PUSH BUILDS TO CHARGE PRIVATE JETSFOR LANDING

US Airways pays about $150 to land its new nonstop flight from Las Vegas at Palm Beach International Airport. But when Donald Trump flies into town in his private jet, he pays nothing. About two-thirds of the other airplanes that use the airport...


US Airways pays about $150 to land its new nonstop flight from Las Vegas at Palm Beach International Airport.

But when Donald Trump flies into town in his private jet, he pays nothing. About two-thirds of the other airplanes that use the airport don't pay a penny to land either.

Unlike commercial airliners, private jets and other general aviation aircraft aren't charged to land on the airport's runways.

Now some airport watchdogs say it's time for them to pay up.

They argue that private planes don't pay their fair share to use the airport. Commercial airliners and the roughly 7 million passengers who fly in and out of Palm Beach International each year are being forced to subsidize the private industry, they say.

If private planes were charged to land, some would divert to Palm Beach County's smaller airports near Lantana and Palm Beach Gardens. That could reduce traffic at Palm Beach International, eliminating the need for a second runway for airliners, they argue. The other airports do not charge landing fees. PBIA is owned and operated by the county.

"If people get incensed about people cheating on food stamps, why wouldn't they get incensed about people cheating on this?" said Nancy Pullum, president of the El Cid neighborhood association. The historic neighborhood east of Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach lies under the airport's flight path. "This is really welfare for the private sector."

About 65 percent of planes that fly in and out of PBIA are private. Yet general aviation generates only about 8.5 percent of the airport's revenues, said Michael Simmons, its finance director.

Much of that money comes from rental fees to store airplanes and a 5 cents-a-gallon charge called a fuel flowage fee.

Commercial airliners don't pay the fuel fee. But in order to land at the airport, they are required to pay a landing fee based on the aircraft's weight. The fee is $1.63 per 1,000 pounds.

In all, the airport collects about $4 million in landing fees each year. It takes in about $900,000 a year from the fuel flowage fee.

The rest of the airport's revenues, expected to total about $67 million this year, come from rental agreements and concession contracts.

Commercial air carriers generate about one-third of those revenues. In addition to the landing fee, they pay about $20 million a year to rent space in the terminal, Simmons said.

If a landing fee for private planes were approved, it would not generate any additional revenue, Simmons said.

Such a fee would force private planes to pay their fair share to use the airfield, not make money for the airport, Simmons said. Because private planes make up about 65 percent of the traffic, some say they should be paying about 65 percent of the cost to maintain and operate the runways and taxiways.

If private planes are forced to pay, landing fees for commercial airlines would be reduced.

Residents opposed to the county's plan to expand the airport's general aviation runway to accommodate commercial jets say the landing fee could be set high enough so that it sways those who own private airplanes to use other airports, especially during weekends and holidays.

The Federal Aviation Administration "can't force general aviation somewhere else," said Rick Rose, president of the association for the Grandview Heights neighborhood just north of Belvedere Road. "But there is no reason why the county can't."

Airport officials began considering landing fees last year and are researching the concept.

Many other airports across the country, including Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, charge general aviation landing fees.

However, members of the county's aviation and airports advisory board, which includes several licensed pilots, have opposed the fee. In April, the board voted 5-4 against moving forward with the issue.

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