Airports are pushing for an increase in ticket fees that help pay for improvements, while airlines vehemently oppose the hike.
The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved legislation that included an increase in the maximum passenger facility charge, or PFC, from $4.50 to $8.50. For a nonstop, roundtrip flight from Atlanta that would typically mean an increase from $9 to $17.
The proposal is likely to be contentious if it advances through Congress. A House version of the bill did not include an increase in the PFC.
Airports for years have pushed for an increase, saying they need the money for improvements. An earlier attempt to raise the maximum on a flight segment to $7 made it into a House bill but did not survive in the final version passed in 2012.
Now, the airport lobby has gained fresh energy with the surprise inclusion of the increase in a transportation and housing appropriations bill passed by the Senate committee.
“Improving terminals to accommodate more gates, bigger seating areas, and modern security checkpoints will result in shorter lines, lower airfare and a better passenger experience,” according to Washington-based airport lobbying group Airports Council International-North America.
Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson supports the measure, said spokesman Reese McCranie. “The sole purpose for PFCs is to improve the passenger experience at airports and prepare the airport for future growth,” he said.
Delta Air Lines and other carriers are against an increase.
Atlanta-based Delta issued a statement last week saying “hard-working Americans should not have to abide another tax increase on their plane tickets.”
Airline lobbying group Airlines for America, which represents other major carriers, also released a statement saying the boost would translate to a “tax hike on American travelers (that) simply cannot be justified.”
The PFC was authorized in 1990 by Congress. Hartsfield-Jackson charges the maximum $4.50, as do most big U.S. airports. Nationally, total PFC collections totaled about $3.2 billion in 2016.
PFCs are levied for each flight segment, so people making connections pay more. The current cap is $18 per round trip. That would rise to $26 under a new formula in the legislation.
Money from PFCs is used for expansions and projects that improve safety or security, reduce noise or increase airline competition. In Atlanta, the PFCs contributed about $300 million for the $1.28 billion fifth runway and helped pay for the international terminal.
Airports Council International said airports need nearly $100 billion in new infrastructure between 2017 and 2021. The group says the cap on PFCs has remained at $4.50 since 2000, while the levy’s purchasing power has declined to the equivalent of $2.42 today.
The group applauded the Senate appropriations committee vote, calling it a “bipartisan effort to modernize America’s aging airport infrastructure.”
President Donald Trump as a candidate decried America’s “third world” airports. But during a meeting with airline and airport CEOs in February, he said: “I don’t like raising fees or taxes … The last thing we have to do is raise the fee. I understand what you’re saying, but $4.50 — it’s a lot when you look at all of the passengers.”