Car rental changes coming to Tri-Cities Airport

The Tri-Cities Airport improvement fund will be growing by thousands of dollars, thanks to advice of an airport management consultant.

Lynn Leibowitz of Leibowitz and Horton in Greenwood Village, Colo., recently reviewed the airport's finances and discovered the Port of Pasco wasn't taking full advantage of its car rental operations.

"Their leases hadn't been changed since 2002," she said. "They're not paying anything to park their rental cars. You and I pay $12 a day."

So the Port of Pasco commissioners have agreed to terminate all current agreements with the car rental operations at the airport effective Nov. 1.

This Monday, all car rental companies are eligible to begin bidding on the five counter spaces at the airport.

"Their minimum bid is $90,000 a year, but they can bid more," Leibowitz said.

Companies operating more than one brand -- for example, Alamo, Enterprise and National are owned by Enterprise Holdings -- will be allowed to have two per counter. But their minimum bid will be $180,000.

Under the new agreements, rent for counter space will be $32 per square foot each year -- the same as airlines pay. They also will be paying $60 per month for each parking stall.

"That's 300 to 350 stalls for all five operators," Leibowitz said.

In return, the car rental operations will get improved facilities, but they won't be funding all of the improvements. Travelers renting the cars will pitch in, too.

On Thursday, Port of Pasco commissioners voted unanimously to implement a $3 customer facility charge program at the Tri-Cities Airport. Beginning Oct. 1, the fee will be collected by the car rental agencies at the airport and remitted monthly to the port.

"The rental operations don't keep a penny of the fee," Leibowitz said.

Charging a CFC isn't unusual, she said.

"In 2010, over 110 airports were charging the fee, and it's even more now,"Leibowitz said. "They're as low as $1, as high as $6.20, but the national average is $4. Spokane recently increased theirs to $3.75."

Jean Ryckman, the port commission's newest member, said, "I think $3 is a good place to begin."

Leibowitz expects the port will gain about $40,000 a month because of the $3 CFC, based on the number of cars being rented at the airport.

The money will be used to make improvements at the airport that directly relate to car rental operations, including building a consolidated car wash and servicing station.

Just one rental agency now has a service facility on-site, and it's on the other side of the airport from where the cars are parked. Other operations are constantly ferrying cars back and forth off-site to wash and gas up.

"Believe me, they all want to be as efficient as possible," Leibowitz said.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513;