Airline ticket fee
takes off again

Legislators also advance a bill giving
airport concessions a break on their rent

By Bruce Dunford
Associated Press

Nearly all airline passengers leaving Hawaii would pay an additional charge of at least $3 each, under administration bills being advanced by the House and Senate transportation committees.

The House committee also approved a bill yesterday allowing the state Department of Transportation to resume giving airport concessionaires a break in their rents, due to the downturn in business resulting from increased security and the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Hawaii could get up to $15 million annually for state airport improvement projects under the bill to tack between $3 and $4.50 onto the airline tickets of most departing airline passengers.

It is money the state could have been collecting since 1990 but ignored because until 2001 it would have driven up prices on interisland tickets. Hawaii's congressional delegation obtained an exemption for the interisland flights.

"Most all nations have this. Japan has it; they charge up to 10 percent of the fare," said House Transportation Chairman Joe Souki (D, Waihee-Wailuku). "We're one of the last of the states, I think, to have something like this.

"We're not making the kind of money we need to get from the (airport) concessions, so we need to get it from some other areas," he said. "Tourists, they're our salvation."

Although the $3-to-$4.50 "passenger facility charge" would be added to the cost of a ticket to the mainland or overseas, Rep. David Pendleton (R, Maunawili-Kaneohe) insisted it is not really a tax increase, which his party has steadfastly opposed.

"It's a user fee that you and I pay when we fly through other airports. It's part of the ticket," he said. "People don't say, 'I want to fly to Hawaii or fly from Hawaii because they don't have that $3 cost,' so all it is is a revenue loss."

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano's administration submitted a bill last year to impose a $4.50 passenger facilities fee, but it was included in a bill Cayetano vetoed because it also gave rent relief to airport concessionaires.

This year's bill to remove the April 30, 2002, termination date in the airport concession rent relief legislation passed in the 2001 special session won approval by the House Transportation Committee, despite strong dissent from representatives of the airlines serving Hawaii.

Stephanie Ackerman, an Aloha Airlines official representing the Airlines Committee of Hawaii, said any rent breaks given to the concessionaires, such as DFS Galleria, will shift more of the burden of financing the state's airports system to the airlines, which are struggling for survival and cannot afford higher landing fees.

Ackerman questioned why the state should give rent breaks to DFS when the company's Paris-based parent reports a market capitalization of $20 billion with worldwide sales worth $12.5 billion.

Sharon Weiner, representing DFS, disputed Ackerman's contention that the company's parent firm should support the Hawaii operations during the slowdown.

Like any corporation, a subsidiary that does not make money either ceases to operate or goes into bankruptcy, she said. "That's just how corporate America works."

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