Key House Democrat Floats 89% Boost in Airport Fee to Fund Fixes
- Fight joined over raising current $4.50 per-segment charge
- Airports group says $128 billion needed to upgrade facilities
The top aviation authorizer in the House would like to raise the cap on airport upgrade fees to $8.50 to help address a potential $128 billion backlog in infrastructure needs.
Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee, wants to include the fee cap increase in infrastructure legislation his party is putting together in the House, he told reporters during an Airports Council International event.
Airports have long sought a boost in Passenger Facility Charges, the per-segment ticket fees used to improve airports. The cap was set at $4.50 in 2001. The trade group Airlines for America opposes lifting it to $8.50, an almost 89 percent increase, saying the industry “is already overburdened” with taxes and fees.
“This decades-old fight about the PFC must come to an end,” Larsen said.
What Are the Odds?
“We’re going to try any mechanism possible to get this done,” said Kevin M. Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International-North America. “We have a short window” because of the 2020 election campaigns, he said.
The airports group report, based on feedback from its small, medium, and large members, estimates that over the next five years new infrastructure needs will total $128.1 billion, not to mention managing an existing debt burden of $91.6 billion from past projects.
Many airports can no longer raise money from bonds against their passenger facility charge income because they are tapped out, Burke said. That means airports turn to alternative financing that’s generally more expensive and delays construction, he said.
The Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority has experienced a 67 percent increase in passenger service in the last five years, its executive director, Lew Bleiweis, said. The authority estimates it needs to double the size of its terminal at a cost of $150 million to $200 million.
The aviation programs bill passed last fall didn’t include an increase in the Passenger Facility Charge. Then-Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) was a staunch supporter of the airlines and opposed increasing the user fee.
If the infrastructure bill stalls in the House or dies in the Senate, Burke said he will look to the appropriations process.
The fiscal 2018 transportation spending bill approved by a Senate panel included an increase of airline passenger facility charges of up to $8.50 from $4.50. It was dropped from the omnibus spending bill enacted last March.
“We know that it’s going to be tough,” Burke said. “This has never been an easy issue.”
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