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LAX, Airlines Ordered to Exchange Data in Fee Dispute : Transportation: A federal judge tells airport officials to provide information about what costs were factored into the new, higher charges. A protracted conflict is seen.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With the threatened closure of Los Angeles International Airport averted, a federal judge Monday ordered airlines and the Los Angeles Department of Airports to begin trading information in what is expected to be a protracted dispute over the fairness of the airport’s tripling of landing fees.

About 73 airlines agreed last week to pay the higher fees under protest until the courts decide if the charges are more than is needed to operate LAX.

The agreement prevented the airlines from being locked out of the nation’s third-largest airport, but their underlying objection to the higher fees is still pending.

U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima said the airport officials should begin immediately to provide information on what costs they factored into the fees, which jumped from about $300 to $900 for a Boeing 747.

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Tashima said the information will come in handy, whether the matter is heard in his court or by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The judge signaled Monday that he believes the federal agency is the proper venue for such a hearing, but said he will delay a decision until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the spring or summer on a similar case involving a Michigan airport.

The delay was a minor victory for the airlines, which prefer the courts to hear the case and had feared that Tashima would throw out their complaint.

“We are pleased with what the judge did today,” said John Ek of the Air Transport Assn. of America.

Air Transport Assn. officials said they are happy that Tashima ordered both sides to begin addressing the central issues in the case, by producing information on the costs of operations at the airport.

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“Today’s ruling allows us to develop a record proving that the new landing fees at LAX are unfair and unreasonable,” said Jim Landry, president of the airline trade industry organization.

City officials said they expect the case to end up before the Transportation Department, where they expect to prevail.

“The secretary of transportation has already taken the position that a (fee) methodology like ours is correct,” said Harold J. McElhinny, the city’s lawyer in the dispute. “The airlines would much rather have this heard in court.”


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