Rectrix Aerodrome Centers is attempting something that has bedeviled many an FBO over the years, trying to force an airport’s municipal owners to allow FBOs to pump jet fuel. Rectrix built a new FBO at Barnstable Municipal Airport-Boardman/Polando Field in Hyannis, Mass., in 2005 and has been fighting with the town of Hyannis and the airport commission that runs the airport ever since.
On July 20, 2006, Rectrix made the dispute official and filed a lawsuit against the airport commission and airport manager Quincy Mosby in an effort to gain the right to serve jet-A at Hyannis Airport.
For any FBO faced with the same problem–a municipal airport that refuses to share the right to pump fuel on an airport–the Rectrix case will have significant national implications, said Rectrix COO William Weibrecht.
Rectrix’s lawsuit accuses the defendants of violating federal anti-racketeering laws and the Sherman Antitrust Act, the Massachusetts Antitrust Act and general laws, denial of due process and equal protection and retaliation for the exercise of free speech.
Airport officials responded by filing a motion to stay, asking the court to delay the case so the FAA could review it, but on July 27 judge Richard Stearns denied the request. “Rectrix is…entitled to pursue its claims in this court,” the judge wrote in his decision. “A referral to the FAA at this juncture would be premature.” He ordered defendants to file answers to the Rectrix complaint, and the judge later extended the deadline.
The most recent development is the airport defendants’ filing of a motion to dismiss some of the key counts in Rectrix’s lawsuit. Rectrix quickly pointed out in another motion that the defendants failed to file the required answers even though they had been granted additional time. “Accordingly,” the Rectrix motion stated, “because the court has twice ordered defendants to ‘answer’ the complaint, this court should strike the motion to dismiss.”
Barnstable Municipal Airport pumps about 900,000 gallons of jet-A per year, according to airport manager Mosby. The airport allows FBOs to pump 100LL avgas but not jet-A. And the money from jet-A sales is the airport’s principal source of revenue, he said.
Scott Lewis, the lead attorney representing the airport commission and the airport manager, said, “The judge has set September 24 as the date for an answer, and we will be filing an answer, in accordance with the ruling.”
Rectrix’s Hyannis FBO opened in September 2005, and at first the city allowed Rectrix to build a fuel farm and to pump jet-A into its own charter airplanes and airplanes belonging to members of its joint-ownership program, according to Pam Algier, the FBO’s guest services coordinator. “Then, in June 2006, the airport called me and said, ‘You can’t fuel,’” Algier recalled. The airport commission, she added, “said they would evict us if we kept pumping fuel. We stopped.”
The night that Rectrix was told to stop pumping fuel, the airport’s fuel tanks ran dry, leaving 18 business jets stranded for hours until the fuel farm could be refilled. Rectrix had 20,000 gallons of jet-A in its tanks and offered to give it to the stranded jets for free, but the airport wouldn’t allow the FBO to pump the fuel. The company eventually had to sell the fuel as scrap, to be turned into kerosene, said Richard Cawley, Rectrix president and CEO.
“This town is a bully,” said Cawley. “The only reason the city [of Hyannis] wants the airport [fuel concession] is that it’s a cash cow.”
To get fuel for its customers, Rectrix customer service representatives have to call the airport and request fuel service. Airport manager Mosby said that the airport is open and delivers fuel 24 hours a day.
Rectrix added another facility in August when it purchased Air Cape Cod, which it will use to expand its services at the airport. Like Rectrix, Air Cape Cod cannot pump jet-A but it does offer avgas.
Rectrix has a 90-percent market share at Hyannis, excluding the delivery of jet-A, according to Cawley. “[The FBO] is nice now,” he said, “but it will be better when we get fuel. And we will get it. It’s our absolute right. This is going to be a precedent-setting case. We are never going away.”
FBO Focuses on Amenities
The Rectrix facility is on the north side of the airport and includes an FBO terminal, class A office space and a 22,000-sq-ft hangar. Three jet tenants and local airline Cape Air are currently leasing space from Rectrix.
The FBO terminal’s interior is tastefully accented with handsome wood panels and the carpet is patterned after an abstract Wassily Kandinsky design. Bathrooms feature elegant waterfall faucets–a step up from most FBOs–that show the building’s designers paid attention to detail. “We really had fun building this place,” Cawley said. Amenities include pilot and passenger lounges, a weather briefing office and conference rooms.
In July, Rectrix announced that it paid more than $1.8 million for 22 acres at the Sarasota Bradenton Airport in Florida, where it recently opened the first phase of its new “Hangarminium” condo hangars. Plans call for eight condo hangar units totaling 160,000 sq ft, with each hangar covering 20,000 sq ft. Rectrix will sell the Hangarminiums and offer leased space to aircraft operators. It also opened an FBO at Sarasota recently, although the official grand opening won’t be held until early next year.
The company said that, unlike airport authorities in Hyannis, those in Sarasota welcomed it. “They’re so pro-business,” said Cawley, “they want five-star amenities.”