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Pilots react to AOPA's fight for airport accessPilots react to AOPA's fight for airport access

Calls for transparency were common among pilots reacting to AOPA’s recent publication of an Airport Access Watch List. Sun ’n Fun International Fly-In and Expo, the annual Florida gathering that kicks off the fly-in season, provided many pilots their first opportunity to weigh in.

Attendees listen to AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker during a Pilot Town Hall at the Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo in Lakeland, Florida, Wednesday, April 11, 2018. Photo by David Tulis.

The Watch List includes 10 public-access airports that, based on member complaints and research, AOPA believes may be imposing fees on pilots that are so unreasonable that they restrict access. All have only one fixed-base operator that controls all available general aviation ramp space, and all receive federal funds through the Airport Improvement Program, meaning the locations are subject to FAA grant assurances requiring reasonable and nondiscriminatory pricing.

AOPA filed three FAA Part 13 complaints against similar airports last year. This time, AOPA hopes first to begin a dialogue with leaders at each airport to determine what can be done to make the locations more welcoming to pilots and to ensure the airports are in compliance with federal grant obligations.

“Most FBOs are doing a great job, but there are some locations unreasonably restricting access,” said AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker. “We are working for transparency, access, and competition where possible, and we aren’t asking for anything free, just fairness.”

Andrew Patterson, a Piper Warrior pilot from Maine who attended one of Baker’s two Pilot Town Halls at the AOPA campus at Sun ’n Fun, said FBOs should make their prices available online, noting that pilots are often at a disadvantage and even intimidated when they arrive at a new airport.

“You shouldn’t have to call,” said Patterson. “Now that there is awareness, we can stand up for our rights.”

Joseph Place, a Cessna 150 pilot from western New York who also attended an AOPA town hall at Sun ’n Fun, asked, “Why don’t you want a ramp with more aircraft?”

Place also said airports with public ramp space independent of FBOs should do a better job of making that information available. “They should chart where public parking is,” he continued. His comments align with AOPA’s request that FBOs post their fee information online and that airports work with the FAA to chart transient parking areas.

Mark Spencer, an Eclipse 500 pilot from Huntsville, Alabama, explained Asheville Regional Airport in North Carolina used to be a frequent destination until the cost became too high. “It makes me not go there that often because of the prices,” he said.

AOPA has two outstanding Part 13 complaints regarding FBO pricing and airport access at Asheville and Key West International Airport in Florida.

AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead said he is hopeful the dialogue with the 10 airports on the Watch List will result in their doing what other self-help airports have done, which includes identifying and promoting transient parking areas and facilitating various forms of competition through the introduction of new FBOs with practical and/or self-serve fuel options.

Joe Kildea

Joe Kildea

AOPA Senior Director of Communications
Joe is a student pilot and his first solo flight was at AOPA’s home airport in Frederick, Maryland. Before joining AOPA in 2015, he worked for numerous political campaigns, news organizations, and the White House Press Office.
Topics: User Fees, Airport, Advocacy

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