February 27, 2024

Itineraries: Plan to Raise Fees for Air Travelers Sets Off Debate

If the higher fees are adopted, travelers may demand more scrutiny of how the government is spending the nearly $2 billion it already collects each year through these fees, and may ask whether the growing budget for screeners and X-ray scanners can be better managed.

Passengers currently pay a $2.50 security fee for each segment of a trip, up to a maximum of $10 for a round-trip ticket. In its deficit reduction plan released last week, the administration proposed raising the fee initially to $5 for a one-way trip and then increasing the fee by 50 cents a year from 2013 to 2017, ultimately adding up to a $15 security charge on a round-trip airline ticket.

About $15 billion of the additional revenue collected over a decade would go toward deficit reduction. But the administration said another reason for the increase was to raise to 75 percent the portion of aviation security paid for by airlines and their passengers, rather than less than half the budget as has been the case for years.

Dana Hyde, associate director for general government programs at the Office of Management and Budget, said that when Congress created the Transportation Security Administration in 2001, the intention was to recover the agency’s costs through the passenger security fee and a separate security tax paid by the airlines. The original fee has not risen since then even as security costs have grown. As a result, taxpayers have been forced to cover the difference.

With its proposal, the administration aims to shift that balance to a more user-financed system.

“This is increasing the cost to the user, but actually decreasing the cost to the taxpayer,” Ms. Hyde said.

But the airlines and other travel industry groups announced almost immediately that they planned to fight the proposed fee increase, as they have done successfully every time it has been suggested in recent years.

“No other mode of transportation bears the cost of security like the aviation industry and its passengers,” said Steve Lott, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, an airline trade group. “Security should be a federal function, and it should be funded as such.”

The airlines also oppose a provision in the administration’s proposal that would impose a new $100 per flight fee on commercial carriers and private planes, which would go to the Federal Aviation Administration for air traffic services.

That would increase the amount commercial airlines and general aviation operators already pay for air traffic control, but not address the fact that private planes contribute far less for arguably the same service of guiding an aircraft safely through the airspace.

If Congress passes either proposal, travelers are likely to end up paying the bill.

Given the financial struggles the airlines have experienced during the last decade, Mr. Lott said, any tax increase would have to be offset by service cuts or higher fares. He suggested that increased security fees might also result in a demand for more controls on spending.

“The amount of money that the industry and its passengers have paid to fund security has soared 50 percent since 2002,” Mr. Lott said. “Congress has a responsibility to scrutinize how the money is being spent.”

Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, a research group in Washington, has studied how aviation security is financed in other countries, and said he believed that shifting toward a system where users paid more was fair.

“It’s less bad for the aviation community and passengers to pay for these taxes than the general population,” he said, noting that Canada and, increasingly, countries in Europe follow this model.

Although he said he did not support using $15 billion in revenue from the security fee to reduce the deficit, as the administration has proposed, he expected that shifting the cost burden would have an important effect: creating a more vocal constituency to rein in what he described as “wasteful T.S.A. spending.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=adae5cdbe8f6f1c1268658c90ac96eaa

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