User fees at Toronto Pearson International Airport set to rise next year

If you found post-lockdown travel out of Toronto Pearson International Airport difficult and expensive last summer, prepare for an added financial burden. Your next vacation will likely get a little more expensive once the calendar rolls over.

Airport officials say they will be increasing usage fees at the airport; directly or indirectly adding to the price of your fare.

The biggest hit comes from charges the airport levies upon airlines, which they then pass on to customers.

Read more: House of Commons transport committee to investigate Pearson’s airport delays

Passengers and passenger rights advocates have been clear about their distaste for the move since it was announced late last month, but the Greater Toronto Airports Authority says it’s an absolute necessity.

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“We understand and we sympathize,” spokesperson Rachel Bertone told Global News at the airport.

“We’re just doing this to ensure that the passenger experience when you come to Canada’s largest airport is as expected.”

When commercial, private and business aircraft land at Pearson their airlines and owners have to pay aeronautical fees to use the runway and various services like de-icing. Those fees, already several thousands of dollars per plane for commercial airlines, will see the biggest increase.

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As of Jan. 1, 2023, the GTAA will hike those rates by four per cent. They typically vary based on a plane’s weight.

The airport improvement fees charged directly to passengers on their tickets will also go up five dollars, from the current $30 to $35 for departing passengers. Those connecting through Pearson will be charged a dollar more than they currently are, bringing their fee up to seven dollars — which, officials are quick to point out, is still a dollar cheaper than that particular fee was in 2009.

“These fees will help increase the passenger experience, and they’re going to directly improve a lot of the facilities here at Toronto Pearson,” said Bertone.

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Officials say the higher fees bring them in line with what the international airports in Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal are charging.

According to a GTAA press release issued at the end of September, planned improvements include new baggage carousels, a robotic baggage storage and retrieval system in Terminal 3, better cleaning, roofing restoration in Terminal 3, and the hiring of more staff.

Read more: Air Canada, Pearson again rank No. 1 in delays worldwide; Montreal check-in freezes

Passenger rights advocates don’t deny those are all fundamental to running a world-class international airport but Dr. Gabor Lukacs, president of Air Passenger Rights, says the Canadian aviation industry has too much power, accusing it of being an unchecked monopoly ripe for an overhaul.

“Where’s the oversight? If tomorrow the airport decides to charge a $100 airport improvement fee, what is the mechanism to check whether it makes sense, and to intervene if it doesn’t make sense?”

Airports across Canada took on a lot of debt during the era of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns. In Pearson’s case, the debt amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Canadian airports operate on a not-for-profit model. They are not privately- or government-run like others around the world.

Many may see that as a benefit, but analysts say the trade-off is that they have no other way to raise the money to get back into the black.

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“If you’re a not-for-profit, you essentially have two sources of revenues to support your activities,” said York University Schulich School of Business professor Frank Lazar.

“The revenues you generate from the various fees you charge passengers, airlines, retail outlets … parking, etc., and issuing debt.”

It may be how the system works, but it’s cold comfort to passengers anxious to fly again, who seem to find costs rising little by little every time they do.

Multiple airlines have publicly condemned Pearson’s planned usage fee hike, but it’s unclear whether they plan to take any action to mitigate costs, and if so, what that action may be.

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