U.S. allows airport fees for flight traffic, times

BUSINESS DIGEST

January 15, 2008|By Cox News Service

NEW YORK -- Aiming to ease worsening air travel delays, the government yesterday began allowing airports to charge airlines landing fees based on traffic volume and the time flights land.

But the airline industry and some analysts said the new policy would do little except raise passenger ticket prices.

Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said at a Manhattan news conference that the new policy would encourage airlines to spread their flight schedules more evenly throughout the day.

Previously, airports charged landing fees based only on a plane's weight.

"This change would allow airports to handle flights more efficiently, give passengers fewer delays and help all of us avoid the need for government intervention," Peters said.

But Michael Boyd, president of the Boyd Group aviation consulting firm, called the government's move "really bad public policy."

"Comparing it to aviation reality, it's just short of crackpot. Airlines schedule airplanes when people need to get from A to B," Boyd said. "It will simply raise costs for customers who simply want to fly at the times they want to fly."

Chris Kelly, spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, called the policy "congestion pricing in sheep's clothing."

"The Transportation Department is still suggesting a tax which would result in increased ticket prices," she said.

The Air Transport Association, an industry group for the largest airlines, added to that chorus, saying the government should look beyond landing fees. The policy "does nothing to fix the primary cause of delays - our nation's increasingly antiquated air traffic control system," ATA President James C. May said.

Peters said the change also would allow airports to use the fees to help finance expansion projects, leading to more facilities to handle air traffic.

The policy drew praise from Airports Council International-North America, which represents airport owners.

"Airport proprietors are in the best position to manage the use of the facilities they planned, financed, built and currently operate," said Greg Principato, the group's president.

The new policy, which still requires a 45-day public comment period, is the latest Bush administration move seeking to unsnarl the nation's crowded skies. Last month, airlines and the government agreed to cut the number of flights in and out of New York-area airports during the busiest hours. Much of the nation's congested air traffic can be traced back to the region's three airports.

The new policy will also allow airport operators that run multiple locations to distribute the landing fees among their various facilities, Peters said.

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