Dealing with the Corporate Bully

Nov. 8, 1999

Dealing with the corporate bully

Paul Bowers, Publisher

November / December 1999

What does one call a fight between an airport and its FBO against the county's largest employer/ influential citizen/bully? One sided? Some may say it defies logic.

What's the fight about? Fuel — more exactly, the right to self-fuel. In neighboring Waukesha County, WI, the largest employer, Quad/Graphics and its corporate flight department are filing a federal lawsuit against the Waukesha County Airport, Crites Field. Quad/Graphics is accusing Crites Field of conspiracy to monopolize the fuel market by forcing operators to buy fuel from the airport's fixed base operator.

Now keep in mind this is the same corporate operator that is being sued by the county for eviction for failing to pay hangar rent.

It seems that Quad/Graphics believes that the self-fueling requirements established by both the airport and FAA are too restrictive. The company says that the county's plan to allow self-fueling only if certain minimum standards are met is as wrong as the FAA policy allowing airports to collect the same fuel flowage fee from self-fuelers as collected from others using an airport.

Some may ask, why bother mentioning this fight? The right to self-fuel is not really new. But it is important. The infrastructure that we have in place provides the means for general aviation airports to exist. Should the dynamics change, so would the infrastructure. Without the money that corporate fuel sales generate, FBOs may have to curtail hours of operation and services. And, airports are not creating pots of gold with fuel flowage fees, either.

Many outside the industry need to learn what it is fuel sales and fuel flowage fees bring to FBOs and airports. It's the fees that create an environment that allows the Quad/Graphics of the world a place to land (and conduct business) with amenities such as pilot lounges, shuttle cars, and ice for the corporate soda pop.

What should be done about this problem? Short of refusing to service corporate operators who come by your field, like the Quad/Graphics of the world, the options are limited. Sometimes it's a matter of education and communication. Presenting a plan of what value an FBO creates is one way; outlining how minimum standards at an airport can create a level playing field and thus help sustain the long-term viability of the airfield is another. As evidenced by the situation at Waukesha, though, education and minimum standards may not be enough.

That said, a vibrant airport remains an economic tool of the community. Let's communicate, not litigate.