May 1, 2013
By Benét J. Wilson
AOPA is disputing a proposal by the city of Santa Monica to more than double landing fees at Santa Monica Airport. The city claims the move is needed because it is subsidizing the airport from its general fund.
Under a proposal released by the city on March 13, landing fees would rise from $2.07/1,000 to $5.48/1,000, based on landing weight. The rate was calculated based on historic costs allocable to the airfield area as defined in Section 18.4.a in the FAA's Chapter 18 Airport Rates and Charges; cost recovery principles; and establishing and charging a rate—landing weight—that is fair and equitable across all users.
The city says the higher fees will cover the airport’s operating expenses, including those for city-provided services such as insurance, risk management, and accounting support; and capital expenditures that are allocable to the airfield area.
But the financial data provided to the aviation community is unclear and does not appear to validate the need to increase revenue, said Bill Dunn, AOPA’s vice president of airports. “The city is not including income from ground leases, fixed-base operator fees, tie-down, or hangar fees as airport income against costs of airport operation,” he said. “And since Santa Monica has decided to not accept future federal grants, all runway, taxiway, and airport developments are now self-funded.”
Another problem with the proposal is that it removes the exemption in place for aircraft and businesses based at the airport, including flight schools, said Dunn. Local tenants already provide significant financial support to the airport though payment of taxes, hangar rents, and land leases, as well as fuel flowage fees. Transient operators do not, noted Dunn.
The city has a long record of seeking ways to restrict and reduce operations at the airport, said Dunn. “The record of city efforts to restrict is in the form of public meetings of city council and the Santa Monica Airport Commission, as well as reports in local newspapers and anti-airport groups,” he said. “Therefore, it appears to AOPA that the city is undertaking a very specific plan to create an economic disincentive for operators at the airport, including flight schools that will be charged for every touch-and-go operation.”
In a meeting in early April with city officials including the city manager, the city attorney, the airport director, and the public works director, Dunn reiterated that AOPA is “strongly opposed” to the proposed landing fee changes. “Last week, the very anti-airport Santa Monica Airport Commission refused to approve the modified landing fee plan and did not recommend passage to the city council,” he said.
AOPA is currently reviewing additional financial data and may elect to file a Freedom of Information Act request for more information from the city, said Dunn. “We have also provided all data from the city to the FAA for their review,” he said. “An audit of Santa Monica Airport financial data may be in order to ensure the city is not diverting airport revenue for nonaviation purposes in violation of federal laws.”
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