Keeping airport fees at bay


COPA member Michael Schwar visited the Region of Waterloo International Airport (CYKF) and took the time (thank you Michael) to express his concern in writing about the $10 landing fee there.

Landing fees were being applied on a per kg basis, starting at 1000 kg, with a minimum landing fee for smaller aircraft, like most COPA members fly, of $10 for all visiting aircraft.

I was copied on Michael’s 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 me.

Landing fees are a thorny issue for our sector of aviation. Many airport managers realize that we have little impact on the infrastructure and are incremental users of the airport’s infrastructure, which is overbuilt for our needs (long runways etc.) but necessary to attract 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, maintenance or overnight parking at the airport, the fee should be waived in recognition of the significant revenue realized by airport tenants, who in turn are able pay rent to the airport from the business they realize.
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 mostly a GA airport with relatively few airline movements, so it is tempting to try to spread the costs to the most frequent users. When the decisions are being made by others, such as a regional council comprised of non-aviation people, they can assume that our sector should pay and will accept the fee.

To Chris Wood’s credit, he realized the sensitivity to fees. Aircraft weighing less than 1000 kg are already exempt, but in his response to me he announced that he is seeking approval for exempting aircraft weighing less than 3000 kg. Chris asked for and got a letter from COPA to help support his proposal. 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. I said that even at $12, the fee would have a negative impact on the use of the airport by our sector. I was 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 business 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. As a result of this effort,Chris convinced the Council to approve of his proposal. As of April 1, 2010, visiting aircraft weighing less than 3000 kg are exempt from landing fees.

Please show your support for this progressive change in fees by dropping in and enjoying all this fine airport has to offer, including a great FBO, on site restaurant, and other aviation businesses

I took a personal interest in this airport, partly because it is my home airport where I cut my flying teeth many years ago, but also because I wanted to use it as an example of how reasoned arguments can win the day.

Another airport where fees became an issue recently was Nanaimo, where retroactive fees were introduced with no warning. I was contacted by several members who reported landing and other fees of over $20 just for stopping at the airport to drop off a passenger. I checked the airport website to find that there should be no fees for these aircraft. I took an interest in this one because I had a trip planned to the area anyway and wanted to drop in to discuss the matter with the airport manager.

Through several contacts via email and letter, the management decided to turn things around for the most part.
Maintaining a relationship with airport management is the key to keeping fees at bay. COPA HQ cannot fill this function because it is impossible for our staff to devote sufficient time to deal with all of the unique situations and relationships at each airport. Keeping fees at bay can best be achieved through personal contact and developing a relationship with airport management. That is why it is so important to establish COPA Flights at your airport.

Flights are a focal point and can be a representative group of our sector for issues such as landing fees. COPA staff can provide assistance and we do have information available in our Guide to Public Airports and sample letters that can be adjusted for each situation but if the local pilots are not active in an organized manner, fees and other issues will work against your freedom to fly.

It has been suggested to me on many occasions that COPA should maintain a list of fees at all airports so that members can decide which airports to use. Again, we do not have the staff to keep such a list up to date; making frequent contact with all airports and checking websites for fee schedules that can change at any time. Instead, our Places to Fly site was established to provide information about fees, fuel prices and other information. Each airport listing is updateable by anyone. You can help us and your fellow pilots by updating the listing for your airport or any airport that you visit. If you do not see an airport on our site, just add it. It only takes a few minutes of your time.
Adopt an airport by forming a COPA Flight (see our Guide) or rejuvenating one that may be lagging. Adopt a Places to Fly airport listing and keeping it up to date.