The subject of fees charged by airports and FBOs recently came under industry scrutiny. Airports and FBOs naturally need revenue, but operators need value in proportion to the costs and better information on them, in order to make informed decisions. I wanted to offer a couple of thoughts.
First, it’s important to distinguish between fees an airport may levy and those of the FBO use of its facilities. Airports often levy their own fees but depend on the FBO to collect them. To pilots, this can be a distinction without a difference, and the FBO can come off as the bad guy. Meanwhile, pilots need to know before they land how much they should expect to pay for the privilege of using the airport’s and FBO’s facilities, especially if it’s a single-FBO monopoly. They also should have the option of paying a minimal fee for minimal service. So, two things should happen, in my view.
At publicly funded airports, pilots should have the option of a free or five-dollar way to land and pick up or drop off passengers or cargo, and be on their way without using any other services. A ramp area accessible from both air-side and ground-side, perhaps with a one-hour grace period before fees start kicking in, would be a place to start. (While I’m dreaming, a bathroom would be nice.) This type of access should be guaranteed by federal law at airports receiving FAA funding. Think of it as accessing a freeway interchange with no need for a service station or parking garage.
Airports with only one FBO are problematic, but FBOs should be free to charge whatever they want for whatever services they offer. But I should be just as free of being forced to use their services
Operators should be able to determine exactly what fees they may incur before landing or taxiing onto that FBO’s ramp. This includes landing fees levied by the airport, tiedown or parking fees, convenience charges, flowage fees, etc., and under what circumstances, if any, they may avoid any fees. In this day and age, there’s no reason this information cannot be part of the aeronautical data we review during the planning process.
Indeed, the FAA’s Chart Supplement (formerly the Airport/Facility Directory) often will state an airport has a landing fee but not its amount. A $2.50 landing fee is much different than $250, but pilots often have no way to know ahead of time what they should expect. Yes, we can pick up the phone and call, but that’s not always an option. There simply isn’t a reliable, convenient way to know exactly what fees to expect before the FBO presents its bill, or to avoid it in the first place.
The internet and crowd-sourcing have given us near-real-time fuel pricing, appearing on a device in our cockpit. Fuel is just one operating expense, however. Surely we can do the same thing with airport and FBO fees.