By Kevin Psutka
COPA member Michael Schwar visited the Region of Waterloo International Airport (CYKF) recently and took the time to express his concern in writing about the $10 landing fee there. I was copied on his email to airport General Manager Chris Wood, and I followed up with an email of support for the points that Michael made, which spurred a further exchange between Chris Wood and myself.
Landing fees are a thorny issue for our sector of aviation. While many airport managers realize that we have little impact on the infrastructure and are incremental users of the airports that, in many cases are equipped to serve much larger aircraft, these managers are typically caught between needing to try to make ends meet for their masters and acknowledging our sensitivity to fees.
Most people in our sector of aviation understand that they should not a get a free ride but there are two issues that do not make sense to them. Foremost is the cost of collection. A $10 landing fee costs more to collect than is taken in, or at best the net amount realized does not make it worthwhile to collect.
Secondly, most people believe that it is reasonable to expect that when they purchase other services such as fuel, food at the onsite restaurant or overnight parking at the airport, the fee should be waived in recognition of the significant revenue realized by airport tenants, who in turn can afford to pay rent to the airport.
Waterloo is one of those airports with much more infrastructure than is necessary for our sector. Long, wide runways and fire fighting to address large airliners cost money to install and maintain, and it is necessary to find the money from anywhere possible, including landing fees, to support these.
But Waterloo is one of those airports that is mostly a GA airport with relatively few airline movements, so it is logical to try to spread the costs to the most frequent users. And when the decisions are being made by others, such as a regional council comprised of non-aviation people, it is typical for them to assume that our sector should pay and will accept the fee.
To Chris Wood’s credit, he realizes the sensitivity to fees. Aircraft weighing less than 1000 kg are already exempt, but in his response he announced that he is seeking approval for exempting aircraft weighing less than 3000 kg. Chris asked for a letter of support from COPA to help support his proposal.
In a letter to Chris Wood, I strongly supported the move and used some work done at Hamilton to make my point that landing fees have a net negative impact on the airport and the community. In 1998, Hamilton introduced a $12 fee after strong reaction from COPA to its proposal for a $40 fee. The management thought that a $12 fee would be acceptable and I said that we would monitor the movement statistics to see if they were correct.
Using Transport Canada movement statistics, we compared movements for an eight-month period before the fee with the same period one year later.
There was a decline in traffic at Hamilton compared with Waterloo and London, who at that time had no fee and over the same eight-month period saw an increase in traffic.
Using conservative estimates of how much is spent on a typical visit to an airport in fuel sales, food, transportation, accommodation etc, COPA estimated that Hamilton gave up $323,000 in revenue to the airport and community from the decline in traffic plus $268,000 if they had experienced the same growth as the neighbouring airports.
We estimated that they received $67,000 in landing fees and this does not account for the cost of collecting the fee, which would reduce the net amount realized from the fee.
Since the introduction of the fee, GA activity in Hamilton has severely declined. The EAA Chapter has moved to another airport and the Hamilton Flying Club, one of the first clubs in Canada and home to flight training, renting and private aircraft, has gone out of existence in part due to a dispute over landing fees and the hangar they occupied.
Chris Wood welcomed the letter of support and information about the experience in Hamilton. Hopefully, the Council will make the right decision and we will be able to follow up with an update in our Places to Fly listing for the airport http://archive.copanational.org/PlacesToFly/airport_view.php?pr_id=1&ap_id=1170 to promote Waterloo as landing fee exempt for most of our members.