Charleston airport looks for long-range extension of passenger fee
Charleston International Airport was one of the last major airports in the country to impose an FAA-approved $4.50 maximum fee on departing passengers.
At a glance
WHO: Charleston International Airport
WHAT: Passenger facility charge
HOW MUCH: $4.50 on all departing passenger tickets
WHY: To raise $296 million to help pay for the airport terminal’s redevelopment and expansion
It started in March 2010 and ran for 21 months. It was first extended through 2013 and then through 2015, bringing about $26 million to help pay for airport improvements.
Now, the airport, embarking on a $200 million overhaul of its 28-year-old terminal, wants to extend the fee 36 more years to 2052.
The fee and timetable, if approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, would bring in $296 million for the airport to pay for immediate construction costs and long-term borrowing to pay for redeveloping and expanding the terminal.
The fee would not apply to air taxi/commercial operators, who took on just 122 passengers in 2011.
Airlines tack the charge onto their fares and then forward the money to the airport. They keep 2.4 percent, or 11 cents per ticket, as a management fee.
The airport gets no funds from property taxes. Its revenue comes from the FAA, tenants and the passenger facility charge, Airports Director Sue Stevens said.
The massive makeover of the terminal includes adding six new gates to the current 10, adding a third baggage carousel, consolidating security checkpoints, relocating the offices, adding a dome over the lobby and numerous other behind-the-scene and cosmetic changes.
The first work passengers will encounter is the addition of a new rental car pavilion next to the baggage claim area. Construction started earlier this month, according to Airports Director Sue Stevens.
The next area to undergo changes will be baggage claim, where a third carousel will be added, starting in the spring. At the same time, workers will begin updating the incoming baggage handling area beneath the terminal. Other phases will follow, with construction expected to continue through 2014.
The airport saw just over 1.3 million departing passengers in 2012, a number that has climbed more than 25 percent since 2010 and is expected to double by 2030.
When Southwest Airlines initiated flights out of Charleston in March 2011, the airport witnessed a 15.8 percent bump in passenger traffic during the low-cost carrier’s first 12 months of operation. Another low-cost carrier, JetBlue Airways, will launch service at Charleston International in late February, tapping the passenger-rich Northeast markets of Boston and New York where international connections can be made easily.
The airport consulted the airlines that serve the airport about extending the fee long-term, but received no comments from them, Stevens said.
“They typically support it because it keeps their rates and charges low,” she said. “If not, we would have to get all of the money through the airlines.”
FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said the application would undergo a comprehensive review, but she could provide no immediate timetable on a decision.
Charleston International expects to hear from the FAA about the proposed fee extension by May, Stevens said.
Other airports in South Carolina that collect the fee include those in Columbia, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach.
Columbia started collecting a $3 fee in 1993 and switched to $4.50 in 2001. It is authorized to collect $70.5 million through 2028. Myrtle Beach started collecting a $3 fee in 1996, then went to $4.50 in 2001. It collected $28 million through 2007 and is authorized to take in an additional $104 million through 2031.
Hilton Head collected a $3 fee in the past but switched to a $4.50 fee in 2012. It’s expected to generate $2.6 million through 2022.
The airport in Florence collected a $3 fee in the past, but no longer does.