Fort Lauderdale Airport Considers Charging Landing Fees to Private Planes

Dec. 20--It costs an airline about $200 to land a Boeing 737 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

But when Wayne Huizenga lands his own 737 there, the business mogul doesn't pay a cent.

That may change: Fort-Lauderdale-Hollywood is considering charging landing fees to private aircraft. Making general aviation aircraft pay would help the airport keep costs low for airlines, especially low-cost carriers that have fueled its success.

"This isn't designed to make a portion of general aviation traffic go away," aviation director Tom Jorgiello said. "The intent of the program is to share the expenses."

Private planes make up about 20 percent of traffic at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, which had some of the longest delays nationwide last winter. Small propeller planes use the south runway, where there is no congestion, but most private jets are jockeying for space with commercial jets on the north runway.

Airlines have long lobbied Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood to make general aviation aircraft pay, as they do at Miami International and many other airports. Their complaints have grown louder as their jets spend more time burning fuel on the ground or in the air, waiting to takeoff or land on the airport's one runway that's open to commercial jets.

"Currently, the general aviation traffic is subsidized by the scheduled carriers," Spirit Airlines President Ben Baldanza said in an e-mail to The Miami Herald. "This would appropriately lower the costs for the scheduled carriers."

At MIA, planes under 15,000 pounds -- which includes Lear jets -- pay a flat fee of $41.50 per landing.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood could levy a similar fee, or increase its existing 6-cent per-gallon tax on fuel when pilots fill up.

Airport officials don't know yet how much they might raise and how much the airlines might save. A plan could be sent to the Broward County Commission in February.

Airlines currently have a good deal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, paying just under $4 per-passenger in airport fees. At MIA, the average rate is about $18. But Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood says its per-passenger fees could increase, especially if it builds a new runway for jets.

Ed Zwirn, president of Sheltair, which leases hangars, said many private pilots understand the free ride is over.

"We realize the cost of doing business is going up," Zwirn said. "We're OK with it, as long as it's a fair cost."

Zwirn noted private pilots already pay some fees by renting hangar space from his company or other firms, which then pay the airport.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood wants to ensure any fee would be fair, said airport spokesman Jim Reynolds. A small propeller plane such as a Piper Cub doesn't contribute to the wear and tear on the runway when it lands. However, that same plane takes up space as it waits to take off or land, possibly impacting airlines.

The discussion over landing fees is part of an overall debate at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood over how much the airport should grow. With only one runway in use for jets and only 57 gates for 21 million passengers, the airport must now make hard choices to keep expanding.

The Federal Aviation Administration has already said it will force Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood to use its diagonal crosswind runway this winter if delays become severe. The county has resisted using the runway because of the noise impact on communities in Fort Lauderdale and Dania Beach.

Zwirn said the airport could ease congestion by allowing all private planes -- including jets -- to use the south runway.

"I'd say 85 percent of [private] flights could take off on the south runway," Zwirn said. "But because of community noise concerns we can't. If the airport could work on the community, almost all of our flights could take off there."

Troy Menken is an owner of Jetscape, a service company for private jets at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood. His clients could easily pay for landing fees, though they wouldn't be happy about it.

"They are interesting," Menken said. "They will pay $40,000 for gas, but when you try and charge them an extra $10 they scream. It's funny."

The city-run Fort Lauderdale Executive airport doesn't charge landing fees.