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FBO consultant admits consolidation is a problem

Former Signature exec: Consolidation hurts competition

Doug Wilson, a former executive with Signature Flight Support and current president and senior partner of FBO Partners, wrote that FBO consolidation has hurt competition in certain markets.

Photo by Mike Fizer

In an AviationPros Op-Ed, Wilson wrote, “Admittedly, the FBO industry shares some culpability—as do airports themselves. Consolidation hasn’t helped competition in certain markets; there are always few bad apples, and always will be.”

Wilson went on to defend high prices at FBOs and argued that seemingly egregious fees often are the result of “astronomically high” operating costs, but his analysis failed to consider those costs in relation to revenue. For example, BBA Aviation, the London-based parent company of Signature Flight Support, which is the only FBO at 48 U.S airports, reported a 20.4 percent operating margin for its flight support business segment in 2016 following the acquisition of Landmark Aviation.

Wilson also has consulted for ACI Jet, an independent FBO that replaced Signature at John Wayne Airport following complaints over high prices. At the time he called the change, “a canary in the coal mine-type event for the FBO industry.”

“Both end users and airports are simply more desirous of a choice in FBOs that includes a strong independent FBO,” said Wilson.

AOPA has asked members to submit reports about egregious pricing, and many of those involve Signature locations at airports with only one FBO.

One flight instructor who was with a student at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport reported they pulled off the taxiway for some flight planning prior to departure and were still charged a fee by Signature, the only FBO at the airport. The instructor wrote, “Because I ‘touched’ the ramp, they wouldn't let us take off until I paid $50.” 

“If I came inside then they were going to charge me a parking fee, too! So I gave them my credit card over the radio. NOT RIGHT!” the instructor continued.

Another pilot reported he arrived at Gerald R Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to pick-up a passenger in a Beechcraft Musketeer and was told he would have to pay expensive fees or buy high-priced fuel. He wrote, “When I called to get information, they explained that their ‘handling fee’ was $35, and the ‘infrastructure fee’ was $5. They claimed they would waive the handling fee with a fuel purchase of 7 gallons, however their 100LL fuel price is $6.59/gallon.”

The pilot also wrote, “While friendly, they explained it was ‘the signature way’ to treat general aviation and there was nothing they could do.”

Signature is the sole FBO at Gerald R Ford International Airport.

According to FAA regulations, FBOs are obligated to charge reasonable and non-discriminatory prices for services.

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: Advocacy, FBO Fees

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