Best Practices in FBO Management: TFRs

May 4, 2017
Partnerships between FBOs, airports and associations are key to overcoming negative impacts of TFRs.

In the weeks since taking office, the current president of the United States (POTUS) is on track to outspend his predecessor by an unprecedented amount- on his personal travel alone. Some seven weekends have been spent at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago luxury resort, and an eighth – Easter Weekend- will have come and gone by the time this article goes to print. In the first 10 weeks of his presidency, Mr. Trump’s vacation budget has eclipsed that of Mr. Obama’s first two years. At least if Bernie Sanders been nominated and won the presidency, there’d be a few Weekend at Bernie’s jokes to spice up the unending political commentary regarding presidential vacations.

Regardless of who holds the office, what assets are figured into the cost of a weekend vacation for a commander in chief? Typically that would include the cost of Air Force One, one or two C-17 Globemaster III support aircraft, a UH-60 Blackhawk (acting as Marine One) and various ground support vehicles- the motorcade. Plus of course, manpower costs of the Secret Service and other security personnel must be factored in. According to estimates, the average price tag is about $3 million per weekend getaway. And that excludes hotel and the minibar. Yet, to local airport business like FBOs, as well as aircraft operators affected by the attendant Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs), the cost is much, much higher. TFRs can be quantified in lost revenue, lost jobs and an eerily quiet airport.

Despite the rhetoric that seem to accompany presidential TFRs, the issue is not partisan by nature. Bush vacationed at his ranch in Texas, Obama in Hawaii. TFRs have now affected the aviation industry for some time; and a great many airports in the US are affected by the movement of POTUS each year. What is different in this case is that no previous president had a personal retreat in a major vacation destination, close to major airport – a mere 2.1 nm from Palm Beach International (PBI)- and visited said retreat so frequently back-to-back, during the peak tourism season. At a certain point, the word “Temporary” in the acronym TFR loses its meaning.

So, what can an FBO do during a TFR? What recourse is there for lost revenue- and by extension- lost jobs? The answer for now, is very little. That doesn’t mean FBOs or airports should go quietly into the night. It is up to the industry collectively to band together, make noise, and to petition to local, state and federal government agencies to seek relief – or at least hear their pleas. Several industry groups, both national and local are fighting the good fight, though most efforts are directed to the benefit of aircraft operators under the larger umbrella of “airport access issues” as opposed to fighting for FBOs per se. That said, FBOs are of course the beneficiary when aircraft operators are permitted access to the airport at which they are located.

Chris Salley, board vice president of the South Florida Business Aviation Association (SFBAA) and sales and marketing manager for Ft. Lauderdale-based National Jets notes the SFBAA has teamed up with the Florida Airports Council, the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA), the Florida Aviation Business Association (FABA) and other “alphabet groups” to form a general aviation caucus to speak as a unified voice regarding the issue of TFRs. Working with the state Legislature, Salley notes the caucus has been making efforts to “promote awareness of the effects the TFR.” To be sure, while the TFR itself is an overarching problem for operators and airport tenants such as FBOs, “specific aspects of the TFR are particularly troubling” adds Salley. These include the short notice nature of them and complete shutdown of nearby Palm Beach County Park Airport (LNA), commonly referred to as Lantana Airport, among others.

The current Presidential TFRs that affect Palm Beach International require non-airline operators [Read: General and Business Aviation] to arrive to PBI via five select gateway airports, after being screened of course. For those GA flights departing PBI, security screening is also required. These rules create a domino effect of sorts: Aircraft operators, restricted in their use of the desired airport of their destination, tend to go elsewhere. Based tenants of FBOs also reposition their aircraft to outlying airports resulting in still fewer fuel sales at the affected airport. Airports are not immune either from the negative effects of a TFR, as fewer gallons sold by an FBO result in lower flowage fee revenue for the airport. This begs consideration by airports as to their role when TFRs affect them and their tenants. While airports can’t make TFRs go away, airports are wise to band together with its tenants, aircraft operators and industry alphabet groups to educate those with the power to alter or amend some of the more draconian aspects of TFRs. In the most basic sense TFRs severely restrict an airport tenant’s ability to fulfill its leasehold obligations- to make the rent. Airports disengaged from the plight of its tenants might find those same tenants, aircraft operators and industry alphabet groups instead banding together to petition the airport for rent abatement or concessions.

Like elections themselves, there are winners and losers with TFRs. Those in the winner column with the PBI TFRs include nearby Boca Raton (BCT) to the south and Stuart (SUA) to the north, which become the closest towered airports with sufficient infrastructure to handle business jet aircraft outside the 10nm ring. In many instances, aircraft based at Palm Beach reposition to these airports in advance of the TFR to avoid the regulatory hoops required to operate from PBI during the TFR. While the TFR doesn’t fully shutdown PBI, its effects are painful, with some operators report revenues off by as much as 60 percent comparing season over season. In the loser column of the TFR outcome is Lantana Airport, which is effectively closed entirely during the TFR. This airport has some 250 based aircraft, and averages no less than 100,000 flight operations a year according to the FAA statistics. And it is closed to all flight operations when the President is in town- some eight weekends so far.

Cryptically, the National Business Aviation Association, also in the trenches of the TFR battle recently noted on its website that “options to allow limited operations are being reviewed” for the frequently-shuttered Lantana Airport. That such hope exists at all is because of the tireless work of airports, FBOs and industry groups banding together to appeal to lawmakers to consider a more common-sense approach to TFRs.

-Doug Wilson

About the Author

Douglas Wilson