In recent weeks, Airlines for America released a detailed breakdown of the operational expenses US airlines face and issued a stern statement warning Congress about the perils of raising fees.
Airlines for America (A4A), the largest airline trade organization in the U.S., is coming out strongly against plans to nearly double the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) from $4.50 per passenger to $8.50 per passenger. A4A told Senate members in a statement late last month that airlines will not be able to absorb the increased fees through lower ticket prices, and the dramatic jump in the PFC will amount to direct, but hidden, taxes on millions of travelers each day.
“Airline passengers already pay over $20 billion a year in taxes for the tickets they purchase, adding another $3.2 billion tax hike on American travelers simply cannot be justified,” A4A President Nicholas E. Calio said in the strongly worded statement to lawmakers. “The truth of the matter is that airports are flush with cash. It is disingenuous at best for Congress to repeatedly saddle traveling families and businesses with tax-hike after tax-hike while airports are sitting on billions in unused funds. Congress has access to over $7 billion in un-obligated tax revenue sitting idle in the aviation trust fund that could be used instead of raising taxes. Choosing to increase this tax is a completely unnecessary poke in the eye and wallet of air travelers.”
According to Calio’s organization, the proposed PFC hike will cost air travelers nearly $3.2 billion in additional taxes annually. A4A predicts that the new federally imposed surcharges will increase the price of roundtrip fares by as much as 26 percent or more in some cases.
While the trade group points out that airports are flush and that billions of dollars in aviation-related federal tax coffers remain untouched, the airlines themselves are already saddled with huge operating costs and an exceptionally large tax burden. Although US airlines have reported record profits in recent years, the group insists that profit margins remain razor-thin in the face of those enormous expenses.
As if to underscore this point, A4A has also released the latest available data on US carrier operational costs. The Passenger Airline Cost Index (PACI) interprets US Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics “to monitor trends in the cost of inputs (e.g., labor, fuel, food, aircraft ownership, airport landing fees, insurance, utilities, interest) to the provision of air service over time.”
Some of the results of the latest PACI are somewhat expected; labor costs, for example, account for 33 percent of operating costs. Fuel costs, while down sharply in recent quarters, still account for a more than 15 percent drain on profits. More surprisingly, airport landing fees account for nearly two percent of airline spending, more than the operating costs associated with inflight catering, maintenance materials, aircraft insurance, communications or advertising.
According to Travel+Leisure, airlines only make around 16 cents’ profit for every dollar spent on airfare. Lobbyists for the airline industry warn that doubling the taxes paid by passengers could have a catastrophic effect on an industry already struggling year-in and year-out to maintain profitability.