The FAA has issued a response to the Part 13 complaint filed last August by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) against Monroe County, Florida, the operator of Key West International Airport. AOPA argued the airport is in violation of its FAA grant assurances as a result of the pricing and policies of the lone Signature Flight Support FBO there.
As it did in its earlier ruling in a similar AOPA complaint against North Carolina’s Asheville Regional Airport, the agency’s Southern Region Airports Division once again voided AOPA’s assertions that the FBO requires transient operators to pay for services the operator might not want or need as a condition of engaging in the aeronautical use of the facility. The division wrote, “The fact that Signature charges transient operators for services it provides at its leasehold is not unreasonable…AOPA fails to provide any data on the metrics that drive the rates and prices in a given market, and does not provide information to conduct a meaningful comparison.”
AOPA’s argument that the airport does not provide a self-servicing area for aircraft operators met with better reception from the FAA, as the county itself acknowledged that it currently does not offer such an area. The agency therefore noted that while Grant Assurance 22(f) does not require an airport sponsor to provide the equipment necessary for aircraft owners to engage in self-service activities or to provide a retail self-service fueling station, it does however require the county to provide aircraft owners the ability to perform services on their own aircraft, and concluded it is currently in violation of Grant Assurance 22(f) on that basis.
“In the recent Key West Airport FAA ruling, the FAA found the business practices of the FBO do not represent an airport access restriction and therefore do not lead to a violation of the federal grant assurances," said Marty Hiller, president of the National Air Transportation Association and owner of an FBO at nearby Florida Keys Marathon International Airport. “The FAA made clear that NATA and its members' belief that assertions made in the complaint regarding FBO pricing and fees reflect a misunderstanding of the economics of aviation businesses, the pricing of aeronautical services, and the airport sponsor-tenant relationship.” He added that while the FAA did find the airport in violation of the grant assurances on an unrelated issue regarding a pilot’s right to self-service their aircraft, NATA believes that the airport will address the FAA’s concern related to pilot self-servicing.
“While the self-service aspect of the decision is a step in the right direction, it certainly does not solve the problem in terms of access and transparency,” said AOPA general counsel Ken Mead. “Why is it that other industries can be transparent and readily post their fees and prices, but the FBO industry cannot?”
This ruling concluded the review of AOPA's complaints against three single FBO location airports. Earlier this year the organization withdrew its complaint against Chicago-area Waukegan National Airport after the airport announced in December that it would offer free tie-downs for transient aircraft and a pedestrian gate to access the ramp, so passengers were not forced to transit the FBO. The Signature FBO there also reportedly reduced the pump price at its self-serve avgas facility by more than a dollar per gallon.