FAA regulates Airport Economics & Safety; Compliance is tricky

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Airports are unique within the set of entities which the FAA regulates. The only jurisdictional basis for all other certificate holders is SAFETY (some would argue that issues like “compensation or hire” and the “benefit/cost ratios” needed for OMB approvals involve economics). As to these business enterprises which surround runways and taxiways, the FAA can assess both the safety of the operations and the commercial standards established by the proprietor under some specific statutory standards.

Below are stories about two airports and the FAA’s problem with them—one complaint is as to “unjust discrimination” between FBOs and the second cites safety.

Santa Rosa County, Florida owns and operates Peter Prince Airport, a lighted 3700′ hard surface runway and a GPS instrument approach. Near Milton, FL, it is home to two fixed based operators—Aircraft Management Services and Peter Prince Aviation Partners, LLC. In 2010 AMS filed a complaint with the FAA alleging that its competitor’s lease did not require PPAC to pay flowage fees to the county on fuel sold.

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The County is in the process of preparing a compliance plan which will resolve the FAA’s finding of a violation. To have found that economic discrimination existed, the agency’s airport investigators must have discounted an important distinguishing factor—PPAC built its own fuel tank. Ordinarily such a capital investment and the on-going operation costs/liability risks would justify a lower Fuel Flowage Fee.

The facts are not crystal clear from the article; there is a quote that the county has purchased the fuel tanks. If that is a correct reading of the facts, the rational for the zero FFF is removed.

The compliance program, once accepted by the FAA, will allow the County to receive the AIP grants which have totaled $3.4M over the past 15 years. Unjust economic discrimination is just one of the FAA’s airport criteria; even more likely to generate controversy is the demand by an entrepreneur to add a 2nd FBO at a small GA airport.

reg666One of the two Commonwealth of Massachusetts islands, on which a commercial airport is located, is the subject of two serial FAA investigations, a letter citing safety problems and a mandatory date of compliance. Martha’s Vineyard is usually an idyllic place of vacation (POTUS), not of controversy. The inspectors found 43 alleged violations; the four primary problems were:

  • inadequate runway markings,
  • lack of a wildlife management plan,
  • a stalled Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting building project and
  • poor operational training.

Those are not inconsequential variances from the FARs and could result in suspension or revoking of MVY’s Part 139 certificate. The absence of that authority would prohibit commercial flights.

The management of this information from the FAA to the Board of Commissioners, if not the actual failure to address the violations cited, can be traced to leaving of the Airport Manager of 15 years.

Some comments on these allegations:

  • Runway markings are a matter of scheduling. Since MVY has a major period of peak demand, it would have wise to do so during the “shoulder” periods which should have enough good weather days.
  • Poor operational training may have been the fault of someone below the head, but oversight of something so essential is clearly his responsibility.
  • A stalled Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting building project might have involved budget issues for which the Board had some responsibility, but the Manager should have been a stronger advocate.
  • The absence of a wildlife management plan is the hardest deficiency to accept. As shown in the map and picture below, MVY is surrounded by the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest; the deer, birds and other animals must have been and still are major threats. There are several innovative approaches to addressing these issues.

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A preventative action, to avoid the reoccurrence of these damaging FAA actions, would be to audit the airport’s safety and/or economic FAR compliance. That can be done by an internal team or by employing an outside firm which knows the rules. A longer term and more comprehensive response to the safety issues involves implementing Safety Management Systems.

 

ARTICLE: Santa Rosa to correct airport discrimination

ARTICLE: Manager on the Sidelines, Commissioners Detail Problems at Airport

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