Why is it that some fixed-base operators believe it is OK to hide their fee information from pilots? That was among the questions debated at the second meeting of the AOPA Airport Access Advisory Panel on Feb. 15 in Naples, Florida. Made up of pilots, FBO owners, and airport managers, the panel provides feedback and guidance on AOPA’s continuing work to ensure airports are accessible and to fight egregious FBO fees at certain locations.
“We are fortunate to have the support of these diverse industry leaders in order to effectively target the few problem locations and help airports come up with realistic solutions when access has been restricted,” said AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker.
“Compared to all airports, the locations our members are complaining about the most are experiencing a significantly accelerated decline in piston and turboprop traffic—the problem is real,” AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead said.
John King, a panelist and co-founder of King Schools, said egregious FBO pricing particularly affects owner-pilots, and compared the experience at some problem FBOs to if Walmart charged different prices based on how expensive of a car customers arrive in.
Santa Barbara Airport Board member and panelist Carl Hopkins updated the group on recent changes at his airport. Signature Flight Support, one of the two FBOs at the California airport, recently purchased the field’s self-service avgas fueling facility. AOPA has received a number of complaints about unreasonable fees affecting access at Santa Barbara, and, according to Hopkins, Signature will offer free parking all day to pilots who purchase at least seven gallons of self-service avgas.
Santa Barbara is preparing to issue requests for proposals for the two FBO locations on the field, which Hopkins said will include provisions to ensure reasonable pricing and access along the lines of AOPA’s October 2017 recommendations and the FAA’s guidance on FBO pricing.
The group also discussed improvements at Waukegan National Airport in Illinois. AOPA filed three Part 13 complaints with the FAA, including one against Waukegan. But AOPA withdrew the Waukegan complaint after airport officials announced free transient tiedowns, alternate ramp access, and that the Signature FBO had lowered the price of self-serve avgas.
Additionally, panelists heard from Greg Herrick, president of Wyoming Jet Center, about his efforts to add a second FBO at Jackson Hole Airport.
“We’re starting to make a difference,” said Baker. “The vast majority of the FBO industry is doing a great job and we are seeing progress at a few of the problem locations, but our work is really just beginning.”
Over the coming months AOPA will continue researching and reporting on egregious FBO fees and working with local leaders to ensure public-access airports are open to all segments of aviation. AOPA is also working to collect fee data for various aircraft types from FBOs across the country to provide much-needed transparency.
“You can find the price of just about anything online, except FBO fees, and we are going to change that,” said Baker.
AOPA will consider additional complaints with the FAA targeting certain FBOs that are not transparent about fees imposed on pilots.