AOPA Ups FBO Pricing Battle with Part 13 Complaints

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is continuing its battle against FBO pricing, filing Part 13 complaints with the FAA over three Signature Flight Support facilities and publicly calling out two other FBO locations for practices there. Seven pilots joined AOPA in filing the complaint against Signature facilities at Illinois’ Waukegan National Airport (UGN), North Carolina’s Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) and Florida’s Key West International Airport (EYW).

AOPA cited “egregious pricing” at those facilities and noted that Signature controls all transient ramp space and fuel services at the three airports, effectively giving the chain a “monopoly position and significant power over access to a public airport.” The association charges that each FBO has “failed to fulfill its responsibility to protect the airport for public use through reasonable and fair pricing.” The FAA has the authority to ensure airports meet their grant obligations, including reasonable and nondiscriminatory pricing, AOPA added.

Of the hundreds of complaints AOPA has received over egregious FBO pricing, Waukegan, Asheville and Key West are three of the top five most complained about airports,” AOPA said. “The other two airports rounding out the top five are Heber City, Utah (36U), and Rochester, Minnesota (RST).”

While AOPA has not filed a Part 13 complaint against Heber City, it has expressed its concerns to city officials there. The association also fought to convince officials at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to add a second FBO to create competition there. The association further views this round of Part 13 complaints as a starting point for its efforts.

AOPA earlier this year gave notice that it was ready to take on FBOs over pricing. The association also had quietly met with the FAA before on the issue.

But the AOPA effort has drawn the ire of fellow association, the National Air Transportation Association. NATA president Martin Hiller had earlier this year called the effort “particularly disappointing as it continues a pattern of contradictory assertions designed to alleviate industry concerns while it pursues an economic regulatory agenda” and added, “While AOPA claims to support FBOs and the free market, there is no recognition that some locations require different pricing models.”

Of the Part 13 complaints, NATA expressed disappointment that AOPA chose to engage in this battle at this time when NATA said the general aviation groups need to remain united as they battle the effort to create an independent user-funded organization to run the nation’s air traffic control system.

Signature was studying the Part 13 complaints and developing a response at press time. But president and COO Maria Sastre had said of the earlier AOPA articles: “When you liken FBOs to public utilities, it becomes a matter of concern to all of us in the general aviation business community.” She had noted a number of factors that play into pricing, such as economic, airport and regulatory requirements, and said, “To suggest regulatory intervention in pricing, as AOPA does, will not bring back the conditions of a previous era and instead potentially [will] accelerate the decline of general aviation in America.”

But AOPA believes it is time for FAA to get involved and points to language in the agency’s dismissal of a Signature Part 16 complaint involving its forced departure from John Wayne Orange County Airport in Santa Ana, California. The FAA had noted it is an airport sponsor’s right and responsibility to consider FBO pricing.

The FAA really hasn’t exercised proper oversight in this area for a very long time,” said AOPA general counsel Ken Mead. “These kinds of pricing practices have put airports in violation of grant assurances and at risk of losing federal funding. It’s the responsibility of the FAA and airport sponsors to ensure the terms incorporated in each lease are upheld, especially when they are accepting federal grants.”

The complaints allege that Signature’s pricing is unreasonable because it requires operators to pay minimum fees for landing at airports. The association also cites lack of competitive or regulatory forces to ensure reasonableness of pricing.

AOPA asks the FAA “exercise its investigative oversight authority and take appropriate action to ensure Signature’s pricing complies with” each governing body’s grant assurances.

Our members have spoken and they’re tired of being forced to pay for services they don’t want, ask for, or need,” said AOPA president and CEO Mark Baker.

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