Island Airport Manager Raises Concerns About Massport's Steep Landing Fee Hikes

By ALEXIS TONTI

Faced with a state plan he says could cripple regional airline service, the Martha's Vineyard Airport manager is calling on Massport officials to include Cape and Islands airport operators in their review of a proposed hike in landing fees at Logan International Airport.

"This could have a chilling effect on services," said Vineyard airport manager Bill Weibrecht. "[State and federal officials] acknowledge that varied communities will be impacted in varied ways that need to be addressed, but they don't say how. That's where we come in. We want to be at the table with them to say what will work for us."

The Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), the agency that runs Logan, is currently considering a proposal, known as peak period pricing, that would raise landing fees at the Boston airport during peak hours from $25 to $300 or $400 per landing.

Last month CapeAir chief executive officer Dan Wolf said the massive landing fees would sink his airline, the Vineyard's main carrier.

Now a coalition of southeastern Massachusetts airport operators called CapePorts, chaired by Mr. Weibrecht, is declaring its reservations about the plan.

In a letter to Thomas Kinton, director of aviation for Massport, Mr. Weibrecht outlined the concerns of CapePorts members, who say the demand management programs being considered for Logan will jeopardize the economic well-being of the communities they serve.

"We are concerned that the unintended consequences . . . will result in financial hardship for our communities and the financial ruin of a productive, community-oriented, Massachusetts-based airline," wrote Mr. Weibrecht.

"Many of our citizens simply do not have the numerous travel options which are available to others within the region, and as such there must be ample consideration given to the potential irreversible impacts."

The Massport proposal is part of a mandated report to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) detailing management plans to build a sixth runway and alleviate flight delays caused by excessive northwest winds. The report will not be filed until late spring or early summer, and Massport is still assessing the impact of the fee hikes and other recommendations.

In his letter, Mr. Weibrecht asked for a commitment from Massport officials to involve CapePorts members in their review prior to the submission of any program to the FAA.

"The process will be easier if they bring us in now," Mr. Weibrecht said this week. "We don't want to have to object to the proposal at the eleventh hour."

The CapePorts coalition includes the Nantucket, New Bedford, Provincetown and Barnstable-Hyannis airports.

"Service is our primary concern. The type of service that CapeAir offers works for us and we want to see that continue," said Mr. Weibrecht.

CapeAir connects the Island to airports in Boston, Hyannis and Nantucket on a year-round basis and offers hourly flights from the Vineyard during the summer. The regional airline transports about 95,000 passengers a year to and from the Vineyard and employs more than 40 people on the Island.

"Their frequency and their independence is important to us. They dictate their own schedule, and are not subject to the directive of a parent company, which makes them flexible," said Mr. Weibrecht.

The Vineyard airport manager said a number of questions about peak period pricing remain unanswered. It is unclear when the program would be implemented. Massport also has yet to define the peak hours, information that will be critical when it comes to determining the severity of the proposal's impact.

"Massport did an internal review and reported that exempting two flights from each location [from the fees] would relieve the impact. But without answers to our other questions, we cannot agree with that assessment," said Mr. Weibrecht.

He added that Massport cannot offer an exemption solely to CapeAir. "Any exclusion must be applied equally," Mr. Weibrecht said.

Boston will be the first airport to try to implement peak period pricing, and Mr. Weibrecht expressed doubts about its effectiveness.

"Peak period pricing is about alleviating hours upon hours of delays. They're saying it is an incentive, but it is untested as yet," said Mr. Weibrecht. "[Massport] may not be familiar with what we do, so we need to tell them."