Execs and experts speak out on key topic
Pro Pilot staff compilation
In the not-too-distant future, pilots will be able to receive weather information over D-ATIS, and receive predeparture clearances and amendments while enroute textually over CPDLC.
Rather than writing down and reading back a clearance, we will be able to review and acknowledge the clearance without speaking to anyone, and with a second press of a button be able to load the routing into the FMS, removing the potential for ambiguity while reducing overall workload.
Finally, land-based navigation will soon be a thing of the past. Today's air traffic route structures, airways, SIDs and STARs have mostly been developed around the physical locations of ground-based navaids.
Flying these route structures often takes us unnecessarily out of our way, and creates traffic bottlenecks near these navaids, hampering both capacity and efficiency.
Performance-based navigation (PBN), most simply described as RNAV with onboard accuracy and integrity monitoring, breaks the ties to the ground-based navaids, allowing airspace designers to create more efficient routings, enabling better airspace utilization, increasing capacity, reducing delays and emissions, and bringing more predictability and reliability to air transportation.
The combination of all these new technologies is where the truly revolutionary change starts to take shape. Together they will allow us to increase safety and capacity, save time and fuel, decrease aircraft emissions and improve our ability to address noise.
Business aviation has always been about convenience, efficiency and saving one of our most precious resources—time. As our industry embraces and moves forward with NextGen, SESAR and other ATM modernization initiatives around the world, the utility and value of the business aircraft as a tool of efficiency increases even more. These are exciting times.
In his recent editorial piece (Market Analysis, Pro Pilot, Oct 2012, pp 104–113), Gene Condreras, president of Panorama Flight Service, states that he wants to encourage discussion between airports and aeronautical service providers.
As president of ACI-NA, which represents the interests of large and small commercial service airports throughout North America, I agree that this discussion is important—but we need to start with the facts.
Condreras questions the wisdom of allowing a public airport proprietor to own and operate an FBO. There are lots of reasons why airports make this decision, including the one mentioned—when the expected business revenue is insufficient to attract a private company to run the business.
This makes perfect sense—after all, airport proprietors must look after the public interest and offer aeronautical services when profit-seeking, private businesses are unwilling to do so. However, there are other reasons why airports offer aeronautical services to the public, including:
• to earn revenue to pay for airport capital and operating expenses
• to promote air service
• to provide better customer service
• to protect the airport against environmental harm and potential liability.
Each airport proprietor makes its determination based on the unique circumstances at the airport and the best interests of its community.
Although he does not mention the airport by name, much of Condreras's article chastises the actions taken by the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority (CMAA) in developing a new FBO at CHA (Chattanooga TN) that would compete with an existing private FBO. However, the facts are much more complex than he makes them out to be.
For a long time there was only one FBO—part of a well-known national chain—at CHA. But that wasn't always the case. As the result of acquisitions and lease assignments, that one FBO ended up controlling all the commercial GA facilities at the airport—more than 1 million sq ft of buildings, hangars, T-hangars, ramps and fuel farms. As a result, the FBO had a de facto monopoly.
To make matters worse, all the facilities used by that FBO had been built either by the airport using public (federal, state or city) funds or by third-party tenants. In other words, the infrastructure used and occupied by the FBO was built at no cost to the FBO, and the airport received no rent for the facilities other than ground rent.
As a result, the private FBO operating at the airport had never had to set prices to recover the cost of the infrastructure from which it operates.
While the services provided by the incumbent FBO were appreciated, the airport authority wanted to introduce competition—a desire driven, at least in part, by requests from pilots and aircraft owners who were looking for more services and lower prices, and by the belief that competition is the best way to achieve that result.
At the same time, the Chattanooga area was seeing business growth that increased the demand for FBO services—Volkswagen Group of America opened a new car assembly plant, and Amazon announced the opening of 2 new regional distribution centers.
CMAA first sought proposals for private development and operation of the new FBO.
There were no takers because that new entrant would have to develop a green site from the ground up, including connections to the rest of the airfield—something the incumbent FBO never had to do. Not only would the total capital investment necessary to compete with the incumbent have been tremendous—the fact is, the new competitor would have been competing against a well established incumbent on an uneven playing field.
However, competition was so critical that CMAA used public funds to construct a new GA apron, terminal, hangar and fuel farm—facilities that, while new, were still dwarfed in size by the incumbent FBO.
At the same time, CMAA sought proposals from experienced FBOs to manage and operate the new facility under a business agreement with the potential to generate more revenue than the agreement CMAA has with the incumbent FBO. Wilson Air Center was selected and, as a result, for the first time in years pilots at CHA are benefiting from lower prices and a larger menu of services.
These actions should be commended, not condemned. They demonstrate what good airport governance can accomplish when the airport proprietor responds to customers and the needs of the community.
Condreras's statement that "since airport-sponsored FBOs do not have a profit motivation, capital losses ... are passed on and result in wasted taxpayer dollars" is also wrong. Airport proprietors do not operate using federal and state funds but from revenues generated at that airport. In fact, most airports are operated as enterprise funds, based on the same business principles applicable to private enterprise. Public grants are available only to build infrastructure to support aeronautical needs, not to fund airport operations.
FBOs are important industry partners and I have advocated that they and other GA interests be part of a national aviation policy. Airports would welcome a broader discussion about the need to rationalize US aviation and transportation policy. However, the discussion should be based on facts.
Then all of us—public airport proprietors, private aviation businesses, pilots, federal and state regulators—can engage in how best to serve the needs of aviation and communities throughout the country.