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.”