President's 2007 Budget Doubles Fee for Aviation Security

Feb. 7, 2006
The fee that passengers pay would be increased to $5 per flight from $2.50 for nonstop trips.

The president's 2007 budget would double the aviation security fee that passengers pay to $5 per flight from $2.50 for nonstop trips and cuts Amtrak payments as the national rail passenger line struggles for survival.

The security fee would have the biggest impact on low-cost carriers such as Dallas-based Southwest Airlines because 80 percent of the carrier's passengers fly nonstop.

According to the budget released Monday, the fee, enacted to pay for enhanced security, will increase to a flat $5 per flight instead of increasing with every segment. The security fee will be capped at $10 per round trip, the current maximum. The proposed increase on nonstop trips will raise $1.3 billion a year toward funding the Transportation Security Administration.

"The single fee corresponds better with actual security screening, which normally occurs only once in a one-way trip, regardless of the number of trip segments," according to the budget proposal. The administration says revenue from the security fee and fees paid by carriers would pay about 70 percent of aviation security costs.

The Bush administration proposed a different security fee increase in last year's budget but Congress rejected it. This year's proposal, which would apply to the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, is not proving to be any more popular.

"Only airline passengers and airlines are required to pay for a portion of the national defense," said William Ris, senior vice president of government affairs at Fort Worth-based American Airlines. "And that just isn't right."

Air Transport Association President and Chief Executive Officer James May said, "ATA remains steadfastly opposed to increasing security fees, and we are confident that Congress will again reject these increases." The ATA is the trade organization of the major U.S. airlines.

Dave Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, a passenger advocacy group, said carriers such as Southwest, Jet Blue and Frontier Airlines, which cater to point-to-point travelers, will bear the brunt of an increase.

"This is an arrow pointed right at the heart of low-fare carriers," Stempler said.

Southwest's average fare is $92, according to airline spokesman Ed Stewart.

The budget also includes $644 million in payments from air carriers for security costs, including retroactive payments of $196 million for 2005 and 2006. The carriers have disputed the payments, which amount to $18 million for American and $24 million for Southwest.

Amtrak, meanwhile, came in for a proposed budget of $900 million, which is below the $1.3 billion appropriated by Congress for fiscal 2006.

"The $900 million is a shut-down budget," said Ross Capon, president of the National Association of Rail Passengers, "but the fact that the administration is proposing $900 million makes things look much brighter." Capon said he anticipates that Amtrak supporters can work with Congress to secure additional funding.

Amtrak service that could be affected by cuts include the Texas Eagle, which runs daily from Fort Worth to San Antonio and Chicago, and the Heartland Flyer, which provides daily service between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City.

Fort Worth Star Telegram

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