US airlines continue their landing-fee battle with Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), but so far all they have made is a small dent in the increases, as new fees are imposed and the validity of the old ones is largely upheld by the Department of Transportation.

In late June, the airport increased landing fees 32 per cent, to $2.06 per 1,000 pounds of gross landing weight. Though considerably lower than other airports' charges, the hike comes just two years after LAX trebled its charges to $1.56 per 1,000 pounds.

Back then, US and non-US carriers - upset by higher costs in addition to the belief that Los Angeles would use ensuing revenue for non-airport, municipal purposes - took LAX to court to block the action.

The airport threatened to deny landing rights to any carrier that did not pay the increased fees. The subsequent DOT intervention ended this July with an administrative law judge ruling that the fee structure was mostly legal.

What was in question was LAX's valuation of the land. This resulted in a lessening of the 1993 fee to $1.31 and an estimated $20 million refund from the airport to the airlines. If an appeal by LAX against that decision fails, the new $2.06 fee, calculated on the same basis as the 1993 increase, will be lowered by roughly 8 per cent as well, LAX officials say.

The Air Transport Association trade group is disappointed with the decision, as it saw the dispute as a proving ground for its lobbying and legalistic acumen. Carriers are concerned about the repercussions of such a precedent - ATA sources say other airports have told them they will follow LAX's lead if successful.

Source: Airline Business