In R/T 182, LLC v. FAA, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the FAA’s decision to “allow a local airport to charge a maintenance fee to airport users who store their aircraft at the airport, while charging no fee to those who merely land at the airport.” The fees at issue were charged by the Portage County Regional Airport Authority on an annual basis depending upon the weight of the aircraft and the frequency of usage. The fee ranged from $4.17/mo. for the lightest aircraft used the fewest times up to $35.00/mo. for the largest aircraft used the most times. Aircraft that landed at the airport, but were not based at the airport, were not charged the fee (although these aircraft were subject to other fees charged by the airport authority).
The complainant filed a complaint with the FAA charging that the airport authority’s fee structure unjustly discriminated between airport users by discriminating between based-users and transient users in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 47107(a). The FAA dismissed the complaint finding that assessment of the fee was not unjust, but rather, was reasonable in light of the costs that would be associated with identifying, billing and collecting from transient users (which the airport authority claimed would exceed the fees generated). The FAA also noted that that the airport was open to the public and, thus, transient users did not have a business relationship with the airport. The complainant then appealed.
On appeal, the complainant again argued that the fee was unjust because it was similarly situated to transient users who were not charged. However, the Court affirmed the FAA’s finding that the two groups were not similarly situated and observed that the distinction “is statutorily relevant: 49 U.S.C. § 47107(a)(13)(A) recognizes the efficiency of billing and collection as legitimate reasons for differentiating among users.” As a result, the airport authority was justified in assessing a fee against based-aircraft and not transient aircraft.