A group representing US airports is renewing calls for Congress to raise the cap on a local user fee that goes toward infrastructure improvements, arguing that record ancillary fee collections by airlines undermine claims that raising the passenger facility charge (PFC) cap would crimp passenger demand for air travel.

Data released May 6 from the US Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics show US airlines collected upward of $1.2 billion in baggage fees in 4Q 2018, bringing the total amount collected in FY2018 to $4.9 billion. They also collected an additional $2.7 billion in reservation change and cancellation fees in 2018, bringing their combined revenue from ancillary fees to a record $7.6 billion for the year.

“While airlines pile up record fee collections from passengers for so-called ‘optional’ services like taking a bag for a trip, they vigorously fight modest proposals that would upgrade airports and other aviation infrastructure,” American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) president and CEO Todd Hauptli said.

“We can’t meet today’s needs, let alone tomorrow’s, while maintaining a system that fails to take into account changed airline business practices and an airport financing model last updated decades ago,” Hauptli added. “It’s past time for Congress to look past self-serving airline rhetoric and make meaningful changes to boost airport infrastructure investments that directly benefit the traveling public.”

The longtime battle over the PFC cap has pit airport operators against carriers, the latter of which remain steadfast in their opposition to raising the cap, describing the PFC as a tax on travelers. They argue the proposal to raise the cap amounts to an attempt by cash-rich airports to pass on costs for infrastructure to passengers already paying their fair share of taxes and fees.

“Consumers shouldn’t be left holding the bag for a tax hike airports don’t need—it’s just that simple,” Airlines for America spokesman Vaughan Jennings told ATW. “The reality is these are high times for airports. With revenues soaring and the aviation trust fund surplus of $7 billion, the last thing airport executives need is a blank check to tax airline passengers more.”

The AAAE, however, called such claims “misleading,” saying the PFC, which has not been adjusted since 2000, “is not a tax and never goes to the federal Treasury, a fact verified by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.”

Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Washington), who chairs the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, said in March that House Democrats hoped to use a planned infrastructure deal with the White House as a vehicle to raise the PFC cap to $8.50 per-passenger flight segment, up from $4.50 now.

Airports Council International-North America president Kevin Burke (ACI-NA) has said airports’ “Plan B” would be to push for the increase as part of appropriations legislation for FY2020.

Ben Goldstein, ben.goldstein@aviationweek.com