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 due to Congressional concern about 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 they can to keep their air service in their marketplace."

The Moline Experience

Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, Carter, 53, is well qualified to be at the center of the debate. His resume includes time as an air traffic controller; commercial pilot for an FBO; and airport management since 1982. He also has the experience of having gotten his airport into the airline servicing business.

In November 2003, Quad City International, via a limited liability corporation, QCIA Airport Services, got into 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.

Explains Carter, "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. They wanted to stay and continue the fueling because it's a money-making operation. We chose not to go that route."

Carter relates that 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 in fueling in Omaha versus 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 airport purchasing two fuel trucks from TransStates and becoming 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, 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 equipment: a tug; baggage carts; potable water cart, etc. 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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