Jan. 7, 2004 - A petition to allow an airport sponsor to divert airport revenues directly to an airline at the expense of the airport's other users must be denied before any other sponsors try to follow suit, said AOPA in a strongly worded letter to the FAA. The petition could allow virtually every public use airport with airline service where general aviation aircraft operate to divert airport revenue funds.
"This petition seeks a policy change in how airports may spend their revenue that has national implications," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The proposed policy poses a threat to and discriminates against GA pilots. It would allow airport authorities to put money that should rightfully be used to fund airport operations and improvements directly into the pockets of airlines."
The Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority petition asks the FAA to change the policy governing the use of airport revenues so that the Authority can use money from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) to provide a direct subsidy for air carrier service.
"It would be just plain wrong for the FAA to allow airports to take money that is clearly understood to be for airport improvements and renovations, and give it directly to an airline," said Boyer.
In AOPA's formal comments, AOPA Sr. Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula told the FAA, "Such a change in policy would have a detrimental impact on financing airport improvement projects, cause financial harm to the existing general aviation tenants at the airport, and use revenues in a manner that is inappropriate for the broader interest of the aviation community."
Cebula noted that a keystone to America having the safest air transportation system in the world is the ability of an airport sponsor to maintain an airport in a safe and serviceable condition. "Using airport revenue to subsidize airline service would take away from an airport's ability to fund airport improvement projects," the association wrote. "In addition, the community pressure to attract airline service could cause some airport operators to prioritize funding for airline subsidies, rather than fund airport projects."
In addition, AOPA warned the FAA that granting this policy change could lead to other cities to try to expand the number airports that could participate. "Several comments [filed by other cities in support of Sarasota's petition] suggest changes to the petition that would allow more airports to participate. For example, comments from the city of Fresno state that they do not agree that only 'airport sponsors governed by a special-purpose airport authority be the limited beneficiary of a contemplated change' to the policy. In addition, the Grand Forks Regional Airport Authority believes the subsidy should not be limited to communities of 200,000 or more population and that the subsidy time period should be increased to 24 months rather than the proposed 12 months. These comments indicate the problems the FAA will have in preventing wide-scale changes in the revenue policy. The pressure and expectations air carriers will place on an airport to receive such subsidies will cause competition to be based on the amount of subsidy rather than marketability."
The association concluded, "AOPA strongly believes that in order to maintain our national airport system and to protect the financial interest of general aviation tenants at commercial service airports, the FAA should deny this petition."