Seattle airport close to reaching new lease agreement with airlines

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Story updated 20 August to include comments from Alaska Airlines in paragraph 11.

The Seattle-Tacoma International airport expects to reach an agreement on new airport leases with airlines in the next several weeks, a development that could roll back rate increases that airlines have said could cost them millions of dollars.

"We are in the middle of negotiations right now," the airport tells Flightglobal, adding that it expects to reach an agreement soon with airlines and to present the agreement to the Port of Seattle Commission on 10 September.

The commission would then vote on whether to accept the agreement, the airport says.

The airport's last lease agreements, which included a variety of services at a single price, started in 2006 and expired at the end of last year, leading the airport to institute interim, "placeholder" fees for landings and other airport services, the airport says.

Those new fees were retroactively effective on 1 January.

Though the fees are more expensive than the earlier lease agreements, they "encourage" the airlines and the airport to negotiate new leases that are acceptable to both parties, the airport says.

The higher fees would cost Seattle-based Alaska Airlines an extra $23 million in 2013, Alaska's vice president of planning and revenue management Andrew Harrison said during a 11 July investor update call.

Alaska has a hub in Seattle and operated 89,040 flights from the city in 2012, according to Flightglobal's data provider Capstats.

On July 26, Alaska's chief executive Bradley Tilden said Alaska and other airlines had reached agreement with the airport on elements of new leases.

The new terms, though not finalised at the time, would have reduced Alaska's costs below the imposed new rates, Tilden said.

Alaska tells Flightglobal on 19 August that it has a good relationship with the Port of Seattle, which operates the airport.

"We communicate regularly and both sides are working hard to get to a lease that meets the objections of the airlines and the port," Alaska says in an email. "Long-term airport lease agreements take time due to their inherent complexity and the number of parties involved."

The Seattle-Tacoma airport says all the money collected from airlines goes into operating the airport, and that airlines will receive a refund - or a future discount - if annual costs surpass the airport's operating expenses.