Airport Sponsor Discriminatory Pricing

Williamson-Sodus (KSDC) is a privately owned airport that has received over 11 million dollars of FAA and NYS grants to improve and maintain its facilities.  Now unclassified and no-longer hold a reliever status, the airport still receives limited FAA funding for safety item.  The airport however remains under FAA grant assurances.

The club was featured in AOPA Magazine Dec 2021, see link below where I actually commented in the article. By far the club has been run quite successfully and has been a good steward of the publics money.

Over the years I have commented on the clubs policy to discount hanger and fuel fees on behalf of “active members” while setting “premium” prices for other users of the airport who choose NOT to join the club.  We had pretty much eliminated these practices until 2023 where the new board has decided to revert to old pricing policies.

This comes down to a premium “add-on” charge of $20/month on hangars for tenants who choose not to join the club.  The fuel discount for active member tenants who own their own aircraft, is $0.60/gal.  For for those tenants who choose not to join the club its $0.20/gal.   They allow the club aircraft to now purchase fuel “at-cost” (~$1.25/gal discount).  To join the club requires an entry fee (~$345) and dues $40/month.  

The hangers in question and the fuel farm itself were constructed and are maintained using either FAA or NYS grant money.  I have pointed out that these assets are covered by grant assurances.  I asserted that the new pricing is discriminatory - the board sees it otherwise.  It is no accident that the extra fees being charged non-member tenants cover the dues and make it financially beneficial to join the club.  To me this is leveraging tax payer funded assets to coerce users of the airport to join the club, prioritizing club revenue over airport revenue. 

For a Bonanza owner like myself who buys >1000gal/yr it is quite a penalty. I pointed this out to the board,  but commented it would be less of a penalty for others who purchased far less fuel.  They the came out with the 2023 policy to slap an extra $20/month premium on hanger rent - pretty much an in your face type of action to insure there was no financial benefit for any tenant to leave the club.

I am thinking about brining this topic up with AOPA legal services (I have PPS).  I do not want to jeopardize FAA action.  What I am looking to determine is if 1. my thinking is correct 2. put pressure on the sponsor to revise its pricing.  Input appreciated.

4 Replies
Ronald Levy
1590 Posts

@Steven Murray
I don't think giving “members only” discounts at a privately-owned business is considered "discriminatory" as long as paid membership is open to the public.  You should run this past an attorney before you go further.

If this was just about a private owner I do not disagree. My issue revolves around Grant Assurances, specifically section 22 Economic Nondiscrimination
(https://www.faa.gov/sites/faa.gov/files/airports/central/airports_resources/forms/airport-sponsor-assurances-aip-2020.pdf).  The private owner accepted tax payer money and in return they agree to operate the airport iaw those grant assurances.

It is the interpretation of those assurances that is in question - and for which I seek some input.  If I am wrong I will accept it and move on.  My argument is centered on the fact that an active members privately owned aircraft has no relationship to the club.  The tenants membership in the club should not provide them any privileges that a non-member has with respect to being an air carrier.  They are two distinct things. The club as a private owner cannot just place a members personal aircraft under the club's umbrella.

Should the club wish for tenants, who own aircraft to be active members in the club, then they are free to discount membership.  They can choose to make club membership something the tenant wishes to purchase - not because its the only way to get hangar or fuel discounts.
Ronald Levy
1590 Posts

@Steven Murray
Again, this is a legal question requiring consultation with a competent attorney. It is not a matter of popular opinion of the folks here.  Have you brought this to the attention of the AOPA Counsels?

@Ronald Levy
That is my plan - I will contact them tomorrow