Thursday, May 15, 2003

Antitrust news: jet fuel

Antitrust law isn't just for airlines. Airports can now join in on the fun as well:

Development of the last 15 acres at Boca Raton Airport continues to taxi, its takeoff hampered by years of litigation, political snafus - and now charges of antitrust violations.

It's the latest strike in the air assault between Premier Aviation of Boca Raton, which in 2000 signed a 35-year lease with the Boca Raton Airport Authority to develop a fixed-base operator, and Boca Aviation, currently the only FBO at the airport.

On April 23, Premier lawyer Gerald Richman filed two antitrust lawsuits against Boca Aviation in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Premier Aviation, the plaintiff for one of the complaints, claims Boca Aviation "currently enjoys and is illegally seeking to protect a longstanding and unbridled monopoly over the sale of jet fuel, aviation gas and related aviation services at Boca Raton Airport, and has instituted sham litigation to maintain its practices."

In the second complaint, the plaintiffs are David S. Blue and S. Brent Blue, who claim that Boca Aviation "has enjoyed inflated profits that result directly from being the sole fixed-base operator at the airport since 1984."

Richman said he is seeking a class status and plans to file a motion for certification within 90 days. He deferred a request for further detail about the plaintiffs or their business to an associate who was not available.

"An anticompetitive environment is against public policy," said Richman, a partner in the West Palm Beach-based law firm Richman Greer Weil Brumbaugh Mirabito & Christensen. "Boca Aviation wants to maintain its monopoly. Period."

Mark Wantshouse, president of Boca Aviation, views the lawsuits as a gambit to sway public opinion. In 30 percent to 40 percent of U.S. airports, there is only one fixed-base operator, he said. "These are frivolous lawsuits only made as defamations of Boca Aviation for public relations reasons," he said.

If his company has been practicing monopolistic pricing, Wantshouse reasoned, then pilots and other airport users would have repeatedly logged complaints with airport manager Ken Day. But Day has never contacted Boca Aviation about such complaints, Wantshouse said.

I particularly love the statement "[a]n anticompetitive environment is against public policy." Lots of monopolies exist under public policy: the Postal Service, Amtrak, and, well, government-run airports.

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