Here’s a picture showing three paragraphs from the draft of the KUAO Airport Master Plan draft, from last February.
The paragraphs summarize the three main services provided at the vast majority of General Aviation (GA) airports: fuel sales, flight training, and FBOs (fixed base operators). How these businesses operate, and how well they are regulated by the ‘airport manager’, can mean major differences in not just how they impact airport neighbors, but also in how well profits flow into the local community. It is very common in U.S. airports for some or all of these services to be provided by long-distance owners, even private equity firms, with business models that impose local impacts while generating profits that flow off to distant owners.
Regarding fuel sales, a few questions…
- who is making how much money, in profits, selling fuel through-the-fence at Aurora? Three times in the last month, a quick comparison of area fuel prices (done with this link) showed KUAO fuel prices are routinely much higher, compared with airports from Albany to Scappoose and Troutdale. Through December, jet fuel prices at KUAO were never lower than $7.60 per gallon, while the same fuel at Hillsboro was always offered at $4.92-$5.02 per gallon (not far away, and with a longer runway, too!). This shows the power of monopoly pricing, as Atlantic is the sole Jetfuel seller at both KUAO and at the nearby airport with the biggest runways and round-the-clock emergency services: PDX. So, with a million gallons of Jet-A sold at KUAO in an average year, how many millions in profits went to who, each year, for the last ten years at Aurora?
- how exactly is this fuel service set up at Aurora? Is fuel stored on airport, or off-airport on private property? Does any fueling happen on-airport, or is it all through-the-fence? Is there a fuel island, or is it all delivered via mobile fuel trucks? And, what documentation is there on the age and integrity of the fuel tanks, so we can be confident these deep, rich farm soils are not being contaminated?
Regarding Flight Training, two entities are listed. Willamette is through-the-fence, operating off of private land in the northeast corner of the airport. ‘Aurora Flight Training Academy’ is the other; it is the latest version of Aurora Aviation, which is the Bennett family’s multi-generational FBO at the airport, going all the way back to 1968. But, a bit of online research shows this: “In early 2016, Aurora Flight Training joined forces with American Flight Schools and is now a proud member of the American Flight School family.” Clicking through produces a list of ‘American Flight School’ locations, at five other airports (KAPA, KBJC, KCFO, KLVK, and KEAR) in California, Colorado, and Nebraska. Not surprisingly, two of those airports (Centennial and Rocky Mountain) have HUGE impact problems on surrounding residential communities, due to concentrated flight patterns. And students are not just local; American Flight School partners with Liberty University (in Virginia) and Purdue University (in Indiana) to import student pilots. The impacts are local, upon the community below, but where do the profits go? Shouldn’t we, as impacted local citizens, be able to know precisely what the business arrangement is, whereby Aurora ‘joined forces’ with American? Were they bought out, or is it a real partnership … and who owns what? Let us ‘follow the money’.
Lastly, regarding FBO’s, the sentence reads, “The current level of service reflects the Airport’s ability to support the local based aircraft fleet and attract transient aircraft, including business aviation users in a highly competitive market.” Fancy words, but what are we saying here? The ‘local based aircraft fleet’ is mostly off-airport, in private hangars and aircraft storage condominiums on private land, with cheap through-the-fence use of this publicly funded facility. The ‘transient aircraft’ are mostly reduced down to a few jets serving elite clients on carbon-intensive charter flights (who then need to buy over-priced KUAO jetfuel), or to students flying in from Hillsboro or Troutdale (who generally use only the services of the control tower, not the FBOs). And, that ‘highly competitive market’, is it reflected by…
- the inflated monopoly price on jetfuel?
- the huge overprice on leaded aviation fuel, shared by collusion between Willamette & Atlantic?
- the ‘price competition’ offered by the complete non-existence of an actual ‘on-airport’ FBO selling fuel and services?
…or, is it just the mediocrity competition, between ODAV and FAA, both failing to regulate and manage the role and evolution of this impactful airport? They serve only aviation money interests. This airport is the biggest revenue generator for ODAV, so ODAV is not motivated toward change. And, FAA keeps providing more than $3 Billion dollars in AIP money each year (which mostly comes from airline passenger taxes); this is the money ‘carrot on the stick’ that entices a handful of airport operators (Millar and Bennett are top of that short list) to campaign hard for a longer runway and thus more fuel sales. It is not a competition; it’s a collusion, with both ODAV and FAA choosing to look the other way, letting this through-the-fence mess get worse each decade.