Airport or FBO? A Debate Emerges

Chair of new airport group says air service, standardization are at its core

The first concern arose out of grants awarded by DOT under its Small Community Air Service Development program, which are intended to help airports retain and attract airline service to their communities. This became a part of Vision 100, federal legislation created out of Congressional concern over the loss of service to smaller cities.

"I look throughout the Midwest and see what airports have lost air service in the past ten years," comments Carter. "You can look coast to coast and see communities that have lost air service. Then look at the next tier that have air service that have applied for small community air service grants to keep this service — Marion, Decatur, Mason City, Fort Dodge, the list goes on.

"An airport director is going to do anything he can to keep his air service in the marketplace."

The Moline Experience
Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, Carter, 53, is well qualified to be at the center of the debate. His resumé includes time as an air traffic controller, commercial pilot for an FBO and airport manager since 1982. He also has the experience of propelling his airport into the airline servicing business.

In November 2003, Quad City International, via a limited liability corporation, QCIA Airport Services, entered the into-plane refueling business to the air carriers serving the airport. TransStates Airlines had been the previous provider, while also serving as the regional feeder to St. Louis for TWA/American.
"We had a clause in the contract with TransStates that if they discontinued flying in and out of this facility, we had the option to not have them continue in the fueling business," Carter explaines. "They wanted to stay and continue the fueling because it's a money-making operation. We chose not to go that route."

Carter says the airport first approached the resident FBO, Elliott Aviation, to do the airline refueling, which it already does at its base in Omaha. Elliott declined. "There's a big difference [between] fueling in Omaha [and fueling in] the Quad Cities with the amount of operations," he explains. However, he points out, the FBO can still offer airline refueling at QCIA if it decides in the future, while the airport has no interest in general aviation or corporate refueling.

That series of events led to the purchase of two fuel trucks from TransStates and the distinction as the sole airline refueling provider at Moline. QCIA Airport Services was then formed, under the oversight of the independent airport authority. "Our airport has been operated as an authority since 1947," says Carter. "As an authority, under the statutes of the State of Illinois, we're basically our own little city; we can tax, set ordinances [and] do about anything a city can do."

Since that time, the airport has purchased a third refueler as well as other ground service equipment out of the liquidation of Independence Air, according to Carter. Among the purchased are equipment: a tug, baggage carts and potable water cart. Another tug, a ground power unit and a belt loader are among the items still on the airport's shopping list, as it looks to expand into other airline services.

Carter says he's been approach by American to provide other services, and he currently has a proposal on the table to attract USAirways to provide service to Phoenix.

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