In response to requests from airport owners and operators for guidance in ensuring fair and transparent pricing and access for general aviation pilots, AOPA has developed a set of recommendations for airports to consider when preparing requests for proposals (RFPs) from fixed-base operators wanting to operate there. AOPA’s recommendations are intended to help airports better understand the needs and interests of pilots during their search for an FBO.
The move is another in the association’s ongoing efforts to ensure affordable access for pilots at public-use airports.
“Gathering comments from pilots, working with local airport officials seeking advice, filing FAA Part 13 complaints, and now offering suggestions to airports when dealing with FBOs is just another step in our effort to provide fairness for pilots while understanding the need for FBOs to remain profitable,” said AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker.
When AOPA asked members and readers to submit reports on unreasonable FBO fees, one email from AOPA member Carl Hopkins stood out. Hopkins, who is a member of the Santa Barbara Airport Commission, wrote, “We have a real chance to affect some significant change.”
Santa Barbara has two FBOs, Signature Flight Support and Atlantic Aviation, and both have received numerous complaints in AOPA’s inquiry into unreasonable prices and fees. One pilot wrote to AOPA after wanting to do a quick pick-up at Santa Barbara and continue to another airport, but realizing such a stop would have incurred a $50 fee from Atlantic or an $80 fee with Signature.
Relief for airport users may come in the form of new RFPs for future FBO leaseholders. An RFP outlines the criteria by which FBO leases will be awarded to competing bidders and the standards and terms of service expected of the future FBO leaseholder.
Both Santa Barbara FBO leases expire in 2018 when the commission will then issue a new RFP. At the request of Hopkins, AOPA developed and submitted a list of RFP recommendations to “advance the goal of protecting reasonable public access to the airport and ensuring the FBO’s pricing and pricing practices are reasonable for all airport users,” according to Ken Mead, AOPA general counsel.
In the recommendations, AOPA advises Santa Barbara to carefully evaluate each FBO’s pricing during the RFP process to encourage competition. AOPA also recommends the airport improve its ability to conduct oversight of the FBO. This will ensure the airport can remain in compliance with the grant assurances for federal funding, including the requirement for the FBO to charge reasonable pricing.
AOPA’s recommendations call for each FBO to publicly disclose its prices, fees, and charges, as well as the terms and conditions for the FBO’s provision of aeronautical services.
At a number of airports, FBOs exert control over all the available parking ramp space. AOPA believes pricing transparency is critical for protecting the interests of transient operators and ensuring pilots know what it costs to access these public-use airports and receive critical services.
For months, AOPA has been asking pilots for input on FBO pricing practices and working with communities and the industry on ensuring public-use airports are serving all segments of GA. In August, AOPA, along with affected pilots, filed FAA Part 13 complaints over egregious FBO pricing practices at Asheville, Key West, and Waukegan, where unreasonable fees and prices have prevented or restricted access. In other parts of the country like Santa Barbara, however, airports and community leaders are starting to stand up for GA to help protect access.
Mead said, “We thank the airport commission for their leadership and hope these recommendations will help Santa Barbara and other airports implement RFP criteria and FBO lease agreements which promote competition, transparency, and access.” Mead said the RFP guidelines can be useful to many airports looking to invite additional FBOs to their fields or when renewing leases with existing FBOs. Hopkins and the airport commission hope to work with the Transportation Security Administration on developing a framework that preserves security and gives transient pilots and passengers direct access from the ramp to the parking lot instead of forcing them to pass through the FBO.
AOPA will continue to work with Santa Barbara and other airports to provide alternative access and promote competition over critical aeronautical services.