CLEARWATER - Passengers flying out of St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport can expect to pay a little more for tickets starting next spring.
On Tuesday, Pinellas County commissioners unanimously approved charging a $3 passenger facility charge for a limited time to help cover the cost of past and present capital projects.
The Federal Aviation Administration must approve the fee, which airport officials hope to tack on tickets from April 2005 until September 2007.
Federal law allows airports to charge up to $4.50 per person to departing passengers to help pay for airport improvements supported by FAA funds.
Tampa International and Sarasota-Bradenton International airports charge the maximum fee, airport officials said.
"By imposing a small one, like we did, it still leaves us competitive," County Commission Chairwoman Susan Latvala said. "It's not a tax. It's a user fee."
More than a million passengers this year used the Clearwater airport. Airport officials estimate that about 500,000 departing passengers each year could be charged the fee. That would generate $3,337,000 over the period the fee would be charged.
Noah Lagos, executive director for St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, said $2,354,968 would go toward reimbursing the airport for its share of completed construction projects since November 1990. That includes an expansion of the terminal and baggage area and rehabilitation of the runway and runway lighting.
The rest - $982,667 - is earmarked for current projects, such as the airport runway extension and security enhancements. "We have the right to collect a certain amount based on what we have previously spent, and what we predict to spend," Lagos said.
On Tuesday, commissioners also directed staffers to negotiate an agreement that would study and monitor noise from the airport. Another agreement would evaluate the potential for higher altitude clearance, a charted visual approach and global positioning system that allows aircraft to fly over Old Tampa Bay without weather and nighttime restrictions.
Commissioners are awaiting presentation of a final master plan that calls for $223-million in airport improvements over 20 years.
Drafts of the master plan, along with the runway extension, have drawn opposition from Feather Sound, Safety Harbor, Clearwater and Oldsmar - communities near the airport that are affected by noise from low-flying planes.
Earlier this year, commissioners approved design and permitting contracts for the runway extension. Latvala said the final master plan should come back to the commission before January.
"These are the things that absolutely must be done to stay competitive," she said.