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Having a fee stroke

Why the battle against user fees matters

The sign in the downtown Chicago hotel lobby took me aback: $72 a night for valet parking. How could a 8.5-foot-by-19-foot garage parking spot command such a price? $2,200 a month for a patch of concrete! And it doesn’t even have a view.

It makes airport ramp and parking fees seem not so bad—at least you’ve got a view at the airport.

The parking price got me thinking about my European flight experience this summer, accompanying Bonanza pilot Adrian Eichhorn on several legs across the continent before he went on the rest of the way around the world and I airlined it back home. I report on his journey this month in the story, “Spirit of Aviation Around the World,” p. 78.

We’ve all heard about the repressive user fees and high fuel costs that have been a near-death knell for general aviation in most countries outside the United States. Flying with Eichhorn from Deauville, France, near the famed Omaha Beach at Normandy, to Friedrichshafen, Germany, and then on to two stops in Greece and ultimately Cairo, I learned a few things about the real costs. For even more detail and perspective, I asked a number of pilots in Europe and New Zealand for insights.

Ian Seager is the owner of Seager Publishing, which produces Flyer magazine in the United Kingdom, among other things. He owns a Cessna 182 and also regularly flies a Beech Baron. The fees throughout Europe are complicated, but basically you’ll pay some sort of a landing fee at most every airport; depending on the size of airport it could be from $5 to as much as $110 for a typical GA airplane, according to Seager. Then there likely will be a parking fee, too. Some airports, particularly in Germany, tack on a navigation fee. Some, especially in the U.K., also charge a fee for each instrument approach—although if it’s a documented training flight, you might get that waived.

And then there’s the mandatory handling fee at some airports. Eichhorn and I saw a lot of that, and he saw it all around the globe. A company—Swissport is a common one—has been given a contract by the airport owner to provide services at the airport. There may be a mandatory ride from your airplane to the terminal, for example. For that and ushering you around, there will be a charge of between $65 and $200. We saw that in France and Greece, but at least the fees were well documented. In Greece, we got half off the fees because we belong to an AOPA. The folks at AOPA Greece cut that deal with Swissport, and it’s a valuable benefit.

In Cairo we paid similar fees—but much higher prices, and it was far less clear who was collecting them and what the fees were for.

Seager reports that he can fly his 182 VFR around England and by planning carefully, he can pay no more than $13 to land. But at what most Americans would consider a small GA airport, the fee would most likely be between $40 and $50.

However, he recently flew a friend’s Baron from his base near London to the south of France—about 730 nm—and the navigation fees during the IFR flight amounted to $186—about $45 an hour.

But there are other fees. Michael Erb of AOPA Germany reports that telephone weather briefings cost about $1.40 a minute or $90 a year for a subscription. Landing fees vary widely in Germany—based on weight and noise. A Cessna 152 might pay as little as $7.50, but a Cirrus SR22 will pay closer to $38.

Ian Andrews, the president of AOPA New Zealand, noted his frustration with a navigation fee charged every time a pilot enters the Class D airspace around a towered airport. The amount is rather small—more of an annoyance than a deterrent. In fact, the authorities will admit that they spend more collecting the fee than it generates. When asked why they don’t stop collecting it, authorities report that operators of larger aircraft who pay more would then be upset that general aviation isn’t paying its share. Hmmm. There must be some logic there somewhere.

Of course, all these fees would be tolerable if the price of fuel was low. But throughout Europe the price usually tops $8 a gallon and is frequently closer to $12 a gallon. Eichhorn paid $26 a gallon in the Middle East and had to pump it from 200-liter barrels.

That parking sign in Chicago and conversations with mates around the world make me feel a little better about the $10 fee I recently paid when parking the Bonanza. You might think it sounds a little parochial, but I’m happy every day that AOPA-U.S. has been so effective for so long in fending off user fees here. As a result, we are the envy of pilots everywhere. Let’s make sure we take advantage of what we have.

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines

Editor in Chief
AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.

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