Key West is not Kokomo

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Self-service one of 4 complaint elements

Basic Policy Question not a matter of Part 13

Solid equitable issues raised

This is the third in a series of decisions by the FAA in response to three complaints filed by AOPA against three different airports[1]. The FFA’s Southern Region Airports Compliance dismissed the complaint against the Greenville Regional Airport Authority. The Waukegan National Airport must have recognized the likely outcome of its case and volunteered to add a self-service fuel station.

The last of this trilogy was also decided by Ms. Heather A. Haney, the Airports Compliance Specialist in a 10-page decision. She summarized the four issues in the Part 13 compliant submitted by AOPA’s General Counsel, Ken Mead.


Her summary of the facts, laws, policy and particularly the burden of proof is textbook perfect, providing little basis for an appeal under Part 16. The decision does find for the complainant and orders the County of Monroe[2] to “provide a location for self-service.”

That said, Mr. Mead’s initial complaint and the July 5 article on the AOPA website make some strong equity arguments about the current airport/FBO status quo. The Key West case is a perfect example of how the practical circumstances of an airport, particularly a physically constrained airport like EYW, may create a locational monopoly.

The confluence of the name Key West and the lyrics of an all time favorite Beach Boys song, Kokomo brought to mind the lyrics of Love/Phillips/ Meicher/Phillips-

Kokomo, even in comparison to Key Largo, with its sands, drinks, steel band and perfect chemistry, is mythical. The existing statutes, regulations and policy statement do not provide an ideal airport with FBO “fair prices…access and transparency”.

The 2017 FBO Industry Consolidation and Pricing Practices, Q&A issued by the FAA paints a non-Kokomo view of the world of airports and their FBO vendors. That view looks to the sponsors being the direct link to the FAA, through its AIP grants. The FAA looks to, relies upon, the recipients of those federal dollars to comply with the Assurances. As a matter of reality, the FAA does not have the staff size nor the technical competence to assure directly that the local rates and charges of FBOs are fair and reasonable. At best, it might act on proof with specific hard data that the Sponsor allows the FBO to charge egregious prices, general allegations are not enough.[3]

AOPA President Baker acknowledged that the FAA Q&A “was an important and welcome first step in highlighting these issues and assisting communities and airports in developing policies that will ensure fair and transparent pricing and reasonable airport access.” In that same article, he pointed to the creation of an Airport Access Advisory Panel as a mechanism for further discussion about the relationship between AOPA and the FBO industry. If that initiative has had any progress, a GOOGLE search did not discover it.

The network of FBOs is already established and the terms of their requirements as service providers with their customers, GA and BA, are embedded in contracts of differing terms and expiration dates. The DESIRED answers to AOPA complaints are not likely to be furnished by FAA airport compliance specialists on individual complaints. The policy issues are not within the scope of such proceedings.

Longer term methods are a more likely approach to the Kokomo which AOPA seeks.

  1. AOPA has an unequalled airport network and its representatives should appear at their airport authorities to assures that the terms and criteria embedded in the Minimum Conditions and RFPs are relevant to the association’s needs. That is a far more proactive and positive tactic than filing Part 13 complaints.
  2. The FAA has found unusual mechanisms, like ARAC, to find solutions to complex matters. Oddly enough, the association which represents FBOs has posted an intriguing article by one of its Board members posing an alternative approach–“Should U.S. FBOs Adopt a European Model?“. Perhaps a person trusted by both sides could “mediate” a dialogue of how to get to a Kokomo for both stakeholders.

[1] Technically, the Part 13 action is directed against the sponsors, but each airport has Signature as its FBO.

[2] Or is it Monroe County- see 06/29/2018 footnote 3 and the 3rd name on the CC list at page10.

[3] There actually is a fair amount of transparency of fuel prices at airports–;;;;


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