The Federal Aviation Administration earlier this month approved a $4.50 per-ticket fee for commercial passengers leaving Hilton Head Island Airport. US Airways, the airport’s lone commercial carrier, will tack on the charge to its fairs beginning May 1, Beaufort County airports director Paul Andres said Thursday.
The money would be used for airport improvements.
The county expects to collect about $250,000 the first year, and about $2.7 million total over 10 years, according to forecasts based on current passenger counts.
Thee airline tacks the charge on to its fares and then forwards the money to the airport. It keeps 2.4 percent, or 11 cents per ticket, as a management fee.
Hilton Head previously charged a $3 passenger fee from 2000 to 2007. The airport collected about $1.4 million from that fee. The money was used to buy land for the control tower and general aviation development.
Charleston, Columbia and Myrtle Beach currently charge a passenger fee, which the FAA first authorized in 1992.
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BOARD VOTES ON PROPOSAL TO SPEED RUNWAY EXTENSION
The Beaufort County airports board on Thursday also voted to recommend consultants study ways to put plans to extend the runway on a faster track.
Extending the Hilton Head Island Airport runway to 5,000 feet is more than four years away under a tentative timeline.
The biggest challenge to speeding things up is $8.75 million to purchase eight commercial parcels at the south end and north-west corner of the airport. The purchases are needed to straighten, lengthen and relocate a taxiway, Andres said.
The airport plans to seek about $8.2 million in discretionary FAA grants, and $73,750 from the state to pay for the land purchases in fiscal year 2013.
Airports board chairman Joe Mazzei said the S.C. Aeronautics Commission says that now that the county has abandoned a proposal to charge private pilots a landing fee to private pilots, the state group would help the county pay to accelerate lengthening.
Airport officials say Hilton Head has the shortest runway for commercial service in the continental U.S.
County Council and Hilton Head Island Town Council approved a joint resolution in October 2010 adopting a master plan for the airport. It calls for a two-phased expansion of the 4,300-foot runway to 5,400 feet to ensure the future of commercial and private air service.
The first phase calls for a 700-foot extension.
Delta Air Lines pulled out of Hilton Head last fall. The airline cited the route’s poor performance. The commercial carrier is reducing its fleet of the Saab 340 turboprops that operated from Hilton Head. The runway is too short to accommodate other aircraft in Delta's fleet, the company says.
Both Delta and US Airways — now the island’s lone commercial carrier — have indicted they could carry more passengers, making the routes more profitable and thereby more likely to continue, if the runway was extended.
County Councilman Stu Rodman made a similar proposal in December 2010.
Rodman and airports board chairman Joe Mazzei say the airports commercial service is at risk.
Getting the project done sooner would reduce the possibility of losing commercial service, which is worth millions of dollars to the town, county and citizens, both said.
"The FAA would reimburse us. So it's a matter of putting the money up and having it be reimbursed later,” Rodman said.
County Council must approve the proposal before it could advance.