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HomeNewsArchivesVIPA Prepares Case for Increased Passenger Fees at V.I. Airports

VIPA Prepares Case for Increased Passenger Fees at V.I. Airports

In its Wednesday meeting, the V.I. Port Authority board discussed using increased Passenger Facilities Charges (PFC) to pay for improvements to its airports on St. Thomas and on St. Croix.
The airlines have requested facility enhancements, and it is essential for VIPA to identify a funding source, Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said in a telephone interview.
Funds for improvements have been hard to come by for VIPA, with the Federal Aviation Authority holding back discretionary funds for the past six years. Funds have been held up over Henry E. Rohlsen Airport’s proximity to the Anguilla landfill. The FAA did free up some $9 million to the authority in FY 2010, based on indications that the landfill would soon close, but without evidence of ongoing progress toward a shutdown, it could make it harder for VIPA to convince the FAA to give more, according to VIPA general counsel Don Mills.
However, $8.4 million collected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on VIPA’s behalf are outstanding according to the authority’s monthly financial report presented to the board Wednesday.
If approved, the proposed PFCs (applied to both departure and arrival ticket charges) would increase to from $3 to $4.50 for Cyril E. King Airport and be implemented starting at $3 for Rohlsen.
Before the increase is approved, VIPA has to meet with all the airlines and demonstrate how the fees are tied to a project, such as the pre-clearance lounge expansion, VIPA executive director Kenn Hobson told the board.
The FAA also has to approve the fee, which will then become part of the Port Authority’s published tariff.
“We have to meet with all the airlines,” Hobson said. “[They will] give us reasons as to why they object.”
Hobson told the board that he will present VIPA’s case to its airline partners on August 9 at VIPA headquarters on St. Thomas.
The Port Authority may be in for a hard sell.
“The passenger facility charge is a funding source for airports to improve the facilities and amenities offered in the airport,” Joanne Bohr, Worldwide Flight Services area general manager for the Caribbean, said in a telephone interview. Worldwide Flight Services is the handling company for five airlines on St. Thomas and three airlines on St Croix and employs over 140 people in the territory. Projects are supposed to be approved by the airlines, and the PFCs are not intended for any overhead or salary.
Some of the improvements that airlines are looking for are invisible to passengers.
“As difficult as it may be for the passenger traveling in our airport, it is a much bigger hardship for those that work in the airport without operating bag belts, without any air conditioned working space or reliable infrastructure,” Bohr said. “Many in the airlines and airport community would love to see an accounting of what the PFC has been used for to date.”
In other actions Wednesday, the board approved:
-Writing off $700,000 of uncollected debts. Three accounts made up for over half of the bad debts. The largest was $184,000 for rent and landings for Four Star Aviation. Four Star previously held a contract to deliver mail to the U.S. Virgin Islands but lost that contract and ran into equipment inspection issues with the FAA. VIPA filed an action for debt in 2009, but no hearing has been scheduled to date, and the account is still active because the company has a DC-3 parked at King Airport.
Wesk Marine owed the authority $114,000 before its lease was terminated. The authority has not filed a writ of restitution, as it believes collection is unlikely.
Collection is also believed unlikely for Motor Trend, an evicted former mechanic shop/garage whose debt was $107,000.
Board members attending the meeting included Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan Jr., Attorney General Vincent Frazer, acting VIPA chairperson and Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty, Robert O’Connor Jr., Public Works Commissioner Darryl A. Smalls and Yvonne E. L. Thraen.
Chairman Cassan Pancham was absent.

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