Flight training is conducted in a world of order. Syllabi, regulations, insurance requirements, and legal agreements are all included in the price of doing business these days. One set of requirements that surprises many new independent flight instructors is minimum commercial standards.
Minimum commercial standards are a set of defined procedures and criteria that must be complied with in order for a commercial activity to operate at an airport. Not every airport has minimum standards, but if yours does, you must abide by them.
This can present a problem for independent flight instructors, not to mention those wanting to start a traditional brick-and-mortar flight school. A typical minimum standards document may specify a square footage requirement, building lease restrictions, a requirement or limitation on the type of services provided, the number and type of aircraft that are available, or even the hours of operation. By setting these requirements, the airport is able to satisfy its requirements to keep the public safe and the airport available to everyone, without discrimination.
The story may not be as clear for independent instructors. Some minimum standards have been written in a way that practically makes it impossible for independent instructors to do business. Others make it difficult, but certainly not impossible. The posted minimum standards for the Chesterfield County Airport in Richmond, Va., are a good example. They require all independent instructors have a county business license, an airport business permit, an independent instructor permit from the airport, and $1 million in insurance.
The practice of airports dictating business practices may seem draconian, but it is rooted in good intention. And it’s perfectly legal.
The FAA doesn’t require minimum standards, nor does it approve each airport’s version. It will, however, review them upon request and offer recommendations. Otherwise, it’s up to the airport to develop them, usually in concert with the community.
Thankfully, the FAA has built in some safeguards. For example, if an airport takes federal funds, in most cases it can’t create an exclusive agreement with a business. And there is a formal appeals process. The federal aviation regulations spell out the process for both an informal and formal complaint, at which point the FAA is compelled to investigate.
Abiding by an airport’s commercial minimum standards may be difficult, but generally the standards are transparent and exist as a means to protect the public. And if things don’t seem quite right, there is recourse for business owners and independent instructors. To learn more, view AOPA’s guide.