As Kansas City nears a decision on building a new airport terminal, Congress is quietly considering a fee increase that could dramatically change the equation on the project and dozens like it.
Kansas Citians who use the airport should watch the coming debate closely. It could mean higher costs to fly but a better flying experience, not only here but at every airport in the nation.
It’s called the passenger facility charge, or PFC. At most commercial airports, including Kansas City International, airlines collect a fee, usually $4.50, from every passenger who boards a flight, even connecting passengers.
The airlines give that money to the airports, which use the cash for upgrades, maintenance and, yes, new facilities.
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Airport operators have been clamoring for years for an increase in the PFC. And in July, a Senate committee responded by recommending a $4 increase in the fee, to a maximum of $8.50.
Passenger groups howled. Because of the way the PFC is structured, travelers could pay an additional $16 in fees on a round-trip, one-stop-each-way flight. That’s real money for some leisure travelers.
Airlines whined. They’d much rather raise ticket prices by $16 and pocket the money, not spend it on airport restrooms.
And many of the usual small-government, anti-tax groups claimed the fee is really a tax, which it isn’t.
But the advantages of the fee are obvious, particularly so in Kansas City. An $8.50 PFC might provide an extra $22 million annually for maintenance, operations and paying the cost of a new facility. Borrowing might be paid off more quickly, or extra funds could be spent on terminal upgrades.
Other airports would also benefit from a higher PFC. Baggage handling might improve, or ticket lines might shorten, or aging terminals might get a facelift.
The PFC hasn’t increased in 17 years. A reasonable increase is justified, and Congress should adopt it.
We also think the argument over a higher PFC makes an important, broader point.
It is no secret that parts of the nation’s infrastructure are crumbling. Streets, bridges, highways, waterways, dams, the electric grid all badly need upgrades and repairs.
Someone will have to pay the cost of those improvements. While taxpayers are part of the equation, users of infrastructure must bear part of the burden, too.
Passenger facility charges are user fees, pure and simple. It’s the best way to pay for an airport many Kansas Citians will never use.
If the people who fly want more convenience, they should be willing to pay for it.