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Chris Jones

McCarran Seeks to Extend Life of Passenger Fee

22 April 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Whether they noticed or not, travelers have recently been paying a little extra to fly in or out of Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport.

And with the airport in the midst of an unprecedented building boom needed to keep pace with projected growth in local population and visitor volume, those added fees could be sticking around until today's newborns are midway through high school.

The Clark County Aviation Department, which runs the nation's sixth-busiest airport, in November raised its passenger facility charge to $4.50 per trip, an increase of $1.50.

Its initial request called for the new fee to remain through July 1, 2011, but airport leaders recently asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to maintain the rate through Aug. 1, 2021.

If approved, the prolonged rate increase would over a nearly six-year period generate approximately $1 billion to pay for various airport improvements at McCarran, the Henderson Executive Airport and North Las Vegas Airport.

The FAA will decide no later than June 24.

"Our growth has been phenomenal," said airport spokeswoman Elaine Sanchez, referencing McCarran's 12-month record of nearly 41.5 million passengers last year. "This is one way to pay for the construction projects we need to stay one step ahead of our community's growth."

Thursday's edition of the Federal Register said the proposed passenger facility charges would raise approximately $997.3 million from Nov. 1, 2015, through Aug. 1, 2021. Those funds would be used to cover design costs associated with Terminal 3 and the Russell Road relocation, as well as construction costs of various airport improvements around the valley.

At McCarran, those projects include a pedestrian bridge linking the C concourse with the A/B gates; an in-line explosives detection system; a satellite apron for the D gates; as well as improvements to taxiways, runways, the power plant, and heating and air conditioning systems. Also, the control tower at the Henderson airport would be relocated, while North Las Vegas would improve areas along its east side.

McCarran already has three separate approvals to charge $4.50 from Nov. 1, 2004, through July 1, 2011; from July 1, 2011, through Nov. 1, 2011; and from Nov. 1, 2011, through Jan. 1, 2017, FAA documents show.

Sanchez said those requests were filed separately because the FAA must specifically be told which projects will be paid for using money generated within a specific time period.

Other airports now using $4.50 passenger facility charge -- which is the maximum amount the government allows -- include Los Angeles International, San Francisco International, Phoenix Sky Harbor and Chicago O'Hare.

"They're very common," said FAA spokesman Donn Walker, who added the charges are collected by airlines and later returned to airports.

The cost of operating at McCarran is one of the lowest among the nation's commercial airports averaging $4.63 per passenger.