Landing fees that will offset some of the San Carlos Airport's additional operating costs incurred since Surf Air started using the airport for scheduled commercial flights in 2013 have been approved by the county.
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted the landing and overnight parking fees at its Tuesday, Aug. 8, meeting. The landing fees, which apply only to a class of aircraft that includes charter operators and Surf Air, are effective immediately at both the county-owned airports, in San Carlos and Half Moon Bay.
The $75-per-landing fee means Surf Air would pay $444,600 a year for its current 114 weekly landings.
County Public Works Director Jim Porter said landing fees are charged at "most general aviation airports in the area and in the state."
Mr. Porter's report on the requested changes says the landing fees are recommended to offset the costs of maintaining runways, taxiways and aircraft parking areas at the airport. The report says that while the number of aircraft using the airport has remained steady over the past five years, the number of commercial operations "has increased significantly" during that time.
The increased commercial use has resulted in additional "staffing, expanded hours of operation, increased use of airside and landside airport facilities and maintenance, increased runway striping costs, unplanned runway and taxiway maintenance, pilot and community outreach and education programs, and associated flight management databases," the report says.
The supervisors also approved a $10-per-vehicle overnight parking charge at the San Carlos Airport for commercial operators not based at the airport, which Mr. Porter said will help during events, such as the Burning Man festival, that keep the airport busy with charter flights and create a demand for overnight parking.
Although an agreement the county has with the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits "unjust discrimination" against airport users, County Counsel John Beiers insists that the new fees meet the FAA's legal requirements.
"The County is fully aware of its grant assurance obligations to avoid unjust discrimination," he told the Almanac in an email. "We have designed the landing fee ordinance to distinguish among users based upon their impact to the airport and its facilities.
"Airports routinely distinguish between and among different classes of users (e.g., general aviation, airlines, flight training, sky diving, etc.) and impose different rules on different classes of users based upon how each user group uses the airport. We are focusing our attention on one class of airport user and, as the staff memo has explained in great detail, we are comfortable that the distinctions are neither unjust nor inappropriate."
Surf Air began using the San Carlos Airport for scheduled flights in June 2013. Soon after, complaints started pouring in to the airport about noise from Surf Air planes. The airline offers customers unlimited flights for a monthly fee and has had as many as 45 scheduled flights a day to or from the airport.
Because Surf Air's Pilatus PC-12s carry fewer than nine passengers, under FAA regulations the company may operate out of the San Carlos Airport even though it is a general aviation, not a commercial, airport. The facilty is considered a "reliever airport," keeping small planes out of busy regional airports such as San Jose, San Francisco International and Oakland.
The county's new fees are similar to those charged at other general aviation airports in the Bay Area. The Palo Alto airport charges $73.50 landing and $7 overnight parking fees, and Reid-Hillview in San Jose charges $74 landing and $7 overnight parking fees.
An automated aircraft monitoring system provided by Vector Airport Systems, approved by the supervisors in June, makes it easier to keep track of the landings. The $313,695 contract includes providing real-time flight tracking that has been integrated into the airport’s noise-complaint system and automatically photographing the tail numbers of aircraft using the airport.