AIRLINES FACE LAX DEADLINE ON SATURDAY

AIRLINES FACE LAX DEADLINE ON SATURDAY

Airlines serving Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) will either begin paying higher landing fees by Saturday or face the prospect of being banned

from operating at the nation's third-busiest airport.

The city, which runs the airport, has demanded that airlines pay $1.56 per 1,000 pounds of landed weight, three times the current rate. The new fees would be retroactive to July 1, when they were first imposed.The higher charges, which would include interest accrued since July 1, would equal a $900 fee each time a Boeing 747 aircraft lands at LAX.

So far, 75 U.S. and foreign carriers, which account for 90 percent of the

2,000 daily flight operations at LAX, have refused to pay. The airlines argued that the fees are much higher than the airport needs to cover operating expenses and capital expansion programs.

LAX officials, however, contend the new fees are much lower than those at other airports. At New York's LaGuardia Airport, for example, the rate is $3.50 per thousand pounds, compared with $2.75 at John F. Kennedy International, $1.89 at O'Hare International in Chicago and $1.77 at Dallas/ Fort Worth.

Richard Mintz, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the agency would respond this week to an industry request that Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena personally intervene to resolve the conflict.

The Air Transport Association, which represents the largest U.S. airlines, also filed a petition with the Federal Aviation Administration asking either Mr. Pena or David R. Hinson, the FAA administrator, to hold an emergency hearing and issue an order by Saturday blocking the city's action.

In a letter to Steve Kaplan, the DOT's general counsel, James Landry, the group's president, warned Mr. Pena that failure to act is "sending a very dangerous message to airports across the country that they may too triple fees and shut out any airline that does not immediately pay them."

An administration source, however, said neither Mr. Pena nor Mr. Hinson are anxious to get involved.

"It is not an area where we want to change the balance between airlines and airports. We want to maintain that creative tension," the source said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today on how much local governments can charge airlines for the cost of running public airports.