The Federal Aviation Administration is proposing to change its policy toward landing fees to “provide greater flexibility to operators of congested airports to use landing fees to provide incentives to air carriers to use the airport at less congested times or to use alternate airports to meet regional air service needs.” As explained in the notice issued by the FAA, the proposed policy change will not allow true congestion pricing, because they will not allow airport authorities to charge prices sufficient to balance demand will capacity without regard to “allowable costs of airfield facilities and services.” Instead, the FAA is proposing to allow airports to re-shuffle currently allowed costs in ways which reflect congestion at airports.
However, the proposal would clarify existing policy that allows airports to charge “dual element” landing fees. Most airports rely on a single element weight-based landing fee. The notice explains that an airport’s fees could be revised to incorporate both a per-operation component and a aircraft weight component “so long as the two-part fee reasonably allocates costs to the appropriate users on a rational and economically justified basis.” Such a shift would at the margin tend to promote use of larger aircraft into the airport without any other changes in rates. The FAA said the presence of congestion would be one factor that could be taken into account in revising rates. In particular, the per-operation component of the landing fee should vary according to the times congestion is present, said the FAA, if congestion is used to justify the change in fees.
Any airport can switch to a two-part landing fee. The FAA is proposing two other changes that only congested airports would be permitted to use. One change is a proposed ability to add the costs of facilities under construction into current rates (at present airports are allowed only to charge for facilities in use). The second change would allow airport authorities operating multiple airports to shift some costs from uncongested regional airports into the fees charged by the authorities congestion airports. This second proposed change is subject to several limits generally intended to insure that users of the congested airport can benefit from the shift in traffic expected to follow a shifting in costs.
As the Washington Post reports, not all in the air travel business are happy with the proposal, but that reaction is not a surprise. Here at Knowledge Problem we have long favored the economically-sensible approach of airport congestion pricing. While the proposal may not be pure congestion pricing, it would appear to allow airports to make significant steps in that direction.
The FAA is accepting public comments on the proposal, see the FAA notice for details.
Extra credit topic: Research in networks suggests that congestion rents can in some cases flow to non-congested network elements. Think, for example, of a generator connected to a high demand area by a congested line. Rather than the transmission line capturing all of economic rents, the generator may find it can profitably raise its rates and capture some congestion rents itself. The idea suggest the possibility that airports with departures headed into congested airports might find a way to extract some of the possible rents. Of course, that would require a little strategic sophistication on the part of airport rate authorities, and given the reactions reported in the Post‘s story it seems that airports are not exactly excited about using the modest amount of rate flexibility they already have.