- 29 Sep 2020
- Mario Pierobon
- Flight Planning - Biz Av
Business jet operators have always faced challenges in navigating airport costs, from fuel to landing and ramp fees. This will only grow more challenging in the wake of COVID-19, say flight planning and trip support experts. Gerrard Cowan explores…Back to Articles
Whether operators are using a charter service, flying a corporate jet, or conducting their journey on a private platform, there is a wide range of fees they must negotiate, either individually or with the support of a flight planning or trip support specialist...
Though landing, ramp, and fuel fees are among the most significant, they are by no means the only costs that operators must consider. So what is the most effective way for an owner/operator to navigate these?
It’s important firstly to understand the nature of the fees, says Anja Bonacci, director of customer service – Information Management Service at Collins Aerospace, which offers the ARINC Direct portfolio of flight planning services.
What Determines the Charge Amount?
Landing fees typically go to the airport authority and owner, and they vary greatly by airport, Bonacci explains. They usually depend on the size and weight of the aircraft, though operators should note that they can also be impacted by approach and take-off noise levels.
Ramp fees are charged when an airplane is parked at an airport for a length of time. While they are usually determined by maximum take-off weight (MTOW), they can also vary depending on aircraft wingspan, as well as time on the ground.
While some airports allow operators to park for a certain time period at no charge, others start charging upon arrival, Bonacci warns. (These fees are often waived if operators only park for a short amount of time and uplift a minimum number of gallons of fuel.)
“Charges vary wildly, and it’s not easy to do a one-on-one comparison,” Bonacci told AvBuyer. “To save money, it's a good idea to do your homework ahead of time.”
She encourages operators to consider airports around their usual stops, where fees and fuel prices might be cheaper. Service providers (such as ARINC Direct) can support this research.
Nick Copley, president of Sherpa Report, notes that ramp and landing fees vary enormously between and within countries, ranging from as little as a few dollars to thousands. He also underlines the importance of researching different airports in a particular region as “usually it’s the larger, commercial airports that charge higher fees, so landing at a smaller private airport can be a big money saver”.
Do Your Homework to Reduce the Costs
While smaller airports often offer cheaper landing and handling fees, however, it is important to analyse the bigger picture, according to Jon Braid, director of trip support specialist JET TEAM. Initial savings can be wiped out if fuel is more expensive, and prices can vary significantly between airports depending on various factors.
But there are also bargains to be had: some regional airports offer sharp fuel pricing and attentive and quick turnarounds, which cannot be guaranteed at larger locations, Braid said.
“Research is the key,” he explains. “If you’re using a smaller airport, also look at others nearby – but check things like fuel company operating hours at nights and weekends.”
Braid says that he was recently planning a trip for a client needing a Central European technical stop, and found prices varied widely from one end of Italy to another – there was over US$2 a US gallon difference between the best and worst-priced.
Photos courtesy of Jon Braid, JET TEAM
“Intelligent fuel planning – as opposed to just uplifting based on need – can save an operator thousands in the long run,” Braid says.
If an operator is planning a multi-stop tour, they should look ahead at each location and consider ‘tankering’ – filling up where fuel is cheapest and picking up the minimum required elsewhere. “That sounds obvious, but many operators don’t,” he adds.
When it comes to fuel prices, it can be difficult to compare ‘apples with apples’, though, notes Louis Smyth, senior manager - digital content & communications at Universal Weather and Aviation.
Sometimes fuel fees do not include taxes in their initial costing, for example. Smyth recommends operators “talk to their FBO/fuel provider and find out what’s included in the fuel price” at an early stage.
Of course, the cost and nature of fees can vary widely, depending on the country in question.
Understand What Constitutes the Fee
Dawit Lemma, founder and CEO of Krimson Aviation, a flight support and trip support service provider with a focus on the African market, says that within that continent alone, “fees are fluid, not because anybody is trying to take advantage, but because the landscape is so dynamic and costs, services and capabilities change from day to day”.
As an example, there could be a range of fees involved with securing landing and overflight permits that vary from one country to another. Although some aviation authorities might not charge for the permit, a neighbouring country could charge a fee of several hundred dollars just for the application, with another fee potentially reaching thousands of dollars for the actual, granted permit.
“Always confirm the exact price you will be paying,” Lemma advises. “We suggest requesting a breakdown that includes any ‘extras’.
"Look out for taxes and service fees when you are requesting quotes – these are not usually included in the USD per gallon fuel price and will appear in the ‘remarks’ section of the quotation,” he adds.
The pandemic has underscored the need for access to more real-time data to support all aspects of flight planning, according to Bonacci, including the ability to manage costs more effectively. Collins Aerospace is looking at ways to make data more accessible, developing next-generation tools to enable operators to quickly compare fee schedules at different airports and FBOs.
COVID-19 hit the trip support and flight planning industry hard for the first few months, though there has been a surge in demand since, according to Smyth.
This is partly because there’s no such thing as a routine mission anymore, he notes, with operators now forced to allocate additional time and money to documenting individual health requirements, travel history, negotiating test protocols, researching the risk of quarantine periods, and so on.
Looking ahead, this impact will endure and has turned into a top priority for operators, alongside securing landing permits, passports and other documentation.
“That’s not going to go away,” Smyth warns. “Even with a vaccine – countries will have health authorisation [demands] that passengers and crews will have to complete, and sometimes that’s going to add to the cost, whether it’s carrying out a test or working with someone to understand all the requirements on your behalf. That’s just a simple fact.”
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