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 market.
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.”