US Senator Backs Aviation Security Fee Increase

February 24, 2010

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A key US senator said on Wednesday that he supported increasing aviation security fees as authorities boost security after the failed attempt to blow up a US commercial airliner on Christmas Day.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman said that the Department of Homeland Security's budget may not keep pace with inflation, which could inhibit efforts to thwart terrorism threats. Boosting aviation security fees will help fund air industry security, he said.

"For that reason, I will support a request to increase aviation fees to benefit the budget of homeland security," Lieberman said at a hearing on the department's budget for fiscal 2011, which begins on October 1, 2010.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks in which four commercial airliners were hijacked and intentionally crashed, the federal government overhauled passenger and luggage screening and imposed a fee on passengers and airlines to help defray the costs.

The airline industry, which has suffered massive financial losses since the attacks, has complained that carriers and passengers spend about USD$5.9 billion a year for security. They argue the government should pick up the entire tab.

Fliers pay a security fee of up to USD$5 each way and up toUSD$10 round-trip. President Barack Obama's fiscal 2011 budget calls for collecting about USD$2.15 billion in aviation security fees.

Last year, the administration proposed increasing the maximum round-trip fee by USD$1 a year between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2014, but it did not advance in Congress.

Last December, a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit with a bomb hidden in his clothing, but it failed to go off completely and he was tackled and subdued by passengers.

That failed attempt led the Obama administration to boost airport security dramatically, and included in its fiscal 2011 budget additional money for advanced-imaging body scanners that could detect bombs hidden in clothing.

The Department of Homeland Security plans to deploy hundreds of the machines this year with the goal of having 1,000 of them operating by 2011.

While not directly addressing the fees, the senior Republican on the committee, Senator Susan Collins, said she backed the Obama administration's request for additional funding to address gaps in security that have been exposed.

"The proposed increases for aviation security are welcome," Collins said.

(Reuters)