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"Long Beach Airport Officials Dispute Data On General Aviation"

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Long Beach Airport Officials Dispute Data On General Aviation
FAA Shows GA Operations Down 8.1 percent; Consultant Says Stats
By Sean Belk
The Long Beach (CA) Business Journal

Long Beach Airport officials dispute figures provided to the Business
Journal by an aviation consultant that stated activity of small private
piston-engine airplanes and corporate business jets - referred to as general
aviation - was down double digits over last year.
Airport staff said general aviation (GA) activity (withholding air taxi
traffic) for the first six months of the year was down only 8.1 percent
compared to the same time period in 2011, according to a chart sourced from
the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) website. The break down shows
there were 116,939 GA operations from January to June this year, compared to
126,230 operations during the same months last year.

 The chart also shows that some other comparable airports saw deeper
declines than LGB, while others were down less. Van Nuys, for example was
down 14.4 percent in general aviation activity for the first half of the
year compared with last year, while Santa Ana Airport was down only 1.5
percent as of June this year compared to 2011. Ontario Airport was down 10.9
percent compared to last year.
"It goes along the pattern that we're within a certain band . . . we're not
good and we're not bad, it just is what it is," said Airport Director Mario
Rodriguez. "A lot of it has to do with the fact that there's less training
activity . . . It's also just a factor of the economy . . . It isn't a
sudden precipitous drop."
The statistics are far different than those provided to the Business Journal
via e-mail by Michael Hodges, president and CEO of Florida-based Airport
Business Solutions, a business consultant for Toyota AirFlite, one of the
largest fixed-based operators at LGB. Those statistics showed that, when
annualized out, year-to-date general aviation activity, as of June, was down
more than 24 percent. He points out that the statistics provided earlier to
the Business Journal were from the airport's own staff.
The FAA's data on airport operations, however, also goes through airport
staff, since public airports regularly fill out what's called a 5010 report,
with information from control towers sent to the FAA, he said. "The question
I have is: why is it different?" Hodges said. "Any inconsistencies in that
information would be consistent with their own inconsistencies . . . So,
basically, if there is different information out there, they need to update
their own records."
Rodriguez, however, pointed out that a lot of the general aviation activity
is seasonal. The airport's monthly year-to-date activity report even shows
air tax and general aviation operations recently improved further, falling
from a decline of 9.7 percent in June to a decline of 8.8 percent in July.
Hodges said he wasn't sure if seasonality played a part in the differing
statistics, but added, "all I know is that based on the information they
provided upon my request, [the data] shows a decrease in activity
approximately 20 percent."
The reason why general aviation activity is so important to FBOs and
aviation businesses at the airport is because many are dependent on the
traffic for their business, in addition to the activity playing a part in
pricing rental rates for land. Other factors that impact profitability and
lease rates include location, marketability, economic development
opportunities and other factors.
Rodriguez said the relationship between the airport and FBOs and businesses
is much different than commercial airline businesses, which have to abide by
prices the airport dictates, such as for concessions. "General aviation is
truly a landlord-tenant relationship for the airport," he said.
Aviation businesses determine their own fuel rates and hangar fees to charge
for services, while the only charges the airport levies are some 20-year-old
lease rates for land, which the airport claims are the lowest rates in the
region. Still, Hodges said, even if the airport has the lowest rental rates
in the region, that doesn't always mean the rates necessarily reflect the
Meanwhile, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) added that a
lot of the reason for the decreasing general aviation activity is due to the
fact that the nation's pilot population is declining. Benet Wilson,
spokesperson for AOPA, said via e-mail that there were 827,000 active
certificated pilots in 1980, but in 2009, there were just 624,000.
AOPA has launched programs to address these falling numbers, she said,
including the organization's "Learn To Fly" and "Get Back Into Flying"
programs, a flight training student retention initiative and youth education
effort, including a new free youth membership program launched last month.
Rodriguez said the airport staff continues to work "proactively" to promote
general aviation and the businesses that serve it as much as possible. He
said the airport has spent a considerable amount of funding on attending
national business aviation conventions to promote GA at the airport, while
other airports have not done so.
"We want to make sure everyone is successful," Rodriguez said. "We want to
make sure we do our part in helping our FBOs to be as successful as
possible, but the economy is floundering . . . We believe that the airport
should work as closely with business as possible and we're doing that."

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