AOPA President Phil Boyer presents picture of Minnesota-built Cirrus SR22 to MAC Chairperson Vicki Grunseth
View Phil Boyer's presentation to the MAC
Apr. 29, 2004 - Testifying before a Minneapolis hearing room packed with AOPA members and local pilots, AOPA President Phil Boyer on Thursday told Twin Cities airport commissioners "not to undo a system that is a model of efficient capacity relief just because the largest tenant - Northwest Airlines - at Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP) finds itself in economic difficulty - again."
Boyer appeared before the Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC), which runs Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and six GA reliever airports in the area. The MAC, which has increased general aviation rents only once in the past 30 years, is currently reviewing a range of reliever airport financing issues, largely due to a lawsuit filed by Northwest Airlines and heavy political pressure applied by the hometown-based hub airline. One option under consideration by MAC Commissioners could raise general aviation hangar rents at some relievers by as much as 700%.
Using research commissioned by AOPA from a consultant well-versed in general aviation airport rates and charges, a phone survey of AOPA members in Minnesota, and analysis by AOPA's professional staff, Boyer challenged the basic assumptions driving the proposed increases.
He said, "The turnout of AOPA members and pilots at this weekday afternoon meeting was highly gratifying. It put faces to the picture throughout the hearing of those who would be affected. Many of these in attendance took time from their jobs to show concern in very businesslike fashion."
Accompanying Boyer were AOPA Vice President of Regional Affairs Roger Cohen and Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn. Dunn has been involved in the Minneapolis airport situation for more than a year, and last August hosted a meeting that more than 400 area pilots attended.
While endorsing the MAC reliever concept, AOPA urged Commissioners to consider other steps - such as better controlling expenses and partnering with local communities to fund future capital projects - before placing unreasonable rent increases solely on the shoulders of local pilots. Citing the member survey findings, he also suggested that AOPA members value preserving and maintaining current infrastructure at the six airports, rather than looking for expansion projects.
Boyer pointed to the MAC reliever airport system - largest of its kind in the nation - as a unique asset to the Twin Cities area and all of Minnesota, generating $1.4 billion in annual economic activity. The GA airports provide access to and from the many communities underserved or not served at all by airlines in Minnesota, and they provide a training ground for the next generation of airline pilots.
"They are also part of a system that improves safety at Minneapolis/St. Paul International by taking smaller, slower aircraft out of the way of airliners, and that saves the airlines money by cutting down on delays - a key concern of passengers."
At Thursday's hearing, MAC officials reported that increased GA operations at MSP could cost airlines more than $3 million annually - more than double the amount MSP currently contributes to reliever airport operations costs.
AOPA surveyed pilots at the MAC reliever airports and found that the single-most important issue was maintaining the reasonable rates and fees It ranked even higher than maintaining the runways and taxiways. Coming as no surprise, more than 90% of the pilots surveyed said either that there should be no increase in fees, or that while a "minor" increase might be acceptable, the proposed rates and fees are too high and they need to be phased in over time. In addition more than 8 out of 10 pilots ranked snow removal and airport maintenance as their number one and two concerns, and less than a third indicated expensive runway expansions were needed.
To prove its point, AOPA commissioned a study of rates and fees at comparable airports. The results from the Aviation Management Consulting Group survey found that the MAC's proposed increases would make their rates four to six times higher than those at comparable airports around the country.
Northwest Airlines officials appeared at the MAC session and faced tough questioning by airport commissioners. The MAC staff is expected to submit a formal recommendation and proposed general aviation fee schedule on May 13, and the public will comment on the proposal at a meeting in June.