Council Oks Shift To Self-Serve Fuel At Airport

Skeptics argue corporate jet pilots will avoid the pump

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Even the darn airport’s going self-service.

Money. Money. Money.

The Payson Council last week approved a plan to shift to a self-service gas business at the Payson Airport after rejecting on a technicality a bid by the company that’s provided gas to planes there for the past decade.

The council authorized the town staff to negotiate with David and Margie Oldenkamp to install a credit-card based, self-serve pump at the airport, which Oldenkamp predicted would triple the fuel business at the airport.

The council didn’t consider the competing bid from Payson Aviation, which has provided full-service fueling for the past decade. Payson Aviation has a gas truck stationed at the airport during the day, with attendants who fuel up arriving planes.

However, Public Works Director LaRon Garrett said the Payson Aviation bid was not “responsive” to the requirements because the operator didn’t fill in the line that said how much money it would pay the town for the lease. Currently, Payson Aviation pays about $2,500 annually to the town, Garrett said after the meeting. Instead of filling in a number, Payson Aviation wrote “TBD” — for “to be determined.”

The Oldenkamps offered to pay $5,000 for the lease, but said they weren’t in it for the money.

Margie Oldencamp told the council she will invest $200,000 to install and fill a self-service fueling station, which pilots can use around the clock. She said she wants to offer the cheapest gas in the region, which she said will dramatically increase fuel sales and perhaps even airport traffic. Pilots can check gas prices and availability at any airport in the country online and will often fly out of their way to get the cheapest possible fuel, she said.

“If and when we start selling fuel, we’ll reduce prices to St Johns’ (airport) — that’s the benchmark in this region,” said Oldencamp.

Currently, the full-service gas prices at Payson are 40 cents higher than Sedona, 30 cents higher than Winslow, 5 cents higher than Flagstaff and 35 cents higher than Prescott, she said.

If the self-serve operation allows a big price cut, pilots “will come in for lunch and buy fuel. Pilots are cheaper than just about anyone and they’ll go 60 miles out of their way to get the cheapest gas,” said Oldenkamp.

But the plan had its skeptics. Some objected that professional pilots of corporate jets might avoid Payson if it eliminated the full-service option.

That disagreement was reflected in the split, 4-2 vote by the Airport Advisory Commission on the fuel contract issue. Although Payson has always owned the airport, for many years the town turned the facility over to an independent board made up mostly of local pilots. However, the council last year resumed full control of the airport after a series of sometimes-contentious hearings. The independent airport board asked the town to resume management because it anticipated problems getting the money necessary to expand operations. The airport’s master plan calls for a terminal, more hangers and a new restaurant and twice as many takeoffs and landings. Expanding the airport is also considered important for some of the town’s other plans, including developing a light-industrial area on recently annexed land around the airport and attracting a university and various spinoff businesses.

Robert Henley urged the council to offer both self-service and full-service options. “Every airport that I called indicated that self-service volume was a very small part of their business. The corporate jet pilots don’t want to pump their own fuel.”

Henley said other airports compete for that business by providing free food and airport lounges for the pilots.

Mayor Kenny Evans injected, half-joking, “so they not only want us to fuel their plane, they want us to rub their feet.”

But Henley persisted: “If you expect the university to happen, consider full service as an option.”

However, pilot Marty Lamb urged the council to make the shift to self-service. “The airport is a lot more important to Payson than a lot of people realize. I don’t see any downside. Pilots are the cheapest guys in the world. And if he fuels up here and saves $50, he can run over to the casino for lunch and spend it.”

Garrett cautioned the council that if it rejected Oldenkamp’s bid, the existing contract would run out on Nov. 30 and the airport wouldn’t have any fuel at all. Even if the council approved the bid, Oldenkamp might not get the new facilities installed before the current contract expired. In response to council questions, he also noted the contract didn’t give Oldenkamp the exclusive right to sell fuel at the airport. The council could always add a full-service component later.

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