Jet 1 Center GM takes a shot at Airport Authority

 - January 31, 2007, 9:40 AM

The Naples (Fla.) Airport Authority (NAA) has rankled more than its share of business aviation devotees–most prominently with its dogfight with the FAA over a controversial ban on Stage 2 aircraft at Naples Municipal Airport. Legal action over the ban represents only one folder in NAA’s lawyers’ briefcase. Jet 1 Center, an airport tenant, has filed suit for breach of contract regarding its rights to pump fuel to its based tenants–a contractual right it claims was unfairly rescinded when the NAA changed the airport minimum standards document. The NAA itself operates a fuel concession on the airport and is now the sole supplier of fuel. Jet 1 general manager Jeff Ellston submitted a letter to a local newspaper chastising the NAA for inappropriately exercising its rights to be the sole fuel supplier on the field.

There is a federal provision that exempts municipalities (cities, counties, states and so on) from antitrust laws regarding competition on an airport. Though an airport authority cannot grant exclusive rights to pump fuel to a third party, it can assume exclusive rights on its own under the terms of a federal provision known as “proprietary exclusive” rights.

In his letter, Ellston maintains that the spirit of the provision is meant to apply to airports with little traffic, where a conventional third-party FBO would not be able to sustain an ongoing business. He wrote, “The Naples Municipal Airport is no longer in this category!” He said fuel sales at the airport total more than five million gallons annually, enough to support two or more successful fuel providers. Jet 1 management believes the NAA changed the minimum standards rules for competitive reasons–to eliminate competition in hopes of using greater profits from fuel sales to help support the authority’s legal expenses. Ellston wrote, “The NAA needs to revise its minimum standards document and put together a request for proposal to allow private enterprises to bid for the right to provide fuel services.”