Santa Monica Fees Explained: The target: protecting the airfield, not deterring bizav use, says manager

Dec. 8, 2003

By Robert Trimborn, Airport Manager, Santa Monica (CA) Municipal Airport

Santa Monica Fees Explained

The target: protecting the airfield, not deterring bizav use, says manager In the September 2003 edition of Airport Business, it was reported that the Santa Monica Airport (SMO) opposed the recently published FAA Notice of Proposed Policy regarding weight-based restrictions at airports "after recently imposing weight-based landing fees in a move to discourage larger business aircraft use." Here, SMO manager Bob Trimborn offers a clarification of the airport's fee structure as well as the motivations behind its implementation.

It is true that the City of Santa Monica opposed the proposed policy that is patently unworkable and places an undue burden on airport operators by forcing them to establish a complex tracking and points system to accommodate aircraft that exceed the airport's pavement design weight limitations.

However, it is inaccurate to characterize the recently adopted revised landing fee program as a program designed to deter larger business aircraft use.

The revised landing fee program is based upon a relative damage factor scale that relates the negative impacts caused by the weight of specific aircraft. Pavement condition is directly affected by usage and therefore the associated maintenance costs are directly correlated with the weight of aircraft and their impact on the airside surfaces. This type of user fee is not a new concept in the transportation industry - outside of aviation. It is primarily applied to interstate trucking and, in some cases, assessed by local governments to refuse haulers, asphalt/concrete businesses, gravel pit operators, and other heavy truck-intensive industries which damage community roadways leading to and from their primary facilities.

In 2000, the City of Santa Monica hired a highly reputable, industry recognized consulting firm to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the airport's runway and taxiway pavement infrastructure. The final report established the existing condition of the airside pavement surfaces and also defined and established required maintenance criteria necessary for continued safe operations.

The report correlated the relative damage factor to the funding required for an airside surfaces maintenance program to develop a recommended landing fee schedule.

The weight-based landing fees are tied directly to the maximum landing weight of an aircraft and account for the increased damage caused by heavier aircraft. The analysis further indicated that aircraft weighing less then 10,000 lbs. have a negligible impact on the pavement surfaces and therefore recommended that such "light" aircraft be exempted from landing fees.

Based upon the existing fleet mix and operational activity, the anticipated revenues generated by the revised landing fees will cover the cost of the pavement maintenance program.

Bob Trimborn
On June 10, 2003, the Santa Monica City Council adopted a revised weight-based landing fee program for all aircraft utilizing the Santa Monica Airport weighing in excess of 10,000 lbs. maximum certificated gross landing weight, as published by the aircraft manufacturer. (The cost per 1,000 lbs. does not rise evenly due to the formula incorporating differential effects from the types of wheel configuration used in association with specific weight levels.) It should be noted that a policy decision by the city (and acknowledged by an agreement with the FAA) rules out the airport's ability to accept FAA Airport Improvement Program funding for airport improvement and maintenance projects. Therefore, a revenue source needed to be identified to fund the airside pavement maintenance program, and the pay-as-you-go landing fee program was a logical source of funds. Last year the Santa Monica Airport experienced in excess of 16,000 operations by aircraft exceeding 10,000 lbs. gross landing weight (a 22 percent increase over the previous year). This shift in fleet mix now represents over 10 percent of the airport's total operations and the impact is having a significant negative effect on the pavement infrastructure. The landing fee program will provide the necessary revenue to allow the Santa Monica Airport to continue to maintain its airside pavement surfaces consistent with industry standards.