Airport to Consider Automated Landing Fees That Would Discourage Touch and Gos

By Mike Lednovich

Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport Director Sam Carver supports airplane landings fees as an additional revenue stream for facility maintenance like next year’s $4 million runway refurbishing project.

Carver intends to educate the city’s Airport Advisory Commission about an automated aircraft landing fee program that could mean as much as $200,000 in additional revenue for the city airport.

Carver said the landing fee program would exempt local pilots who hangar their aircraft at the Fernandina Beach Airport.

“The intent of landing fees would be to generate revenues for maintenance of the airfield,” Carver said. “Safety projects are very expensive. The airport is intended to be self-sustaining and not reliant on local taxpayer dollars.”

While many of the airport maintenance plans and upgrades receive funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, Carver said the 2025 runway project will receive 80% funding from the Florida Department of Transportation. That means $800,000 will have to come from the airport.

“Right now, we’ll have to tap into the airport reserves to pay for it,” Carver said.

Representatives of Vector Airport Systems based in Herndon, Virginia, will make a presentation Thursday to the city’s Airport Advisory Commission (AAC) with details of their automated system, which records the tail numbers of aircraft and then bills the airplane owners for landing at the airport.

Vector’s PlanePass program is currently in more than 60 regional airports in the U.S., including Brookhaven Calabro Airport in New York, Santa Monica Airport in California, MVY Airport in Martha’s Vineyard, Rapid City Regional Airport and Santa Fe Regional Airport in New Mexico.

“PlanePass requires no initial investment from the airport and is operated as a turn-key service. We do not give out our list of clients, but we are currently billing a mix of landing, parking, and customs fees at approximately 50 U.S. airports,” said Vector Airport Systems Vice President Thomas Breen in a letter to local resident Steve Sherman. “PlanePass uses a variety of aircraft tracking and identification technologies to capture all arrivals at an airport. Each aircraft’s registration number is compared to a list of excluded numbers so that those can be eliminated from billing. All remaining aircraft are billed monthly, and the revenue is distributed to the airport and Vector retains a percentage. PlanePass handles all the customer service, billing inquiries, and account resolution work. The airport is responsible for providing us the rates to charge, a list of excluded registration numbers, and the authorization to bill on their behalf.”

Sherman had been researching landing fee programs as a means to reduce aircraft noise impacting neighborhoods adjacent to the airport.

The FAA regulations permit airports to charge landing fees, as long as it is to make the facility financially sustainable and the same fee is charged to all airport users, including small aircraft, jets and flight schools.

Airport landing fees have been discussed in the past as a means to deter flight schools from using the Fernandina Municipal Airport and to reduce the noise they generate.

“The landing fees are not meant to discriminate against any users of the airport. That’s against the FAA regulations,” Carver said. “The intent is to drive revenues for important airport projects like runways, ramps, taxiways, lighting and other safety improvements. There are now more than a dozen general aviation airports in Florida using automated landing fee programs.”

But Sherman said a landing fee program would also reduce flight school traffic at the airport.

“If you’re charging $7 for every landing and trainee pilots are doing 10 touch-and-gos, that’s $70 each trip the flight school pays. They’ll go elsewhere,” Sherman said.

Vector’s PlanePass software uses ADS-B data to track incoming aircraft, bill them for each landing and takeoff, and track how long the aircraft was parked at the airport. Once a bill has been established, Vector sends a bill to the aircraft owner/operator, collects the fees, and passes the fees to the city.

ADS-B is Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast. It’s a surveillance technology in which an aircraft determines its position via satellite navigation and periodically broadcasts it, enabling it to be tracked. ADS-B data includes information such as the aircraft’s GPS-derived position, altitude, velocity, and other flight parameters. This data is broadcast to other aircraft and to ground stations, allowing for improved air traffic control and situational awareness. ADS-B is a key component of modern air traffic management systems, providing more accurate and timely aircraft tracking compared to traditional radar systems.

“The majority of aircraft are now equipped with ADS-B equipment that makes automated tracking programs viable,” Carver said.

Officials at the Santa Fe Regional Airport reported Vector Airport Systems’ PlanePass program accounted for aircraft landing fees generated approximately $1,090,000 in landing fees.

In Aug. 2022, the Airport Advisory Commission discussed automated airport landing fees suggested by Sherman, a regulatory attorney who was concerned about airport noise generated by the numerous touch-and-go landings of flight school pilots from Jacksonville and Orlando.

In a touch-and-go landing, the pilot executes a normal approach and landing onto a runway. However, instead of coming to a complete stop, the pilot immediately applies power after the aircraft’s wheels touch the runway surface, and takes off again without stopping.

The flight schools using Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport generate no income for the city. Meanwhile, airport officials have received numerous complaints about the flight schools and the airplane noise from residents of communities near the airport.

“There’s no doubt that these flights are causing wear and tear on the airport runways. They pay nothing to the airport for the use of the runways,” Sherman said. “Landing fees would at least generate revenue to pay for the maintenance of the runways.”

At that August 2022 meeting, former AAC member and pilot Don Edlin voiced opposition to the landing fee proposal.

Edlin said pilots could avoid landing fees by turning off their tracking systems and staying silent on the radio which is permissible in the uncontrolled airspace over Amelia Island.

“That would be a safety problem,” Edlin told the AAC.

He also maintained that implementing landing fees would ruin the reputation of the airport and drive pilots away from the facility.

Carver disagrees with that assessment.

“Pilots aren’t going to do anything outside of the FAA mandated flight requirements,” he said. “And landing fees are being charged by general aviation airports in Florida and across the country.”

At that meeting, AAC members rejected considering landing fees.

“At this time I would say no because we have no justification for it at this time,” said AAC Chair Doug Geib.

Carver said he has discussed his landing fee concept with local pilots and received no push-back.

“I’m presenting this to the Airport Advisory Commission as a possibility and I’m looking for support in pursuing this,” Carver said. “I want them to know as much as possible about automated programs and what that entails.”

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Noble Member
1 month ago

Great idea. I had ask about doing this several years ago, but was told it could not be done. Although, the noise of flight school aircraft flying over the house is quite annoying, my main concern has always been the wear and tear these constant touch and gos do to the runways. These companies get free use without contributing anything to the airports maintenance. I’m sure there’s more details to be considered, but on the surface, this looks like a good idea.

1 month ago

So just to get the facts straight: non-locals fly in, use our airport, buzz our neighborhoods, all for free and we should worry about them paying a fee? Does common sense evade those in government and who are on these commissions (who probably have never heard the touch and go noise?). No, that is not a rhetorical question. Although I believe there are two sides to a story, this one seems pretty straight forward. Charge the fees, pay for the upgrades, reduce the noise and continue improving our island’s quality of life.