New overtime fees considered for rural Alaska airlines

FAIRBANKS — State officials are looking to start charging airlines for landing their planes at rural Alaska airports outside regular operating hours.

The Department of Transportation is working with airlines to create an overtime fee that could be implemented next year. Fairbanks International Airport and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport would not be affected by the change, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Juneau’s airport is municipally owned.

DOT Deputy Commissioner John Binder said Thursday state budget cuts have brought on the need to charge airlines that land outside of an airport’s normal operating hours. The department’s general fund budget has been reduced by more than 20 percent during the past two years, and overtime at rural airports has been “essentially zeroed out,” he said.

Transportation officials are working with airline companies to adjust each airport’s operating hours and change flight schedules to avoid overtime, Binder said. The fees that would be charged in the case of an airline that can’t work out a schedule within an airport’s budgeted hours are still being worked out.

“The first part of this is working with the different air carriers to verify and confirm what their daily flight schedules are so we can make sure our normal operating hours that we are covered for match up with their schedule as much as possible,” Binder said. “We’ve been able to do that with almost all of our airports. But there are a few where the airlines have flights outside of those scheduled hours.”

Binder said the fee structure will depend on the locations, schedules and types of planes used by the airline. Larger aircraft typically require greater safety measures and more runway maintenance than smaller planes.

Matt Atkinson, co-owner of Warbelow’s Air Ventures, said companies operating flights to rural Interior Alaska are unlikely to be affected by the overtime fee because most flights take place during daytime hours. Atkinson also expressed concern with how the new fees will be determined.

“I certainly understand the need to generate revenue and I think it’s appropriate to have the users of those services pay for those services, but the actual billing and execution of that would be pretty difficult,” said Atkinson, who is also the president of the Alaska Air Carriers Association.

Binder said the proposed fees are expected to be up for public comment in the first half of 2017 and could be implemented by July.

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