Broward May Kill Fort Lauderdale Airport Incentives

Nov. 8--Five years ago, Broward County began offering incentives to entice airlines to offer new service from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Now the airport could be suffering from too much of a good thing.

With traffic booming and delays among the worst in the nation, Broward Commissioner John Rodstrom wants his colleagues to vote today to eliminate the incentives, which waive landing and gate fees, and Customs charges for one year for new nonstops to certain destinations.

Rodstrom, whose district includes neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale affected by airport noise, believes that in booming South Florida, airlines would offer the service anyway.

He also said the incentives have given the Federal Aviation Administration leverage in a dispute with the county over whether to use the diagonal runway 13-31. The county has an agreement with Dania Beach and Fort Lauderdale that says the diagonal runway will only be used when the main runway is closed or when crosswinds make it unusable.

The FAA has blamed Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood's incentives for much of the dramatic increase in traffic and delays.

"How can we say we can't land planes on [the diagonal runway]?" Rodstrom said. "The FAA is telling us that we are doing everything we can to make the airport more crowded."

Short-term, the move would impact Miramar-based Spirit Airlines, whose planned new nonstop service to cities such as Providenciales and St. Thomas would qualify for the credits. Spirit spokeswoman Lynne Koreman couldn't say Monday whether losing the incentives would force the airline to reconsider its expansion.

Airport officials said the program has been a success, and director of aviation Tom Jargiello urged commissioners in a letter to support it.

The airport began offering the incentives in 2000 for airlines bringing service to Tallahassee, Denver, San Francisco, London, Caracas, Cancun, Mexico City and Bogota. A year later the county added all of Western Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America.

Twelve airlines qualified for the deal. Domestically, new service was started to Tallahassee and Denver, and several new international destinations were also added, such as Bogota, San Jose, Costa Rica and Guatemala City.

Officials said Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood gave up $2.6 million in revenue, but that the deals ultimately produced $4 million in new money.

But several airlines discontinued flights after the incentives expired, a recent county audit noted, and only four of the flights have produced more revenue than was given away during the incentive period.

On a typical plane such as a Boeing 737, an airline might save about $300 in landing fees per flight. International flights also get a break on Customs fees, with a $2.50 per-passenger fee also waived, said airport spokesman Steve Belleme.

The airport's incentives and overall low costs have made it a magnet for budget carriers, but with only one runway allowed for jets, delays have increased each year. Earlier this year, the FAA said Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood was the most delayed airport of the nation's 35-largest airports.