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"U.S. fliers may pay $4 more per flight to fix ‘third world’ American airports"


 
Monday, July 31, 2017

U.S. fliers may pay $4 more per flight to fix ‘third world’ American airports
By Tony Bizjak
The Sacramento (CA) Bee


U.S. airlines and the nation’s airports are locked in battle this summer over a 
proposed $4 fee increase airports want to impose on fliers.

Airports are asking Congress to let them increase the “passenger facility 
charge” that fliers pay when they purchase a ticket. Airport representatives 
say it’s needed to improve aging and outmoded aviation facilities, such as New 
York’s LaGuardia, the airport that President Donald Trump famously called 
“third world” last year.

Airlines, though, are lobbying hard against the proposal, characterizing it as 
a “massive tax hike, crafted in secret.”

“Choosing to increase this tax is a completely unnecessary poke in the eye and 
wallet of air travelers,” the Airlines for America group said in a press 
statement opposing the bill. That group represents Southwest, United, American 
and JetBlue, among others.

Under federal rules, airports are allowed to charge fliers a facility-use fee 
of up to $4.50 per flight. Airports want Congress to increase that maximum or 
cap to $8.50 per ticket. Airports Council International-North America, which 
represents major airports, says the increase will help fill a $100 billion gap 
for needed airport improvements.

“Improving terminals to accommodate more gates, bigger seating areas and modern 
security checkpoints will result in shorter lines, lower airfares and a better 
passenger experience,” the group said in a press statement last week.

It also took a shot at the airlines, suggesting they are the ones gouging 
fliers with add-on fees for checked baggage and other services. “Let’s look at 
the skyrocketing amount of revenue that airlines continue to generate from 
ancillary fees,” the airports group wrote.

Several traveler activists oppose the increase, saying passengers would 
shoulder more of the burden for fixing airports without having a strong enough 
voice in the process.

“It’s a very big increase,” said Paul Hudson, president of flyersrights.org. 
“It will increase the cost for air travel ... and (fliers) have no say in how 
the money is spent.”
Sacramento International Airport’s chief executive John Wheat is among airport 
executives who say new funds are needed to upgrade the nation’s airports. 

Sacramento, the airport serving California’s capital region, stretched itself 
thin a decade ago during an industry recession to finance a $1 billion 
expansion, including a new terminal. At the time, airport executives had 
fingers crossed Congress would agree to raise the passenger fee to at least $6. 
When that didn’t happen, the airport had to cut its expansion budget, 
eliminating a parking garage and a hotel atop the new terminal. 

Wheat estimates the proposed cap increase would mean nearly $19 million more 
annually the airport could use to pay off some debt and to finance airfield 
improvements, including a runway redo. He said that would be good for the 
airlines serving Sacramento as well as passengers.

The passenger facility charge has existed nationally since 1990. Airports 
individually decide how much they will charge, up to the current $4.50 cap. 
That cap has not increased since 2000, airports said.

The current proposal is part of a larger transportation funding package in the 
Senate. It passed the Senate appropriation subcommittee on Transportation, 
Housing and Urban Development last week. A separate transportation spending 
proposal in the House of Representatives, notably, does not include an increase 
in the passenger facility charge. 

The facility fee is one of several sources of revenue that airports tap for 
airfield improvements. Other sources include federal grants, fees and rents 
that airlines must pay each airport, as well as fees and rents paid by car 
rental companies and airport concessionaires. Airports also get revenue from 
parking.

If Congress were to increase the facility charge cap, each airport would decide 
whether to raise its passenger fee and by how much. Sacramento airport 
executive Wheat said it is uncertain how far beyond $4.50 he would seek to go.
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