A federal administrative judge ruled Thursday that stiff landing fees aimed at keeping smaller aircraft out of Boston’s Logan Airport violate federal aviation law because they are discriminatory and unfair.
A final decision on how to deal with the fee structure imposed last summer by the Massachusetts Port Authority rests with the Transportation Department, to which administrative law judge Burton S. Kolko made his recommendations.
The case has been seen within the aviation industry as a test over how much power the federal government intends to allow local officials and airport operators in dealing with air traffic congestion.
A spokesman said the department will decide by Dec. 17 whether to uphold Kolko’s decision or come down with an alternative finding on the Boston airport fees, which have raised a storm of protests among private and business pilots.
Kolko, in his decision, said the Logan fees “are lacking in economic justification . . . not fair and reasonable (and) are unjustly discriminatory” toward private aircraft and smaller commuter planes.
Port authority officials said that since the fee structure has been in place, Logan has handled more passengers with fewer delays.
The Transportation Department announced last summer that it planned to closely examine the so-called “Pace Program” enacted at Logan to curtail the volume of air traffic at the busy airport.
After loud protests from private pilots and some commuter airlines, Congress included in its transportation appropriations legislation earlier this year a provision ordering the department to stop airport construction money for Logan if it concludes the fees violate aviation law and are not rescinded.
The airport’s operators said they wanted to use Logan’s limited capacity for airliner traffic and not private aircraft, maintaining that a jet with up to 400 people aboard “deserves a higher priority than a Cessna with two people on board.”