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Officials plan passenger fee increase at East Texas Regional Airport

By Glenn Evans
Feb. 6, 2012 at 11 p.m.

Gregg County commissioners on Monday began a process to increase passenger fees at East Texas Regional Airport by $1.50 per person in 2013.

For almost 10 years, passengers using the airport have paid a $3 fee, with the money going to the local match required for Federal Aviation Authority grants. The FAA traditionally funds 95 percent of projects, such as a recently completed parking lot upgrade and a coming terminal renovation. The county pitches in 5 percent.

"It looks like the federal government is getting ready to up the matching funds from 5 percent to 10 percent," County Judge Bill Stoudt said. "So all the airports are changing the fee."

Stoudt and Airport Manager Rick Davis said the fee, called a Passenger Facility Charge, would not change until the court conducts a public hearing and votes on a resolution to raise it.

"We're considering going up to $4.50," Davis said. "It's not a done deal that we're going to. ... Everyone in the industry tells us we should go up to $4.50."

Davis Dixon, manager of Tyler Pounds Regional Airport, said that city-owned facility adopted the $4.50 facility charge fee five or more years ago.

"It does go back to funding the local match," Dixon said. "And we have other projects where maybe the PFC funds 100 percent."

Dixon added that he is watching a bill working its way through the U.S. House of Representatives that would increase the local burden from 5 percent to 10 percent.

The court's 4-1 action, with Commissioner Darryl Primo dissenting, also approved hiring KSA Engineers to begin a five-month process to prepare the application. The engineers will be paid $39,900.

"That's required by the FAA," Stoudt said of hiring the engineers.

The FAA has spent some $28 million on the county airport during the past decade, he said. Stoudt noted the passenger fee has always raised the county's 5 percent match on those projects, or $1.4 million.

"Where that money goes is to help defray the cost of the match for the government funds," he said, adding it also will pay for the engineers overseeing the application.

In objecting to the potential fee increase, Primo said it could discourage people from choosing the local airport.

"We've spent millions of dollars trying to increase our competitive advantage out there, to get people to look at Gregg County first," Primo said.



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