By Janet Urquhart
ASPEN — Private aviation at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport helps fund the cost of maintaining the airfield through landing fees, but that’s not the case at all airports.
County commissioners on Wednesday gave final approval to a 5 percent increase in landing fees for both commercial airlines and general aviation (private aircraft) with no discussion.
While landing fees for commercial airlines are the norm at airports that have commercial traffic, according to Jim Elwood, aviation director at the local airport, such fees aren’t universally charged to private aircraft. The Aspen airport, however, has apparently long had the fees in place for general aviation.
“I think when I flew in here as a private pilot in 1978, they were charging landing fees,” Elwood said. “It was a philosophical decision to have all users of the airport help fund it.”
General aviation can be charged various fees by fixed-base operators — private businesses at airports that sell fuel and provide other services — but airports themselves can charge landing fees through a formula established by the Federal Aviation Administration to recover certain costs associated with maintaining the runway and taxiway areas. Snow removal, lighting and fire protection are among the big expenses, Elwood said.
“We’re not allowed to make money on landing fees,” he said. “The best we could ever do is a net zero for those costs coming from landing fees.”
Instead, the airport charges less than it could under the formula, Elwood added, though a local pilot recently criticized the airport’s landing fees for small aircraft; he said they drive away “the little guy” who otherwise might use the airport.
The Aspen airport does not charge landing fees for private aircraft that are based locally, but the rate for other private planes will be $5.62 per 1,000 pounds of gross landing weight in 2013.
The fee for commercial carriers that provide year-round or winter/summer service will be $4.77 per 1,000 pounds next year — or about $320 per landing for the jet SkyWest operates on behalf of United Express.
A check of other regional airports indicates that some facilities charge landing fees for private planes, some do not and some charge a fee only to larger private aircraft.
Yampa Valley Regional Airport, which serves Steamboat Springs, and Garfield County Regional Airport in Rifle both charge landing fees for private planes weighing 12,500 pounds or more. The fee is $2 per 1,000 pounds at Yampa and $1.25 at Garfield County.
Garfield County upgraded its runway in 2010, a project that benefited larger aircraft, so small planes are exempt from the fee, said Brian Condie, airport director there. The airport does not have commercial service.
At Yampa, the wear and tear caused by large aircraft is part of the rationale for charging only the bigger private planes a landing fee, said airport manager David Ruppel.
At the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, private aviation isn’t dinged for a share of the costs incurred because of commercial aviation — the need for on-site fire protection, for example — but does pay a share of other maintenance costs. General aviation landing fees also pay for the airport’s noise monitoring and Fly Quiet initiative. That’s because private aircraft generate virtually all of the noise complaints associated with the airport, Elwood said.
Elsewhere, Jackson Hole Airport in Wyoming charges a general aviation landing fee of $2.51 per 1,000 pounds, while Telluride Regional Airport charges $2 per 1,000 pounds for aircraft up to 12,500 pounds and $4 per 1,000 pounds for larger planes, their respective websites indicate.
No landing fees for general aviation are charged by the Eagle County Regional Airport, Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport or Fort Collins-Loveland Airport, said representatives at those facilities.
In addition to the increase in landing fees at the Aspen airport, terminal rent fees will increase 2.5 percent in 2013.