US airports will launch another massive campaign - the second this year - to garner support for a $1 increase in the passenger facility charge (PFC).

Smarting from the recent defeat of the PFC increase by an 11-8 vote in the Senate aviation subcommittee, directors of the Airports Council International (ACI) gave the go-ahead for the new campaign at their convention in Orlando in October. But some wonder whether the investment and the compromises needed to make a PFC increase palatable will make a second campaign worthwhile.

The $3 PFC raises $3 billion a year, and a $1 increase would bring in only another $400 million. The money is collected by the airlines and added to the ticket price. US Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Jane Garvey suggests it is possible to "-reach some common ground" with Congress over the issue and adds that the airlines may be more willing to support an increase if other financial issues are included.

The ACI, which claims as much as $10 billion a year will be needed over the next five years for airport capital improvement programmes, views the PFC as critical to raising those funds. But its calls for more money have won little congressional support.

Jefferey Goodell, ACI vice-president of government affairs, says this campaign differs from one earlier this year in that it aims to win public support as well as that of local election officials, A political action committee will also be formed. Goodell says that many airlines have opposed the PFC increase because they have no say in how it will be spent.

"Where we failed before was in the lack of implementation," says Jeffrey Fegan, executive director at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. He emphasises the importance of overcoming the perception of PFCs as just another tax, rather than a user fee, a concept that the ACI believes has hindered lobbying efforts.

Detailed action plans for airport directors to seek support from local elected officials and associate members will be in place by year end. "We must build a coalition that includes the entire airport community as well as those that do business with and otherwise benefit from airports," states an ACI report,

But some analysts believe the focus on PFCs is misguided. Frank Chin of Salomon Smith Barney points out that the majority of financing in recent years has come from airport revenue bonds, which will reach a record $8.1 billion in 1998. He says PFC revenue bonds account for only 3.5% of all airport financing and that standalone PFCs "-will not be significant in future funding".

Meanwhile, Dave Bennett, director of airport safety and standards for the FAA, says studies are under way to see what is needed to enable US airports to handle very large jets from as early as 2004. Only some 10 airports in the world - including three or four in the USA - could handle such jets now, he says.

Source: Airline Business