel | February 28, 2018 6:08 PM    Report this comment

Optimistically. As air and ground fees increase, light aircraft owners and pilots decrease. I'm with you Larry.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 1, 2018 9:08 AM    Report this comment

Only thing left to do is for us pilots to start auto-sending bills to airports for every inconvenience we encounter. Fair is fair.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | March 1, 2018 2:00 PM    Report this comment

Power to the people???

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 1, 2018 3:05 PM    Report this comment

"Even more interesting was the $16.50 landing fee that was billed about three months after I had "landed" at the Battle Creek airport. The odd part was that on the day the landing fee was assessed, I hadn't actually landed there." I built an Avid Flyer Experimental and, optimist that I am, applied for the special N-number months before I finished the airplane. Although it was but bits and pieces in New Mexico, one day a landing fee bill from Vermont showed up in the mailbox. Including a threat to turn it over to a collection agency if not paid promptly. I mailed them a photo of myself holding the registration form in front of the pile of parts.

Posted by: MICHAEL MUETZEL | April 17, 2018 11:53 AM    Report this comment

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