The small Heber Valley Airport attracts the most complaints of any airfield in the nation about fuel prices, service and fees, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. And it says Heber City just took action that could help cement the poor performance review perpetually.
The pilots association complains that the City Council just reversed earlier moves that had aimed to allow more competition that could have dropped prices and improved service. The about-face came after lawsuits and complaints were filed against the city by OK3 AIR — which currently is the only company that has a lease to provide services there.
Pilots complain the city not only dropped new rules and reverted to old policies that would make any new competition difficult — such as requiring new companies to lease nearly 350,000 square feet instead of just 25,000 — but also passed a resolution earlier this month that prohibits any new commercial development until an airport master plan is updated.
“It is not appropriate for a master plan development to serve as an excuse or mask for allowing an unlawful exclusive right enjoyed by a monopoly … to continue,” wrote Ken Mead, general counsel of the pilots association.
The pilots’ association argues that federal rules do not allow grant-receiving airports to have, as a matter of convenience, only one fixed-based operation to provide services.
“Yet that is precisely what is occurring here,” Mead wrote. “The airport, out of a desire to ward off or soften the impact of lawsuits, is choosing as a matter of convenience to permit a single FBO [fixed-base operator] to perpetuate its monopoly position and prices.”
Heber City Manager Matthew Brower — who was sent the letter from the national pilots’ group — did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After complaints about prices and service at the airport, the city in 2017 had revised minimum performance standards to seek more competition — and made provisions for a stand-alone, self-service facility. It also issued a request for proposals for a second fixed-base operator. But the city has now rescinded those actions.
Federal court documents show that OK3 AIR argues its lease does not allow the city to make the performance standards changes without permission from that company — and also argued the changes would decrease safety at the airport, and would have financially damaged the company.
In court filings this month, OK3 AIR’s attorneys wrote, “While the City’s rescission was a step in the right direction, OK3 AIR’s dispute with the city regarding the meaning and interpretation” of its lease continues and “will continue to have a material effect on the parties’ relationship and on OK3 AIR’s enterprise value until it is resolved” by the court.