Airlines Protest Hike in Security Fee in Proposed Bush Budget

WASHINGTON -- The airline industry Monday protested a Bush administration budget proposal to raise the security fee on airline tickets, saying it would hurt already ailing US carriers.

The reaction came after President George W. Bush's budget included a proposal to increase the so-called September 11 security fee on airline tickets by three dollars, to 5.50 dollars per flight segment.

For passengers traveling multiple legs on a one-way trip, the fee would rise to a maximum of eight dollars, from the current limit of five dollars.

"A tax on travelers is a tax on airlines. Any new tax or fee raises ticket prices and the cost of airlines doing business," said James May, president of the Air Transport Association.

"US airlines appear to be the only business in America that the administration has chosen to tax back to economic health. We fail to understand how this proposed tax squares with past administration policies that have cut taxes and successful spurred economic growth."

The White House defended the plan.

"We really have two choices: Ask those who are flying to bear these costs or ask everybody ... to bear these costs," said Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua Bolten.

As a result of the increase, total security fees collected by the government would rise to 4.1 billion dollars in 2006, up from 2.6 billion this year. That would allow "near-full-cost recovery" of spending on federal aviation screening operations, according to the budget document.

May said that airlines already contribute taxes and fees of 15.8 billion dollars and that the additional 1.5 billion dollars from the fee increase would "undermine the economic stability of the commercial aviation industry."

"Increasing taxes on airlines and travelers will jeopardize airline jobs as well as local air service to small- and medium-size communities," he said.