Monday, March 09, 2015

Airport leadership gathers at Tulsa conference to discuss changing industry

Federal headwinds on funding and the negative revenue impact of ride-sharing programs such as Uber are two things that officials with commercial airports worry about nonstop.

Leaders from airports in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico and Central America are meeting in downtown Tulsa this week for the Changing Airport Marketplace conference.

The event, which runs through Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency Tulsa hotel, is a joint effort with the Oklahoma Airport Operators Association; the South Central Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives; and the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission.

During the conference’s first session focusing on legislative and industry issues, airport officials discussed the importance of the U.S. Congress reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA’s current legal authorization expires in September.

Airport leaders said that an important part of the reauthorization process is the potential increase of the cap on the passenger facility charge, the fee that airports can charge travelers when they buy an airline ticket.

The fee used for airport infrastructure improvements is currently capped at $4.50. The airports want to raise it as high as $8.

“We have tried for the last 15 years to get an increase in the passenger facility charge,” Todd Hauptli, president and CEO of the American Association of Airport Executives, said. “We’re right on the passenger facility charge, but right now we don’t have the votes” in Congress.

Air carriers are strongly opposed to the fee increase.

“The passenger facility charge is a food fight with the airlines,” Hauptli said.

Airlines have been arguing that passengers won’t fly with another fee change, and that point of view is totally inaccurate, Randy Berg, chair of the American Association of Airport Executives, added.

Hauptli spoke about the importance of the national association continuing to innovate.

An example of recent entrepreneurship Hauptli said is the association’s January launch of the Airport Innovation Accelerator, an organization meant to help the association connect airports with companies creating solutions to industry issues.

In another recent development, airports are being hurt by significant revenue leakage because they haven’t yet figured out a way to collect from ride-sharing programs like Uber and Lyft that are becoming popular with airport travelers.

“Currently at airports, especially large airports, it’s kind of the Wild West out there in terms of ride-share companies,” Hauptli said.

San Francisco International Airport has begun to require paid permits from ride-sharing programs. The association hopes to replicate that collection process with other airports in the future, Hauptli said.

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