Airports push lawmakers to raise passenger fees

Airport executives on Tuesday urged lawmakers to raise fees on air travelers to fund new infrastructure projects during a hearing before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

At issue is the passenger facility charge (PFC), a fee on airline passengers intended to fund airport infrastructure. The program allows for fees up to $4.50 for each passenger, but that cap has not been raised in almost 20 years. Many of those who testified floated nearly doubling the fee to $8.50.

ADVERTISEMENT

Lawrence J. Krauter, the chief executive officer of Spokane International Airport, explained that the cap on the PFC is a major source of frustration for airports looking to fund new projects.

“The PFC cap forces us to finance projects over a longer period of time, meaning that we pay as much in interest as the project itself,” Krauter told lawmakers. “Modest increases in the PFC cap would substantially shorten our financing period and bring down our financing costs significantly.”

The hearing comes as lawmakers and the Trump administration look for common ground on how to fund improvements for the nation's infrastructure.

Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioCongress: Pass legislation that invests in America's water future Not-So-Fat Cats: Over 25 million lower income workers will be paying the Wall Street Tax Airports push lawmakers to raise passenger fees MORE (D-Ore.) said passengers around the country relied on airport facilities that have not kept up with the times.

The nation's air terminals, "many of which were constructed in the 1960s and 70s and even 80s are outdated," he said.

“They can’t accommodate the current and projected passenger growth," he added. "They do not have the space needed to accommodate current airline departures and arrivals, let alone welcoming new service. This in turn affects the price all Americans pay for airline tickets as well as local businesses and economies around the country.”

But raising the passenger fees is a controversial proposal for airlines, who worry the increases will cut into passengers.

“Air travelers are already doing their part, paying billions in airport taxes each year. There are real and significant infrastructure needs in this country," Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president for policy at the industry group Airlines for America, said in a statement Monday. "Those should be the committee’s focus, rather than taking even more money out of the pockets of passengers."

Ted Christie, the CEO and president of Spirit Airlines, a low-cost airline, told lawmakers at the hearing that raising the fee would hit "ordinary consumers the hardest."

Christie told lawmakers he backed improving airport infrastructure, but dismissed claims that airports are in financial trouble or that raising fees on passengers was the best way to fund new infrastructure projects.

DeFazio seemed skeptical that hiking the fee would keep Americans from flying. He noted that airlines have increased fees on passenger services themselves.

“When we were doing the FAA bill last fall, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Jet Blue and United all increased their bag fees by $5, but I didn't see that their passenger boardings fell off phenomenally,” the chairman said.

The top Republican on the panel, Rep. Sam GravesSamuel (Sam) Bruce GravesAirports push lawmakers to raise passenger fees House fails to override Trump veto on border wall FAA comes under new scrutiny over Boeing decision MORE (R-Mo.) said he wanted the committee to hear from "a greater diversity of perspectives," including other types of air carriers.

"In terms of an infrastructure package, all funding options are on the table," Graves said in his opening remarks. "But I am skeptical of any proposal that adds to the traveling public’s burden, fails to fully consider the views of local communities and passengers, and lacks a full range of financing options, including private capital."

Airport executives, though, pressed lawmakers to address passenger fees.

Joe Lopano, chief executive officer of Tampa International Airport, said raising the fees was long overdue.

“We don’t come here because we think it's fun, we do actually need the money,” he said.

Updated at 4:39 p.m.