The information below is intended as a guide in understanding the rules, procedures, and policies applicable to exclusive rights and minimum standards for commercial aeronautical activities. It is not intended to replace the necessary research and review of applicable law that may be required in a particular case, nor to give legal advice or take the place of an attorney who can advise with respect to a particular situation. While every care has been exercised in the preparation of this information, AOPA cannot and does not accept responsibility for an individual's reliance on its contents.
The owners and operators of many of the nation's more than 5,000 publicly owned airports routinely allow businesses and individuals to conduct commercial aeronautical activities on airport property. Typically, the business operators must sign a lease or contract in which they agree to comply with minimum standards set by the airport owner/operators.
The airport owner/operators also have an obligation to make all airport facilities and services available on fair and reasonable terms without unjust discrimination. The airport owner cannot grant any special privilege or monopoly in the use of public airport facilities. The granting of an exclusive right to provide aeronautical services at an airport on which federal funds have been expended is specifically forbidden by FAA policy.
Minimum standards can be designed to promote higher levels of service from airport businesses. A cautionary note is that, if an airport sponsor attempts to design their minimum standards so as to protect only the interest of one business operator, it can be interpreted as the granting of an exclusive right and potentially be in violation of exclusive rights policy. Certain exceptions do exist to the exclusive rights clause and are not considered exclusive rights, including: when the aeronautical activities are being conducted by the airport sponsor; when only one business has taken the opportunity to conduct business at the airport; when the airport could only support one business; when space limitations only allow for one business; or for reasons of safety and efficiency. A more detailed discussion of exclusive rights can be found in the FAA's Advisory Circular 150/5190-5, Chg. 1, "Exclusive Rights and Minimum Standards for Commercial Aeronautical Activities."
Minimum standards are intended to protect the level and quality of services offered to aircraft owners, pilots, and the public at large. The FAA urges airport sponsors to establish reasonable minimum standards that are relevant to the aeronautical activity being proposed.
The FAA stresses that, where minimum standards are adopted, they should be applied objectively and uniformly to all on-airport commercial aeronautical activities. Imposing unreasonable or onerous minimum standards on airport businesses may violate the FAA's policy on exclusive rights. Airports owner/operators who receive federal financial assistance must agree to uphold that policy.
When developing minimum standards, each airport owner/operator must examine what makes its airport different from other airports. Minimum standards should be tailor made for the airport to which they will be applied.
Fill-in-the-blank minimum standards, which may be copied from other airports serving different roles, are unacceptable. For instance, it would be unreasonable for the owner/operator of a small rural airport to require a fixed-base operator (FBO) at the airport to provide jet fuel if no jet aircraft utilize the field. Many individual elements must be examined in developing minimum standards for commercial aeronautical activities on airports. The following elements are often considered in setting minimum standards:
Even when careful planning goes into establishing minimum standards, circumstances may change. That's why flexibility is the key to establishing and maintaining relevant minimum standards. Periodic reviews of minimum standards can ensure that they continue to be reasonable as the public's demand for general aviation products and services changes.
The guidelines below may be helpful for establishing fair and reasonable minimum standards. They include definitions, a list of general requirements to consider when developing minimum standards, and a sample set of minimum standards to use as a guide.
The following definitions explain the terms used in the sample minimum standards below.
In order to encourage and ensure the provision of adequate services and facilities, the economic health of, and the orderly development of aviation and related aeronautical activities at the _______________ [airport], the ________________________ as proprietor, sponsor, and operator of the airport has established these minimum standards and requirements ("minimum standards").
The following sections set forth the minimum standards prerequisite to a person or entity operating upon and engaging in one or more commercial aeronautical activities at the airport. The minimum standards are not intended to be all-inclusive. Any person or entity engaging in aviation operations and/or aeronautical activities at the airport will be required to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local laws; ordinances; codes; and other similar regulatory measures pertaining to such activities.
Statement of Policy
The _______________ [airport] intends to operate, manage, plan, finance, and develop the airport for its long-term financial health and safety in a manner consistent with accepted airport practices and applicable federal, state, and local policies and regulations.
Accordingly, all applicants who perform commercial aeronautical activities at the airport shall be accorded a fair and reasonable opportunity, without unlawful discrimination, to qualify and to compete (if applicable) to occupy available airport facilities. Applicants shall also have the opportunity to provide appropriate aeronautical activities subject to the minimum standards as established by the _______________ [airport sponsor].
However, the granting of rights and privileges to individuals and businesses to engage in aeronautical activities shall not be construed in any manner as affording any operator any exclusive right for use of the premises and/or facilities at the airport, other than those premises which may be leased exclusively to any operator, and then only to the extent provided in a written lease and/or permit.
While the airport director has the authority to manage the airport (including the authority to interpret, administer, and enforce airport agreements and airport owner policies and the authority to permit temporary, short-term occupancy of the airport), the ultimate authority to grant the occupancy and use of airport real estate or permits allowing for the conduct of commercial aeronautical activities, and to approve, amend, or supplement all leases and permits is expressly reserved to the ___________ [airport sponsor].
Many types of aeronautical activities may exist that are too varied to reasonably permit the establishment of specific minimum standards for each. When specific aeronautical activities that are proposed for conduct on the airport that do not fall within the categories documented, minimum standards can be developed on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the desires of the applicant and the airport, and the public demand for such service. Often, a simple permit process can be utilized to authorize such activities.
Specialized Aviation Service Operation (SASO)
The ___________ [airport] recognizes that when specialized aviation service operations (SASOs), sometimes known as single service operators or special fixed-base operators, apply to do business on the airport, difficulties can arise if the SASOs are required to comply with all provisions of published minimum standards. Accordingly, the airport may develop reasonable, relevant, and applicable standards for each type and class of service. Examples of these specialized services may include flight training, airframe and powerplant repair and maintenance, aircraft charter, air taxi or air ambulance, aircraft sales, avionics, instrument or propeller services, or other specialized commercial flight support businesses. These minimum standards may be supplemented, amended, or modified by the airport owner/operator from time to time and in such manner and to such extent as is deemed reasonable and appropriate by the _________ [airport owner/operator].
Conflicts With Existing Agreements or Federal Law
These minimum standards are not retroactive. They do not affect the current term of any written agreement properly executed prior to the date of adoption and approval of these same minimum standards. Upon expiration of an existing agreement, or if the operator desires to materially increase or expand its activities, the operator shall then comply with the provisions of these minimum standards. A requirement under these minimum standards or an agreement that an operator comply with applicable local or state law does not create an opportunity or right in a sponsor or airport to enact or enforce local ordinance which is preempted under federal law. This includes any attempt to regulate airspace or the conduct of flight operations.
The following general requirements shall apply to all commercial aeronautical activities at the airport. An operator engaging in a commercial aeronautical activity or activities at the airport must comply with the general requirements of this section.
Restrictions on Self-Service
In accordance with FAA policy, the airport owner/operator may not exercise any right or privilege that would have the effect of preventing the operator of any aircraft utilizing the airport from performing services on his or her own aircraft with his or her own employees and equipment. Aircraft owners are entitled to use the landing area of the airport and may tie down, adjust, repair, refuel, clean, and otherwise service their own aircraft, provided the service is performed by the aircraft owner. Any unreasonable restrictions imposed on owners or operators of aircraft by airport commercial operators will be construed as a violation of airport policy.
The following questions addressing two examples of commercial aeronautical activities are intended as a general guide for airport operators, prospective providers of products or services on airports, aircraft owners, and pilots.
Similar general questions should be formulated for other commercial aeronautical activities that may be provided on airports, including aircraft charter and taxi, aircraft engine/accessory repair and maintenance operations, aircraft painting, prop and radio shops, and other such services as may be required by aircraft owners and pilots.
Airport owners/operators should keep in mind that the FAA is now considering formal recognition of limited commercial activities as being specialized aviation service operations (SASOs) through which single or limited services can be provided.
Airports should also provide for periodic reviews of all airport minimum standards in order to ensure that the established minimum standards continue to be reasonable as demand for products and services changes.
AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.