Airport Improvement Fee here to stay: YVR chief

The tax bite you pay to fly out of Vancouver won’t be going down any time soon – and it’s all because the airport wants to be the key hub for airlines funelling passengers to Asia.

The head of Vancouver International Airport revealed, Thursday, that the $20 Airport Improvement Fee passengers pay as they depart to points outside British Columbia pay is here to stay.

“I’d like to hear,” said David Varnes of the Machinists union at YVR, “some stronger rationale why we’re up to $20?”

The fees were originally designed as a temporary measure to help newly privatized airports expand after years of federal government management. But much like income tax, which was introduced in 1917 to fund the war effort as a “temporary measure,” AIF have stayed and steadily grown, giving airports millions collected straight from the flying public.

“I believe it’s going to continue as long as this airport is in construction mode,” said Larry Berg, YVR’s president and CEO at the airport’s annual public meeting.

With the airport’s not-for-profit authority in the beginning stages of a decade-long, $1.8 billion upgrade, that means travellers will be paying the fees for the forseeable future.

Last year, the AIF netted $89.7 million for airport construction projects. The fee for destinations outside B.C. increased to $20 from $15 on May 1.

All other major Canadian airports also charge improvement fees. They can add up to 10 per cent of the cost of a short-haul flight.

Berg said the AIF will pay for improvements designed to make YVR an easier – and faster – transit point for passengers. He said it can take 80 minutes for passengers to connect from Asia to domestic destinations – longer than any other airport in the country.

The airport is in the planning stages of a new customs facility designed only for connecting passengers, one that will speed them trough specially designed inspection lanes, and get their bags through to their next flight faster.

The airport wants to “make travel more comfortable and less of a hassle for everyone,” said Berg.

Berg dismissed concerns the $20 AIF is driving passengers to other airports, particularly Seattle and Bellingham in Washington State.

But he pointed out U.S. airports receive millions in federal subsidies for infrastructure and don’t pay any rent – advantages Canadian airports don’t enjoy.

“We are losing traffic [to those airports],” he said. “That’s not something we like.”

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