Boston's Logan Airport ventures plan for easing terminal glut. Basic strategy: attract more large planes by lowering landing fees

Unlocking the air traffic jam at Boston's Logan International Airport will not be an easy task for the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), although its board has unanimously approved a plan to do just that. A program for airport capacity efficiency (PACE) was adopted last week after more than six months of study and public hearings. Boston's attempt to reduce air traffic and increase the number of ``on time'' arrivals and departures will be watched closely by managers of airports in other major cities. Logan Airport has had particular difficulty with late takeoffs, especially during peak hours.

``PACE is passenger oriented,'' says David Davis, executive director of Massport. ``Our goal is to encourage airlines that can transport more passengers to and from Boston without increasing the number of flights.'' Massport is encouraging smaller carriers, including commuter airlines, to use larger planes so they can carry more passengers without adding flights.

To make PACE work, Massport will:

Change the formula for fixed and weight-based charges to carriers using Logan. The minimum landing fee will rise from $25 to $88, while weight rates will be cut from $1.31 per 1,000 pounds to 47 cents.

Revise the landing fees to encourage use of larger aircraft. For example, Boeing 747s, seating more than 300, will pay $353.08 instead of $738.84; the Boeing 727 fee will dip from $200.43 to $159.91; a 7-to-8-seat Piper Navajo will pay $91.29 instead of $25; a 10-seat Cessna 402 will pay $90.96 instead of $25.

The success of PACE is expected to hinge on whether such price changes will be accepted, what the impact will be on smaller carriers, and whether it can encourage less use by small planes of the prime landing and takeoff hours - 6 to 8 a.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. - to make room for more large carriers.

General-aviation spokesmen say PACE is targeted to reduce the number of small, private planes using Logan as well as undersized commercial aircraft carrying 19 or fewer passengers - the basic stock of commuter airlines connecting Boston with 34 New England communities.

Two major organizations, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the Regional Airline Association, openly oppose the Massport plan. They are concerned that other major airports might follow the Boston example. If that happens, they say, freedom of the airways may no longer exist. Spokesmen for both groups say they will oppose PACE ``through proper channels.''

Those channels are the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the US Department of Transportation, the two federal agencies responsible for the operation of airports nationwide. If opponents do not get satisfaction from these procedures, they may file suit in federal court, spokesmen say.

``We're outraged,'' says Robert Wilkie, AOPA regional director. ``We'll take administrative procedures against these new rules. We know that we also have the option of taking the issue to court.''

General-aviation pilots and operators of commuter lines that serve small New England cities tend to see the plan as a design to reduce flights and landings at Logan Airport by getting rid of them.

John A. Baker, AOPA president, wrote his objections to the PACE plans in a Feb. 25 letter challenging Massport's right to change regulations without checking with the FAA.

``Massport's discrimination against general-aviation operations at Logan Airport is contrary to the assurances it gave the federal government as a condition to receiving federal airport aid for Logan,'' he wrote.

He said AOPA disagrees with Massport's new fees for use of Logan.

James Donnelly of Manchester, N.H., representing the Regional Airline Association, says, ``The whole program is a step backwards.''

The fee hikes for smaller planes will not affect regional airports that can connect commuter flights to major airlines without using Logan, says Mr. Donnelly. The Manchester, N.H.; Providence, R.I.; and Worcester, Mass., airports have such tie-ins.

Massport director Davis responds: ``No class of user will be denied access to Logan Airport because of size.'' Massport offers Hanscomb Field as an alternative to Logan as a landing place for smaller firms. This airport is less than a half-hour from downtown Boston.

Residents of communities bordering Logan airport generally favor PACE. So do politicians who wish to avoid solutions that would require new state expenditures. Passenger reaction also is expected to be favorable.

PACE exempts 14 of New England's small airports from the new fee structure. The changes will not apply to Martha's Vineyard, Provincetown, New Bedford, and Nantucket in Massachusetts; Rockland, Lewistown, Presque Isle, and Bar Harbor in Maine; Laconia and Keene in New Hampshire; Bridgeport and New Haven in Connecticut, and Rutland, Vt.

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