Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2017
FREDERICK. MD – The Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA) is taking on the big airport flight centers against excessive fuel rates and ramp fees. AOPA says that consolidations contribute to unfair pricing.
For instance, it was reported recently that overnight parking at Baltimore-Washington International Airport totaled $153.00 for the owner of a single-engine piston aircraft, and avgas was $8.00 a gallon. This is just one of hundreds of reports submitted to AOPA by members when AOPA began seeking information from members earlier this year.
Don Mayer, AOPA director of research and analysis, has compiled the results. Scores of them fall into a category he calls “exceptionally egregious,” the arbitrary cutoff being fuel that is more than $6 a gallon or fees for minimal or no services topping $100. AOPA urges members to continue to report such incidences online at www.aopa.org/FBOfees.
AOPA found that some 40 percent of the most egregious fees have come from locations where Signature Flight Support is the only fixed base operator on the field. Signature, already the largest fixed base operator chain in the world, acquired Landmark Aviation, the third largest chain, in early 2016, giving it approximately 160 locations globally. Landmark had doubled in size the year before when it acquired Ross Aviation, part of a growing pattern of FBO chains consolidating. A few years earlier Landmark acquired Encore Aviation and several independent FBOs. The next largest chain is Atlantic Aviation, which has approximately 70 locations.
Few general aviation pilots can relate to what it costs to operate a Gulfstream 650, but most will agree that $2,500 to park for 15 minutes while dropping off a passenger at Boston’s Logan International Airport, a Signature location, is high even by business jet standards. The same operator paid another $2,500 a few days later to pick up the same passenger. But such fees are not exclusive to Signature.
“It’s all about access to public places,” said AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker. “Pilots who don’t want or need services should not be held prisoner on a public ramp. At many of these locations, there is no way to pass through a gate without going through an FBO lobby. We’re asking the FAA to look at giving GA pilots unfettered access between the ramp and the parking lot.”
Baker, and many of the commenters responding to AOPA’s request for more information, point out that most of the ramps in debate were built with federal tax dollars and then leased by the airport owner to the FBO.
“Essentially the FBOs are a concessionaire. The problem is pilots don’t have a choice of purchasing services or not. They are charged just for showing up—held hostage, if you will,” said Baker.