Landing-fee plan targets congestion

 - February 8, 2008, 4:35 AM

The Bush Administration announced a new national policy last month that would encourage congested airports to vary landing fees based on the time of day and the volume of traffic. As a result, airports would be able to spread traffic more evenly throughout the day, the Transportation Department said.

DOT Secretary Mary Peters said that the new policy also would allow airport operators that oversee multiple airports, such as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to funnel landing-fee revenue among any of their facilities.

But the Air Transport Association (ATA), which represents the nation’s airlines, said the proposal was nothing more than congestion pricing and fails to address what it called the primary cause of delays: the “increasingly antiquated air traffic control system.”

ATA president and CEO James May said the additional fees “will only increase the cost of flying for the consumer. We believe that would be most unfortunate and we will be considering our options.”

Peters claimed that the new policy would encourage congested airports in New York and across the country to move away from charging landing fees based on the airplane’s weight.

As a result, she said, airports would be able to spread traffic more evenly throughout the day– allowing them to serve more passengers, while reducing delays. The proposed policy change will be open to public comment until March 3 before it is finalized.

The changes to the FAA’s “Policy Regarding the Establishment of Airport Rates and Charges” would also allow airport operators to include in the new landing fees the cost of projects designed to expand capacity. Currently, airports can include those costs only after the projects have been completed.

The policy allows airport operators to establish a two-part landing-fee structure consisting of both an operation charge and a weight-based charge in lieu of the standard weight-based charge. Such a fee would serve as an incentive for airlines to use larger aircraft and increase the number of passengers served with the same or fewer operations, according to the DOT.

Under the amended policy, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would be allowed to take landing fees collected at La Guardia, Newark or JFK to make improvements to Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, N.Y. As a result, more travelers might soon be able to take advantage of under-used airports.