September 12, 2011 6:14 PM
Imagine for a moment that all of the gas stations in your community were owned by one company, but then one day a competitor opened up and offered gas for less money. Would it be fair for that competitor to be the government using tax payer dollars to build the station?
That's basically the kind of issue that's taking off at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.
When private aircraft land in Chattanooga there was, up until last month, only one place to stop and fuel up or lease hangar space. It's called TAC Air, that's a subsidiary of Truman Arnold Companies. TAC Air operates airport-based stations called FBO's at a dozen airports around the country.
But a second FBO opened in August called Wilson Air Center that's got TAC Air fighting for it's business.
"It's subsidized by state grant money of $4.5-million that they received to build the facility and another $3-million in stimulus funds to complete their ramp and it gives them an unfair competitive advantage against us," TAC Air general manager Pam McAllister said.
The new FBO belongs to the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority, a government agency that contracts with Wilson Air to manage day-to-day operations.
But Airport Authority officials said the monopoly TAC Air enjoyed for years was turning pilots and business away because prices for hanger space and fuel was too high. They said the complaints from pilots kept stacking up to the point where they decided to build another FBO.
TAC Air's point is they can't compete with a taxpayer-subsidized operation. Both sides say the price for jet fuel has decreased significantly since Wilson Air Center began operations.
"Therefore they can price their services lower than we can so that's our concern, how do we make this level for all of us especially now that we're competing against our landlord, basically," McAllister said.
Airport officials declined an on-camera interview but Christina Siebold, director of marketing and communications for CMAA, sent the following statement:
"Because it appears that the issues raised by TAC Air will be resolved through the Federal Aviation Administration’s routine administrative proceeding, we will give that agency an opportunity to once again review the questions raised in this letter and issue their findings before we make any public statements. In the meantime, we will continue working with all of our airport partners to provide the highest level of service and competitive pricing for our customers."