How would you like it if you landed at an airport and five months later got a surprise bill from it?
That’s what is happening to GA pilots who have landed at King County Airport/Boeing Field in Seattle in recent months.
According to a King County Airport official, landing fees have been in effect at the airport since 1972. Until recently, however, the county lacked the manpower to enforce the collection of fees on GA aircraft. According to the King County website, the fee for aircraft with a maximum gross landing weight of 1,000 lbs., not based at the airport, is $1.25. Based aircraft are exempt unless they are revenue generating.
Local pilots are opposed to the fees not only because they increase the cost to fly, but also because there was no prior notification of the implementation of collection of the fees — not to mention that the fees are being imposed retroactively.
“The Airport Facilities Directory states there are no landing fees for GA aircraft,” notes Ron Wanttaja, a local pilot. “I question Boeing Field’s failure to provide updated information for the FAA Airport Facility Directory prior to implementation of this policy.”
Wanttaja compares the retroactive nature of the fees to someone walking into a business that has a hidden cover charge.
“If I owned a business, it would be perfectly legal for me to implement a cover charge to enter the facility. Under normal circumstances, I would place a sign on the outside of the door, and potential customers could choose whether entering the establishment would be worth the money they would have to pay. If I did not have a sign outside the door, and attempted to collect money from the customers as they came in, they could just turn around and leave. In Boeing Field’s case, though, there’s no sign and no notification. The customer is allowed to enter the premises, conduct their business, and leave without being told that there is a fee for doing so. Then, three months later, the customer receives a bill. Without the knowledge of the cover charge, the customer might visit every day, running up charges into the hundreds of dollars. I doubt a private business would be allowed to operate in this fashion for very long.”
DO THE MATH
The county tracks down the owners of aircraft through FAA databases, then sends bills to the owners. Figuring that first class postage is 41 cents, the county nets 84 cents per landing. Of course, that’s without factoring in the salary of the person who is employed to collect the fees.
“And how much is that person being paid?” questions Marie Campbell, co-owner of Aviation Training Center, a Part 141/Part 142 operation that provides ground schools and training for pilots. Campbell estimates approximately 30% of her clientèle fly in from outside the Seattle area.
Boeing Field already gives the impression it is not GA friendly, she says, as it does not have free transient parking spots for short-term visitors.
“The county owns the tarmac out there. There is no reason they could not set aside two spaces,” she says. “We have been begging them, but the county is not inclined to be tenant friendly.”
Nancy Griffith, owner of the Aviation Book Company/Aviator Store, concurs. Griffith, who notes that many of her customers fly in to pick up pilot supplies, is skeptical that the landing fees will generate much revenue for the airport.
“I understand that they want revenue because the airport is self-supporting, but how much is this really going to net for the airport?” she wonders. “Maybe 10 cents after you factor in the salary of the person whose job it is to count the airplanes and send out the bills? This just seems stupid. I can see it ticking people off.”
Pilots have made their displeasure known, complaining to airport officials, the FAA and pilot advocacy groups such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
AOPA historically has been opposed to landing fees for general aviation aircraft, notes AOPA spokesman Kathleen Vasconcelos. Very often pilots simply refuse to patronize airports that have the fees, thus making their implementation useless.
“In Rhode Island, for example, the state enacted landing fees on general aviation,” she says. “They found out that it took more money to collect the fees than was brought in by them. There was a loss of operations at the airports as pilots went elsewhere for fuel and the like. Those fees lasted for all of 14 months because there was such a loss for the state.”
Numerous attempts to reach Airport Director Robert Burke and other county officials were made, but telephone calls and emails were not returned by press time.
For more information: MetroKC.gov/Airport