The Senate Transportation Committee is wading into the fight over the amount of money airline passengers are charged to help pay for airport improvements.
Airports are pushing Congress to nearly double the current cap on the fee, which is known as the Passenger Facility Charge, to pay for construction projects at airports across the country. Airports are currently prohibited by federal law from charging passengers more than $4.50 per ticket for facility improvements, but advocates are pushing to increase the cap to $8.50 in a Federal Aviation Administration funding bill later this year.
Airlines have countered that the $4.50 cap should remain in place because passengers are already charged enough fees when they purchase flight tickets.
The subject is likely to come to a head at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation's Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security on Thursday.
The panel is scheduled to hear testimony from representatives of Airlines for America, the American Association of Airport Executives and American Airlines.
Officials with the panel said the hearing “will examine the funding of airport capital needs through the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), Passenger Facility Charge (PFC), tax-exempt bonds, and state and local grants, among other sources.
“The hearing will also examine the Federal Contract Tower program, small community air service issues, aircraft noise, and the Airport Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program,” the panel said.
Airport groups are pushing lawmakers to include the PFC increase in the reauthorization of the FAA funding bill that is scheduled to come up for renewal in September.
They are facing strong pushback from the airline industry, which argues that an airport fee increase would amount to a tax hike on passengers.
Supporters and opponents of the proposed airport fee hike have begun jockeying to gain an advantage in advance of the hearing.
“With business travelers already paying $44.20 in taxes and fees on top of their airfare, it’s time for the airports to stop looking to business travelers to fill their already deep coffers,” Global Business Travel Association Executive Director Michael McCormick said in a statement.
“The Global Business Travel Association Executive Director calls on the Aviation Operations, Safety and Security subcommittee to oppose raising the Passenger Facility Charge from $4.50 to $8, which, when combined with other proposed tax and fee increases, would raise the amount paid for each ticket to nearly $60,” the statement continued.
Airports argue that an increase is long overdue since the fee has not been raised in 15 years.
“The PFC is the funding mechanism set by local airports to pay for improvements like new runways and expanded terminals at airports of all sizes all around the country,” the American Association of Airport Executives said in a statement last month.
“The outdated federal cap on the local PFC — last adjusted in 2000 — hampers airports' ability to plan for future growth and artificially limits airline competition.”
— This story was updated at 10:37 p.m.