OCEAN CITY — Ocean City officials this week approved increases in the parking fee structure for planes at the municipal airport in an attempt to make the chronic “loss leader” closer to profitable.
During budget deliberations last April, the Mayor and Council expressed interest in changes to the various fees charged at the Ocean City Municipal Airport they believed were too modest considering the facility operates as a paper loss. The idea was the airport could be charging more for some services and fees because of its proximity to the resort destination. Fuel pricing and hangar rental rates were discussed at budget time, but a third component, the cost of parking an aircraft at the airport for any length of time was left alone until further study could be completed.
On Tuesday, Airport Manager Jamie Giandomenico came back before the Mayor and Council to present a graduated park fee increase for aircraft at the airport based on length of stay and size and type of aircraft.
“During budget hearings, we were exploring ways to maximize the revenue at the airport,” he said. “As we attract and see larger aircraft, there is room for increases in our graduated fee schedule for parking planes at the airport.”
Currently, the parking fee structure at the airport considers all aircraft the same regardless of type and size. One-day parking for day trippers is $6, while overnight parking is $12. Weekly parking at the airport is currently $30, while the monthly rate is $50, the six-month rate is $200 and the yearly rate, which is rare, comes in at $400.
Under the proposed rate changes, aircraft parking at the airport for any duration would fall into one of three types — single-engine, which is the most common; multi-engine turbine jets; and large turbojets — and the fees would be increased in kind. For example, the day parking rate for a single-engine plane would go from $6 to $10, the overnight rate would go from $12 to $15, the weekly rate would go from $30 to $50 and the monthly rate would go from $50 to $150.
Giandomenico explained the rates in certain categories would increase by 10, 20, 50 or even 150 percent in some categories and the increases would net an additional $9,000 annually from the airport. He explained the rate schedule was determined after checking with similar-sized airports in the region.
“After comparing some of the other destination airports, we realized the unique nature of our summer popularity,” he said. “The fees would be considerably higher, but they are appropriate for our destination. Ocean City isn’t a regular municipal destination.”
Regardless of the changes, Giandomenico said the parking revenue was rather small compared to the fuel revenue and the hangar rental revenue.
“We want people to come in and we’ll make money selling them fuel,” he said. “If a family flies in to go to the beach for the day, we can charge them $20 to park, but we’d rather sell them $40 in fuel.”
Councilmember Mary Knight said for the anticipated $9,000 in increased revenue, she would almost rather see no changes or eliminate the parking fees altogether in the interest of public perception.
“I would almost rather just throw away the parking fees,” she said. “For the $9,000, the goodwill we got back would have greater value. I would almost offer it for free.”
However, Councilman Wayne Hartman said those who fly into Ocean City on private planes have an expectation to pay for services, including parking.
“Most of them are coming to Ocean City to spend money,” he said. “If you have a plane, you’re probably in a position to have more disposable income. There’s a big cost associated with that.”
Hartman said it was his understanding there was a waiting list for hangar space at the airport and questioned if the simple supply and demand concept was being adhered to.
“Usually, a long waiting list and no vacancy signs are a sign of increased demand,” he said. “My intent is to make the airport revenue-neutral and take it off the backs of the taxpayers. It’s a great amenity out there, but it has to be self-sustaining.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca said he thought the parking fee increases were appropriate given the airport’s indirect value to the resort despite taking a loss annually.
“I think it’s spot on,” he said. “I still believe the airport is our loss leader, but it’s an asset for the town. Look at what it does in terms of hotels, restaurants and stores, etc.”
Councilman Dennis Dare agreed the airport’s intrinsic value to the resort justified the parking fee hikes.
“The fees would be higher than some other airports within 100 miles, but this is a resort,” he said. “They don’t sleep in the Piper Cub when they land out there. They come into town and stay in hotels and eat out.”
Mayor and Acting City Manager Rick Meehan agreed, saying, “Our goal is to have the airport closer to self-sustaining and revenue neutral. It is a loss leader, but this is a move in the right direction.”