AIRPORT CONGESTION MAY GROUND INCENTIVES PROGRAM

An effort to increase travel options at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has proved to be too successful.

After seven years of offering discount fees to airlines to increase service, the airport is coping with an international terminal that is too congested. Travelers face long delays at security and immigration. Ticket counters and gates are limited at peak times.

Airport administrators will ask county commissioners today to cancel the incentive program, which waived landing fees for services to new destinations. Under the program, the airport has added service throughout Latin America and the Caribbean as well as to Tallahassee, San Francisco and Denver.

"It's a disaster that needs to be dealt with," County Commissioner John Rodstrom said. "We're so overloaded in Terminal 4 that we shouldn't be allowing any more service to go in there. We're going to have to start saying no."

For travelers, the change could mean some airlines shy away from offering new service because the incentives give them a chance to build clientele for a route before paying full rates. On the other hand, passengers on other flights won't face long lines and a harried experience at the airport.

The airport's new director, Kent George, wants to replace the incentive program with one that targets only specific destinations where the county and tourism officials see a need for direct connections. That likely would be western Europe and lower South America.

International travel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International is up 18 percent for January through September compared to last year, with August posting a 44 percent increase over the same month a year earlier. The airport has been remodeling Terminal 4 to boost its ability to handle international travel, but overcrowding remains pervasive.

In August 2000, the airport began offering to waive fees that airlines pay to land their planes, use the airport's gates and have security for up to one year for any new nonstop service. The program initially was aimed at service to San Francisco, Tallahassee, Denver, London and three Latin American destinations, but later was expanded to any new nonstop service.

The airport has since waived almost $3.7 million in fees, but generated another $7.9 million from the new flights. Of the 30 new flight offerings developed with the incentives, 13 have been discontinued, while nine have continued after their discounts ended. Eight still are receiving discounts.

"Since FLL's international facilities are functioning beyond their intended capacity, this unrestricted approach cannot continue in its current form," George wrote in a memo to county commissioners.

Most of the international growth has come from Spirit Airlines, which aggressively added service to the Caribbean and Latin America. The airline has received $1.4 million in discounts and is responsible for all eight of the routes still in the incentive program.

A spokesman for Spirit declined to comment, saying the airline was unaware the county was considering dropping the incentives.

Travelers, though, said they hope any change does not lead to a cutback in international offerings at the airport.

"I'll go to Miami if it costs more, but I'd rather land here," said Roland Lefort, who flew into Fort Lauderdale Monday from Toronto.

Evadne Brooks, who was flying home to Jamaica after visiting relatives in Broward, agreed. "It's very convenient to fly here, much closer than Miami for them to reach me," she said.

Scott Wyman can be reached at swyman@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4511. INFORMATIONAL BOX:

WHAT'S NEXT

Administrators will ask the county today to cancel the program, which waived landing fees for service to new destinations.

ONLINE

Check out the best- and worst-rated airlines, and vote which one you think is best. Sun-Sentinel.com/helpteam


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