by Mark Baker
AOPA President & CEO
Published in Midwest Flyer – August/September 2017 issue
In this age of technology and disruption, retailers are constantly finding new ways to improve consumer shopping experiences. From apps that compare prices, to delivery services that allow you to save time and money, the marketplace is constantly evolving and benefiting consumers. Unfortunately, parts of the FBO market are heading in the opposite direction, much to the detriment of GA.
AOPA advocates for protecting the freedom to fly, and everything that goes along with those freedoms. Sadly, we are seeing a small number of FBOs affecting access for aircraft owners and pilots by imposing egregious prices, and seemingly preventing pilots from doing what they love most. Many of these problematic FBOs have been part of recent industry consolidations at high demand airports and they are often the only FBO that serves an airport.
AOPA is concerned about the ongoing consolidation of the FBO market which has accelerated over the past five years, and subsequent lack of competition in various locations across the country.
In 2016, merger fever really heated up. Rates for FBO fees and fuel prices continued to climb at these locations, where many times fees were demanded even when pilots didn’t request any services. Flash forward to 2017, where the chorus of complaints from members has skyrocketed, with fees reaching rates that pilots say are preventing them from accessing certain FBO locations.
Airport sponsors – generally those municipalities or authorities that own airports – can influence prices at their facilities. In fact, when accepting federal grants, they have a direct responsibility to guarantee fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory pricing. New regulations aren’t necessary to remedy the current circumstances facing general aviation. However, there should be transparency in fair and reasonable fees, especially when pilots arrive on a ramp and don’t require services.
From what we are currently seeing, airport sponsors and community leaders are the solution. Pricing concerns expressed to AOPA to date also include reports submitted by airport managers who are aware that the “outrageous” prices charged at some locations have detrimental consequences on the entire pilot population. We are working with community leaders to find a solution that works for all parties involved, and that includes airport managers and sponsors who have asked for our help and guidance. Officials at California’s Orange County airport took action to replace an FBO that was charging too much. In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the airport board agreed to allow a competitive FBO after hearing complaints about high fees.
While there may not be a quick solution to solve this problem, AOPA continues to work with the FAA and industry stakeholders, to ensure that steps are taken to preserve profitability for FBOs and reasonable access for pilots at public-use airports.
AOPA continues to encourage input from our members and to work with stakeholders and communities to eliminate egregious prices. If you believe you have been the victim of unreasonable pricing at an FBO, please send us a report at aopa.org/FBOfees.