Love Field Money Woes Revealed

Airport officials say they are trying to cut costs and raise revenues, looking at everything from parking rates to landing fees.

The airport may not just be raising landing fees, which get passed on to travelers in ticket prices. Travelers might also be expected to pay more to park.

After all, it is the $59 million debt taken out in 2001 to build a new parking garage that's partly to blame for weighing the department down, said Kenneth Gwyn, director of aviation for Dallas.

The debt is scheduled to be paid off in 2011.

"When that goes away, the situation gets better," Gwyn said. "It's not a comfortable situation, but we're working to rectify it."

Councilwoman Hunt said she was first tipped off to a possible problem at Love Field after hearing testimony two weeks ago from Lori Palmer, a member of the Love Field Citizens Action Committee.

The Senate Aviation Subcommittee, which held a Nov. 10 hearing on the Wright Amendment, received a statement from Palmer that described Love Field's credit-rating drop, its below-average landing fees and a January report from the city's auditor that questioned its rental rates.

But Love Field's problem is not unique. Airports across the country have been aggressively looking for other ways to grow nonairline revenue, using parking, concessions and real-estate development.

But Love Field is different from D/FW Airport in the way its debt and profits are handled. For Love Field, the city is ultimately responsible for shortfalls. At D/FW, the signatory airlines are responsible for paying any deficits.

Love Field's parent, the Aviation Department, has been set up as an enterprise fund, meaning it stands alone almost like a separate, self-sustaining city business. The department isn't allowed to get any money from the city's general fund.

Rasansky calls the Love Field deficits "a sore spot" for him.

When he was elected to office in 2001, he complained that the airport wasn't increasing its rates for long-term land leases.

"I'm the most critical person on this because the deals they're making on this are just incredible," he said.

The city auditor's office echoed that sentiment in its January report.

"The reasonableness of these rates, as established by the Aviation Department, is questionable," according to the 11-page audit. "Aviation Department personnel stated that it has not raised rents for fear that tenants will terminate their leases and thus cause the loss of rental revenues and jobs."

Rasansky, chairman of the council's finance and audit committee, said he wants his committee to look at the airport's deficits.

Hunt said there's still more learning to be done.

"We've got to get our arms around these issues and understand whether or not our airport is being run in a financially sound way," Hunt said.

Fort Worth Star Telegram

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