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Prescription: CompetitionPrescription: Competition

Two airports turn to competition to temper prices, improve serviceTwo airports turn to competition to temper prices, improve service

Two of AOPA’s most complained-about airports, Heber City Municipal Airport in Utah and Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Colorado, are adding additional fixed-base operators with the hopes of driving down costs and improving general aviation services.

AOPA continues to fight egregious FBO fees. Photo by Chris Rose.

Both airports currently have one FBO, Signature Flight Support at Rocky Mountain and OK3 AIR at Heber City.

According to the French classical economist Frederic Bastiat, "Competition is the most progressive, the most egalitarian, the most universally leveling of all the laws to which Providence has entrusted the progress of human society.”

There are exceptions to Bastiat’s rule, as a number of multiple-FBO airports have sky-high fees. Meanwhile, other airports simply don’t have the traffic to support a second FBO. But AOPA has found FBO pricing and airport access issues overwhelmingly tend to occur at locations with one FBO. In fact, 85 percent of the top complaint locations in AOPA’s inquiry into the issue of egregious fees and airport access have an FBO with a monopoly position.

And it isn’t just AOPA and economists that think the free market can bring down prices. The FAA recommends airport sponsors with unreasonable FBO fee problems consider facilitating competition.

Rocky Mountain, which was included in AOPA’s Airport Access Watch List, already has a deal in place to allow Sheltair to build a new FBO there. The airport also plans to retain control of a number of tiedown spots to provide free aircraft parking for transient pilots.

In response to the announced improvements, AOPA is removing Rocky Mountain from the watch list. AOPA also removed Casper/Natrona County International Airport from the watch list after the airport announced transient ramp space and access independent of the sole FBO, Atlantic Aviation.

Rocky Mountain Airport Manager Paul Anslow told AOPA, “Just having the two FBOs compete against each other, they’re going to get lean and mean and be able to cut costs and increase services and provide a better product not only for GA but for all avenues of aviation.”

Anslow, who took over as Rocky Mountain airport manager in December of 2017, is a former U.S. Marine aviator and served in Marine Helicopter Squadron One, the unit that provides helicopter transportation for the president of the United States.

“I’ve made a promise to all my GA pilots and to my flight schools that I’m not going to go sell the soul of the airport for just business aviation, but we are going to have sustained growth and equal growth,” Anslow continued.

A Sheltair spokesperson told AOPA, “We can’t speak to the specific competitive forces that may, or may not, affect Rocky Mountain. We do know that marketplace competition takes many forms at general aviation airports but the results are invariably the same; flight departments and pilots have many options when they find the service of an FBO is wanting. Our corporate culture is driven by client service throughout our FBO network and we have long recognized that ‘exclusivity’ doesn’t mean the aviation community doesn’t have choices.” 

Meanwhile, Heber City Municipal Airport officials plan to issue a request for proposals for the second FBO location with two parties already interested, according to a newsletter published by airport manager Denis Godfrey. The airport also announced voting seats on the Airport Advisory Board for tenants and operators so local pilots have a voice in decision making.

Godfrey’s newsletter said OK3 AIR’s high pricing “harms the airport’s ability to market the facility as a tourism gateway to the Heber Valley and as a result the community does not fully enjoy the benefits and economic multipliers that its airport should provide.”

AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead said, “We call places like Heber and Rocky Mountain 'self-help airports.' The sponsors realize there’s a problem and do something about it on their own. The FAA does not seem to us to be particularly action oriented, let alone proactive, so the only way to make progress at this time is with forward-leaning local engagement.”

Mead explained that a growing number of airports are employing a variety of tactics to increase competition and access.

“It all started with Orange County, and since then we’ve seen places like Syracuse, Cedar Rapids, Waukegan, and Casper take steps to become more accessible by giving pilots more options,” according to Mead.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors replaced Signature Flight Support, one of the airport’s two FBOs, with ACI Jet in 2017 at John Wayne-Orange County Airport in California following complaints of unreasonable pricing. Since the change, piston traffic and avgas sales at the airport have started to rebound.

To facilitate competition, other airports have added FBOs, self-service fueling, and independent transient ramp space.

Pilots can submit reports of egregious FBO fees to AOPA at AOPA.org/FBOFees.

Joe Kildea

Joe Kildea

AOPA Senior Director of Communications
Joe is a student pilot and his first solo flight was at AOPA’s home airport in Frederick, Maryland. Before joining AOPA in 2015, he worked for numerous political campaigns, news organizations, and the White House Press Office.
Topics: Advocacy, Airport Advocacy, Airport

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