Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO)

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Point of Impact: Landing Fee Increase Could Hurt Flight Schools at SMO

American Flyers, Santa Monica, CA

May 28, 2013

Jay Elder, executive vice president and national sales director for American Flyers, is concerned about the impact of a landing fee set to go into effect this summer at Santa Monica Municipal Airport (SMO) in southern California.

"Our school has been in continuous operation on this airport since the 1960s," Elder said of his flight school, which also serves as a fixed-base operator at SMO. "This fee increase doesn't make financial sense. And it will have an impact on our business; there's no question about it."

American Flyers

Elder is talking about a landing-fee hike at the airport recently approved by the Santa Monica City Council on April 30. When it becomes effective on Aug. 1, the aircraft landing fee will stand at 250-percent of the current fee, representing a raise in the charge from $2.07 per 1,000 pounds of landing weight to $5.48 per 1,000 pounds.

Flight schools are only one example of the myriad entities that will be impacted by the landing fee; equally troubling, the fee will for the first time apply the same to transient and based aircraft. As at most airports, aircraft based at Santa Monica currently pay their share through fuel flowage and tie-down or hangar fees.

"Our students will go from not paying for a landing to paying about $12 for each landing in a Cessna 172," said Elder. "That may not sound like much, particularly to those who think flying is an elite activity. It's not. Our students run the gamut, young and old; international students coming to earn their wings; and hard-working local people pursuing their dream to become a pilot."

American Flyers has nine locations across the U.S. and Europe, and their Santa Monica location serves hundreds of students a year from around the world. It's one of about half a dozen flight schools at Santa Monica threatened by the fee increase.

"Students getting their private pilots' licenses probably do about 150 landings," said Elder. "We don't do all of them at Santa Monica - in fact, the flight schools here have limited the touch-and-goes we do on this airport as part of our voluntary noise-abatement program - but that [fee increase] would still add hundreds of dollars to their pilot training."

That cost difference could drive customers away from every business at Santa Monica.

"Will pilots come to Santa Monica to buy fuel if they have to pay a $12 landing fee?" asked Elder. "If not, they don't visit our pilot shop, they don't learn about the instrument rating course at our flight school and it hurts the whole airport."