Minimum Standards, Minimal Confusion

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
-Roy Disney

Airports and concerned tenants, pay attention.

During my relatively short time here at NATA, I have had the pleasure of speaking with a variety of our members and hearing their individual questions and concerns. The relationship between airport and FBO appears to be the most prevalent concern. Over the last months, I have heard of many cases where it appears the thought processes of airport personnel and those of the FBO operating on the field are not well understood by each other.

The questions we get range widely. Why is the airport doing XYZ? How can I make sure I get treated fairly? How do I protect my business against the airport’s future development plans? Why won’t the airport allow me to do this or that?

Some fear the threat of the airport allowing competition. Many wonder why the airport appears to favor other businesses while theirs is seemingly left in the cold. FBOs and airports often feel misunderstood and both end up questioning the other’s due diligence when it comes to decision making. Under the grant assurances, airports receiving federal funding are expected to provide opportunity for fair competition on the field.  

Every airport should have in place a Minimum Standards agreement, a living document by which the airport sponsor and its tenants agree to operate. Airport minimum standards set forth the minimum requirements an individual or business must meet in order to provide services, such as minimum leasehold size, required equipment, hours of operations and fees. Interestingly, this is one of the few things the FAA does not require to be in place to allow for aeronautical activity at an airport; however; the agency does strongly encourage the use of minimum standards.

Depending on how restrictively the minimum standards are written, they either protect you or leave the door open to various interpretations, allowing for unfair treatment of you and your business or those wishing to establish a new business. Having firm standards in place can be the first line of defense against issues that may require otherwise unnecessary or controversial arbitration by the airport or FAA.

Minimum standards are intended to promote a minimum level of economic viability, safety and security to help ensure a mutually acceptable environment in which the airport and its tenants may conduct business and to ensure that an adequate level of safe and efficient service is available to the public. Minimum standards protect the airport and, in turn, the businesses that call it home by requiring that business operations meet or exceed those standards. When the FAA issues a Technical Standard Order for an aircraft component, it prescribes the minimum performance standard for the component to operate safely and reliably. You wouldn’t want your airplane to have parts performing below the specification, and neither does an airport. It is the businesses on the airport that are the key components to a successful and efficient airport environment. One weak component on the field due to inadequate standards can be damaging to all concerned.

View your airport’s minimal standards as not only guidance, but also a form of contract that protects you and the airport against illegal, insufficient or unscrupulous activity on the field.

In order to protect your business against the effects of economic upswings and downswings, it is critical that you are familiar with the airport’s current minimum standards. Check with your airport to ensure that minimum standards are in place, determine when they were last updated, and review them carefully to prevent possible future conflicts due to a misunderstanding of expectations. If minimum standards are not in place, recommend they be developed. Set up a meeting with your airport manager or the airport board and emphasize the importance of having a minimum standards document.

 It is vital that people know what the airport stands for, as well as for what it does not stand.

 Submitted by Dennis Van de Laar, Manager, Regulatory Affairs,

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