Who is Using Your Airport?

Public-use airports are open 24/7, but due to limited activity many airports can’t justify the presence of staff overnight. Across the United States, airports are unattended outside of working hours—depending on local situations, sometimes as much as 16 hours in a day. When operations go unreported, airports and FBOs miss out on revenue from landing fees, facility fees, and more. Aside from revenue loss, unattended airports risk incidents that cause damage to airport property. Inaccurate operations data can lead to other issues: damage to airport facilities, airport security issues, inaccurate airport operation counts, and decreased funding due to underreported statistics. In previous years, the easiest solution to these issues was to always have a staff-member on-site. However, with the FAA’s 2020 requirement that aircraft be equipped with ADS-B Out capability in the continental United States, in the ADS-B rule airspace designated by FAR 91.225: Class A, B, and C airspace; Class E airspace at or above 10,000 feet MSL, excluding airspace at and below 2,500 feet AGL; Within 30 nautical miles of a Class B primary airport (the Mode C veil); Above the ceiling and within the lateral boundaries of Class B or Class C airspace up to 10,000 feet MSL. Most aircraft are now equipped with ADS-B transponders, meaning that airports have the capability to track operations 24/7.

The ADS-B Data Revolution

Several different ADS-B data processing companies offer services to collect and track this data. FlightAware, VirTower, and Motion Information Systems all leverage ADS-B for data collection and can supply detailed reports using FAA registration data. This new capability increases data accuracy for airports—but transforming data to revenue is another matter entirely. Accurate data is essential to airport management. FAA aircraft registration data alone is insufficient for proper billing. Aircraft registration information lacks the detailed records needed to easily collect landing fees and other rates and charges. The process of bridging the gap between the airport and the aircraft’s operator can be complex and expensive. Service providers like AMSTAT offer detailed operator information, but for smaller airports, the fees can be prohibitive. For airports mostly serving non-commercial aircraft, which professional data services rarely cover, it may be hard to justify the cost against profits.

Turning Airport Activity into New Revenue

FAA grant assurance #24 requires airport sponsors to “…make the airport as self-sustaining as possible…”  Some airports find a solution in hiring companies like Vector to take charge of all billing and fees in exchange for a percentage of revenue, others pay a data company to provide the necessary information. In lieu of giving away the “farm” there are options to leverage ADS-B data. Option 1: Assign a staff member to track down aircraft operators. Operator data can be time-intensive to find. FAA data provides the tail number and owner for each logged operation, along with prior registration data for the aircraft. It is possible, through phone calls, emails, and a willingness to research, to identify the aircraft operator and the correct point of contact for accounts payable. Option 2: Rely on aircraft owners to pass invoices forward to the operator. The listed owner of an aircraft is very rarely the operator themselves but rather the lien holder. In some cases, the lien holder will be able to pass forward billing to the operator. Contact rates may not be as high as directly contacting the operator, but any new revenue generated is a bonus. However, it should be at the lowest cost possible. Option 3: Implement a cloud-based software solution that connects your billing process to a backend directory. What if there was a cloud-based software solution that allows you to keep billing and custom fees in your control, while directly contacting operators? What if there was a cloud-based software solution that offered other dynamic utilities, including airport permitting, reporting, custom SKU’s and invoice cycles, and account management? And what if this cloud-based software solution allowed airports to integrate flight tracking with other parts of their airport management system? What if this cloud-based software solution was easy to use and customizable for any airport? What if a cloud-based solution like the one described above would allow airports to collect new revenue at a relatively low cost without having to spend thousands on new equipment and training? As manager of the Carson City Airport in Carson City, Nevada, I had the exact same problems described above. And I found a cloud-based software solution to help me collect new revenue that was going unrealized. That solution is RevJet! RevJet is working to bridge datasets to actionable contact, with a system that allows airport staff to track, schedule, and customize billing processes, with a backend tool to handle invoice delivery. With this approach, airports can separate different aspects to maintain tight control over billing itself, without sacrificing time and productivity attempting to follow up on collection in-house.

What Next?

ADS-B is becoming more prevalent, and Canada has joined the U.S. in moving towards universal adoption of ADS-B for aircraft. Currently, many companies are sponsoring the install of airport ADS-B receiver equipment for free, and the FAA has incentivized the use of ADS-B receivers. Most suppliers offer simple-to-install kits, with mountable 3-foot antennae. The data supplied by ADS-B and reporting companies is useful, but airports can also take advantage of new sources of revenue, cut down on waste, and increase efficiency in day-to-day business. In a field as dynamic as aviation, it pays to stay on top of new developments. Airports that embrace new innovations will be well-prepared for the challenges of the coming years, and managers with an eye towards the future can better plan for the changing landscape of the industry. Airport managers have to work smarter and leverage new opportunities to be more efficient and plug holes in the revenue stream to work towards airport self-sufficiency in this time of tighter budgets.

About the Author

Kenneth G. Moen, A.A.E., C.A.E. began his journey into the world of aviation in 1977, with his enlistment in the US Army in 1977. This experience was followed by Army air traffic control school and subsequent graduation from community college. In 1982, Ken began his career as an air traffic controller with the Federal Aviation Administration. During his tenure at the FAA, he earned his B.S. in Professional Aeronautics and Aviation Management, while founding and producing the Northern Nevada Business Weekly and the Wolf Pack Edge.  In 2009, Ken retired from the FAA and spent a year at Baghdad International Airport training Iraqi controllers and supporting US Military operations with Washington Consulting Group, before joining Reno-Tahoe International airport in 2011. Ken completed his A.A.E. airport management accreditation in July 2016. In 2018, Ken assumed the airport manager position at the Carson City Airport (CXP) until retiring in March 2021.