AOPA aims to fight the good fight. We’re behind them all the way, but here’s why we’re not holding our breath.
We have our occasional disagreements, but as is usually the case, AOPA’s Mark Baker is hitting the nail on the head with his organization’s efforts to slow down questionable fuel pricing practices at airports that get a heavy volume of bizjet traffic. AOPA is not calling the pricing “predatory,” but in some cases it certainly pushes that limit. As part of this initiative last month, AOPA reached out to the Airport Board in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, asking the members to allow a new FBO on the field, Wyoming Jet Center, which has filed an application to do business there. The current sole provider of fuel is the single FBO on the field, Jackson Hole Aviation, which is currently charging $6.74 per gallon of Jet-A and $5.99 for 100LL.
It’s a great idea, but unfortunately a monopoly on business, or something resembling that, isn’t required to achieve excessively high fuel pricing. AOPA asked members to reach out to them with other examples of airports where fuel pricing is way too high, so here’s my vote. My hometown airport, Austin Bergstrom (KAUS, which is NOT where I keep my plane).
A little back story. In 1999 when the City of Austin closed the downtown Austin Mueller Airport and relocated everything to the former Bergstrom Air Force Base just south of town, the idea that helped pave the way for the move, over the fierce resistance of the GA community, was that the new city airport would be GA friendly. As with so many election promises, that pledge turned out to be vaporware. The new Austin Bergstrom featured a limited number of expensive T-hangars, two FBOS, Signature Flight Support and what is today Atlantic Aviation. There is a small flying club on the field, a pilot shop and a flight school, but the kind of vibrant and welcoming GA community that Mueller supported is nowhere to be found. Today, some 18 years after the fact, the light GA picture at KAUS remains a sad sight.
At KAUS there are two FBOs selling fuel, Signature Flight Support and Atlantic Aviation. You can get 100LL at Signature Flight Support, where at this writing the cost of avgas is $6.70. But if you’re looking for a bargain, you can always opt for the cheap, cheap fuel at Atlantic, which comes in at only $6.62 per gallon. And if that’s too steep for you, you could always forego gas, but that turns out to be no bargain either. The ramp fee at Atlantic, if you stay for more than a quick turn, in a piston single, mind you, is a whopping $55, which includes the $15 security fee. (That really increases the price of the brisket at the Salt Lick.) At Signature the “handling” fee is just $30 with a $5 ramp fee. A real bargain. Both FBOs waive part of the fee if you buy a certain amount of their (really expensive) avgas. Takeaway: They really don’t want you there.
And if you’re surprised that the very high prices at Signature and Atlantic are within pennies of each other, well, we were too. Except that their prices have been within pennies of each others’ for the 12 years I’ve been in town. I keep waiting for a 100LL price war to break out between the two aviation fuel resellers, but it just hasn’t happened yet. Funny thing.
The takeaway for me is not just that the FBOs at KAUS don’t want light GA there, but that neither does the city of Austin. Luckily in Austin there are a few good GA alternatives, Austin Executive, just north and east of town, and San Marcos, which is about an equal distance to the south of Bergstrom. Operators of both airports are aggressively GA friendly, and the business there shows it. There’s reasonably prices gas at both places, along with flying clubs, aircraft rental, flight instruction, aircraft services and more.
It’s where I go, except when I have to go to KAUS. Which is typically only when someone with much deeper pockets than I have wants to meet me there and buy the really expensive fuel on someone else’s dime.
It would be great if there were an alternative to the high-priced fuel at KAUS, but short of the City mandating fuel prices, which ain’t gonna happen, I think we’re stuck with the current situation. Which works out just fine for the current FBOs at the airport who understandably would prefer to fit one Gulfstream onto their ramp instead of three or four Skylanes or Bonanzas. At a municipal airport, though, it seems as though the public space should make room for more than just the wealthiest customers. Just saying.