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Uncle Sam balks at FBO's user fee, reluctantly pays

Like many pilots, Bob Fahnespock is disconcerted about the Obama administration’s proposed $100-per-flight fee for turbine aircraft that use air traffic services. His heartburn intensified this week after government officials used his FBO’s facilities during the president’s recent visit to Boulder City, Nev., and balked at the idea of paying $200 for the services.

“I thought about telling them that I would waive the fee if they would pull the user fee out of the 2013 budget,” Fahnespock, owner of BFE LLC at the Boulder City Municipal Airport, told AOPA on March 21. According to Fahnespock, the officials reluctantly paid the bill when they left, stating that they wouldn’t use his services in the future.

Fahnespock said he was contacted by multiple government departments, including the Secret Service, for permission to use his offices and to base a helicopter, which turned out to be one used as Marine One, during the visit. Initially, Fahnespock did not give the officials an estimate of the services when he granted permission, he said, because he didn’t know the extent of the services they needed, and he was surprised the groups didn’t ask about pricing.

While the Marine One helicopter was based on the ramp for only part of a day, government personnel and equipment were stationed in his office for four days: Four new phone lines were added, radios were set up, and wires were run throughout the office area. When he informed officials that the cost would be $50 a day (for a total of $200) to recover costs, he said they balked at the idea. A media inquiry AOPA placed on March 21 with the Secret Service, one of the agencies Fahnespock said used his facility, was not returned as of publication.

“The one client I have today wants it for free,” Fahnespock. “It’s really baffling how they can comprehend not being charged for this.”

His FBO has no ramp or tiedown fees for the day, so there was no charge for Marine One, but he regularly charges clients for use of his facilities. Normally, Fahnespock said, he would charge a customer $500 total for a similar setup to what he proposed at $200 for the government.

Fahnespock received a plaque for his business’ hospitality, and he said the officials and enlisted servicemen based at his office were “very cordial and nice, very professional.” But, he still had a beef with the government: “I probably wouldn’t have as much heartburn” if general aviation weren’t facing user fees.

Other businesses on the airport were impacted by the president’s nearby visit, but not to the extent of Fahnespock. Boulder City Municipal Airport Manager Kerry Ahearn said that because of the TFR, the airport’s sightseeing operators who provide scenic flights to the Grand Canyon, were shut down. However, Ahearn pointed out that the impact was mitigated somewhat by the shorter duration of the TFR—only three hours. In the past, the Las Vegas area flight operations had been restricted for up to 19 hours during longer presidential visits.

Topics: FAA Funding, Advocacy, User Fees

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