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European pilots fight skyrocketing feesEuropean pilots fight skyrocketing fees

It’s not just U.S. pilots who are digging into their pockets to pay outrageous airport fees. European pilots are getting fed up with astronomical handling, parking, and landing fees. For years, rising costs have deterred many pilots away from recreational flying and nearly killed GA operations in Europe. But now pilots are fighting back, and things are getting legal.

General aviation aircraft on the ramp at Thessaloniki, Greece. Photo by Tom Haines.

Taking a page from AOPA’s fight for airport access and fair pricing, a grassroots crowdfunding campaign was introduced to finance a legal battle to ensure fair airport fees for GA operations in Europe. Backed by AOPA Greece and led by Polish pilot Bartlomiej Kasinski, the campaign has already garnered enough support to meet its 6,500 euro goal.

Kasinski initiated the crowdfunding campaign following multiple reports of GA airport closures and high fees making landing unfeasible. But GA operations in Europe have been rocky for quite some time. While the U.S. makes up about 60 percent of the global GA fleet, Europe only accounts for about 26 percent. Still, for the roughly 140,000 GA aircraft that call the EU home, fighting for fair airport fees is a cause every pilot can get behind. To get a more systematic view, Kasinski decided to run a survey of pilots and found that the problem is spreading throughout all of Europe.

While it varies from country to country, many pilots have seen GA take a backseat to commercial air traffic at several European airports. Once an airport manages to attract airline traffic, GA fees are significantly increased as part of the airport’s “capacity management” program.

And the higher fees are having an effect on safety. According to the survey, one-third of respondents reported that high landing prices pushed them to less optimal aeronautical decisions, degrading the safety of their flights. Eleven percent reported serious safety degradation as a result of overcharging airports.

A general aviation aircraft gets refueled at Thessaloniki, Greece. Photo by Tom Haines.

Kasinski says that if the trend is not reversed, GA flying in Europe will cease to exist. “This will mean a loss of jobs in the GA sector, loss of companies manufacturing GA and a decrease in innovation of Europe as a whole. We need to stand up and fight for this scenario to not become a reality,” he said.  

But enacting provisions to protect GA in Europe is no easy task. Pilots found aid in AOPA Greece, which backed their campaign to engage attorneys and challenge the increased costs and handling fees.

And Greek pilots know all too well the fate of other European countries if something doesn’t change. High costs of training, privatized airport models, and exorbitant servicing fees have contributed to the decline of GA flying in Europe, and similar problems are beginning to arise in the United States.  

AOPA’s ongoing campaign to fight egregious FBO fees showed that operations at top complaint locations fell faster than at all other airports over the past decade. Specifically, turboprop operations fell 18 percent more, piston traffic fell 11 percent more, and the decline in jet operations remained the same. In the United States, the majority of complaints pointed to Signature Flight Support, a subsidiary of BBA Aviation, which is traded on the London Stock Exchange.

Following similar business practices as Signature, Fraport Greece, a private company, has taken over operations at 14 regional airports; immediately after the acquisitions, prices began to skyrocket. Kasinski says be prepared to shell out a few hundred euro if visiting a Greek airport operated by Fraport.

The organized fight in the EU is just beginning. The next steps are to analyze the legal situation and apply for an intervention at the European Commission.

Amelia Walsh

Communications Coordinator
AOPA Communications Coordinator Amelia Walsh joined AOPA in 2017. Named after the famous aviatrix, she comes from a family of pilots and is currently working on her pilot certificate.
Topics: Advocacy, Economic Impact, User Fees

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