WASHINGTON -- A combination of bureaucracy and politics will keep airports from levying the new passenger facility charge and issuing bonds in conjunction with it until next year, a Federal Aviation Administration official and industry lobbyists said yesterday.
The red tape mainly involves the airlines, which will need several months to gear up before collecting the fee for the airports, the sources said. In addition, the airports have to slog through a lengthy approval process.
On the political side, the FAA cannot allow the airports to begin collecting the fee until it releases an unrelated set of rules governing airport noise abatement later this year -- one of many compromises lawmakers agreed to when they drafted the passenger fee and noise abatement laws last year.
"It's going to be sometime early next spring before we see collections start," said Lowell H. Johnson, manager of the FAA's grants-in-aid division.
The administration released the final version of the regulatins covering the passenger charge on May 23. Municipal market participants predict the charge could generate as much as $10 billion in additional bonding authority for 71 large and medium-sized U.S. airports.
But that is not likely to begin anytime soon. For one, the regulations require an airport to give notice of its plans to levy the fee to any airlines operating there, meet with the airlines, and give the airlines time to respond with any concerns. That procedure takes between 60 and 75 days. And once an airport submits its application, the FAA is permitted to take up to two months to review it before granting approval.
A bigger obstacle is the airlines themselves, which are required to collect the fee and pass it on to the airports. They have said they will need between nine and 11 months to bring their ticketing systems up to date to incorporate the levy, said Tom Devine, legal director for the Airport Operators Council International.
Because of that delay, "even if you got your application in and approved, you couldn't start collecting the fee until next year," Mr. Devine said.
In addition to the bureaucractic snarls, the political process is causing yet another snag.
In haggling over the details of the passenger-fee and noise-abatement bills, lawmakers approved a requirement that the FAA would not be permitted to begin approving applications for the fee until it released regulations implementing the noise-abatement law. The deadline for those rules is July 1, but some lobbyists said they may be delayed beyond that date.
Mr. Johnson also said the FAA does not yet have an application form ready for airports, but the regulations are clear enough that it could file an application without one.
Even with the delays, many airports are trying to move as fast as they can to formulate their project plans and present them to the FAA, said Matt Lewin, a partner in the law firm of Chapman & Cutler, which is acting as bound counsel or underwriter's counsel to a number of airports around the country.
"It's quite obvious people are ready to go and are getting their applications together," Mr. Lewin said.