Airport rent protest: County airport tenants push back rent, study fees
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — In an Oct. 28 webinar, tenants at Los Angeles County’s five general aviation airports argued that a Denver, Colorado-based consultant’s research methods are biased towards an unnecessary increase in rents and fees.
The callers interviewed the two senior managers in the Department of Public Works Airports Division, as well as David Benner, a pricing analyst at Aviation Management Consulting Group, the company presenting the methodology used in a previous study of rents and charges for the county.
The lightning rods for much of the discussion were graphs illustrating what the consultant said were comparative and competitive factors between categorically similar airports. The callers disagreed, saying the company was comparing apples to oranges.
Responding to a caller’s complaint of deteriorating physical conditions and negligence in the cleaning and maintenance of the interior and grounds at Compton/Woodley Airport, Airports Division Manager Paul Maselbas , said he was “afflicted” by shortcomings at airports since day-to-day operational management was “internal”. from longtime private sector operations contractor American Airports.
Since the change in management, the number of caretakers and gardeners in Compton has fallen from 10 to 2.
One bright spot emerged from an otherwise polite but controversial online video session. A tenant of the General William J. Fox airfield hangar suggested that High Desert Airport free up the hangars and increase revenue by providing shade canopies over the tie-down lanes. Pilot Frank Macaelo, owner of a wooden and delicate fabric tail dragger, said sun damage kept his plane in an unaffordable hangar.
Maselbas instantly made the connection between aircraft overhead shade and solar panels to drastically reduce what he called Fox Field’s shockingly high electricity bills. When a question of cost versus savings arose, it was suggested that the 20 Lancaster schools with covered solar parking might have an answer.
Since the City of Lancaster installed the solar system, the district’s 20 schools have saved an average of $200,000 a year in electricity and benefited from nighttime security lighting.
Much of the controversy over the fares and charges study centered on disagreement over the basis of comparison between airports, which airports had commonalities with the airports in the five counties, and whether assumptions about competitive advantages were even realistic.
Webinar callers to the scheduled 90-minute session that lasted an additional 20 minutes wondered why the county’s five small general aviation airports were ranked with large, commercially dominant fields across the country, while GA airports in nearby such as Flabob in Riverside and Cable Airport in The Highlands have been omitted.
The answer had to do with how airports make their revenue or not, and what amenities are offered. Specific examples cited by the consultant and Aviation Division executives included Big Bear Airport, excluded because it is city-owned and funded by property taxes, and Cable Airport, which is privately owned and does not have a functioning control tower.
On the question of how Aviation Management Consulting Group, Inc. chooses to conduct a study, Benner wrote in a 2020 memo to Carley Shannon, director of sustainability for C&S Engineering, Inc., “It is the recommendation AMCG that Los Angeles County establish general aviation charges using a cost recovery approach or methodology, not a market based approach.
The AMCG website states that an airport rent survey is a simplified approach to getting an opinion on market rents. He goes on to say that rent and fee studies form part of the airport’s key management compliance documents (PMCD) to derive a supported market-based rental rate for each component of the properties.
The website states that “the approach and benchmarking is consistent with FAA policy which provides airports the flexibility to establish market rents for airport properties using any method that is reasonable, justified, and consistently applied. coherent”.
An Airport Fees Study is intended to guide decision makers and airport management in using industry best practices for the types of fees that could be charged, methods of setting fees and the unit measure to charge these fees, “to meet the airport sponsor’s FAA airport sponsor’s insurance obligation to “make the airport as self-sufficient as possible under the circumstances” existing at the airport. Airport charges are used to recover operating expenses and non-operational uses of funds (eg capital expenditures) related to the planning, development, operation and management of the airport.
Taken together, PMCDs are expected to: (1) contribute to the financial health of the airport; (2) promote the orderly development of land and improvements; (3) promote the provision of quality aeronautical products, services and facilities; (4) protect the health, safety, interests and general welfare of the public; (5) reduce the potential for conflict; and (6) provide a platform for complaint resolution.
Online searches of official data sources on Fox Field in Lancaster reveal wide discrepancies between information believed to be current in LA County Airports Department publications and 2022 figures provided by the Federal Aviation Administration.
For example, FAA information effective October 6, 2022 shows 60 aircraft based at Fox Field, with 56 being single-engine. The FAA reports average daily flight operations at Fox at 132 for the 12-month period ending December 31, 2021. This would total approximately 48,200 takeoffs and landings for that year, of which 52% were local general aviation, 45 % transitional general aviation, 3% military and 1% air taxi. The Fox Field page on the county website reports 58,000 for the unspecified year.