Airports respond to DOT review of competition among airlines

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WASHINGTON -- The Transportation Department, conducting a review to determine if airports hinder airline competition, received a flurry of comments from airports with an overriding message: Stay out of our business, but let us raise more money.

"The notion that airport practices are producing reductions in competition or declines in air service is a case of an inquiry in search of a problem," the Airports Council International-North America and the Association of Airport Executives, the two major airport associations, jointly told the DOT.

Boise Airport said, "Most airports are desperately trying to gain more air service either through new entrants or more seats by incumbent carriers."

St. Louis Airport said the DOT "must not get sidetracked into a detailed investigation on airport practices that have never been shown to cause any harm."

Instead, the commenters said, the DOT should refocus its attention on slot controls and domestic airline alliances.

The DOT is looking at many other competition-related issues but also is continuing its airport review with closer "case study" looks at 13 airports.

Airports were divided on some matters, such as whether majority-in-interest agreements, which determine how much say airlines have at an airport, give airlines too much power to delay or prevent construction of facilities.

The two associations acknowledged the potential for problems with such agreements as well as long-term, exclusive-use gate leases, but said airports cannot get out of existing contracts -- and the DOT cannot legally force them to.

The associations and individual airports were nearly unanimous that the federal government should raise the $3 cap on passenger facility charges.

"If there has been any overall constraint on an airport's ability to enhance competition, it has been the lack of funding for airport facilities," said the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports.

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