By NATA Director, Regulatory Affairs – Michael France
This has been a tough blog post to write. Responding to nonsense is tremendously more difficult than responding to a well reasoned argument. The latest nonsense in our industry emanates from the state house in South Carolina where State Senator Phil Leventis is attempting to make FBO ramp fees illegal.
Having spent years working at an FBO, I have heard complaints about ramp fees many times before, and I always try to respond by educating whoever is unhappy on the facts of running an FBO. Looks like it is time to do it again.
The text of the bill introduced by Senator Leventis, S. 1109, reads:
“Fixed-based operators…at an airport located in South Carolina may not charge a fee, including a ramp fee, to aircraft that do not use their services and are parked at the airport less than a full day if any local, state, or federal funds have been used to fund or improve the airport.”
On first reading, this bill seems to make sense; an FBO can’t charge aircraft that don’t use their services a fee. However, that is just the result of poor construction. The purpose of this bill is to prohibit FBOs from charging a ramp fee to aircraft that use their facility but don’t purchase fuel.
The fact is FBOs provide a wealth of services to all aircraft that visit their facility, whether or not they purchase fuel, maintenance or other products. Some of these services include:
- Aircraft Parking
- Waiting areas such as lobbies, pilots lounges and snooze rooms
These “basic” services are why aircraft come to an FBO rather than drop their passengers off at the nearest airport gate.
FBOs cost a lot of money to build and maintain, and these businesses have every right to recoup their costs and make a reasonable return on their investment. In some locations, due to local market conditions, ramp fees play an important role in that business model. Using the power of the state legislature to treat FBOs as if they are a public accommodation is wrong.
Beyond the issue of fairness is the question of whether we believe it is in the long-term interest of our industry to have government micromanage the policies and procedures of a private business. While Senator Leventis would most likely argue that public money is used to fund public airports so therefore the state has the right to set policies, what he has forgotten is that most FBOs are private businesses, built with an investment of private capital. This capital is put to use not only providing valuable aeronautical services at an airport but also relieving the taxpayers from having to provide those services.
Considering Senator Leventis’s bio, including his time as an airport manager and supporter of small businesses, we can hope he will come to his senses and recognize that micromanaging a small business from the state house is a recipe for disaster. NATA, through its State Advocacy Network, has published an Action Call so you can tell the Senator and other members of the South Carolina Legislature how ridiculous this bill is. The bottom line is FBOs are a valuable resource in both aeronautical services and airport development. Allowing our government to micromanage these businesses is a sure fire method for reducing their ability to provide quality services and facilities at our nation’s airports
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