The Atlantic Canada Airports Association says it is losing nearly half of its passenger business seeking trips to the United States to airports outside of Canada.

The industry group, which met in Fredericton on Thursday, said the loss of business to U.S. airports is costing provincial airports a lot of money and the chance to attract new airlines.

New Brunswick travellers have made the trip to airports, such as in Bangor, Me., for years to catch flights at a fraction of the cost of Canadian ticket prices.

Bernie LeBlanc, the chief executive officer of the Saint John Airport Authority, said a recent study showed they were losing as many as 40,000 passengers a year who flew out of the United States.

"We have a $20 passenger fee, so that's something we're not getting for any departing passenger and parking revenue we're not getting," he said.

The loss of 40,000 passengers is significant for New Brunswick airports.

Saint John had roughly 227,000 passengers use the facility in 2010. Meanwhile, almost 600,000 passengers used the Moncton airport and 275,000 people passed through the Fredericton airport.

High ticket costs

LeBlanc said the high cost of air fares in Canada also prevents airports from attracting new airlines.

"Why would we want to go to Canada when we can establish ourselves in Bangor and still get the Canadian passengers and not have to pay the same amount of fees," he said.

David Innes, the chief executive officer of the Fredericton airport, said taxes and fees imposed by various levels of government are to blame for the high cost of Canadian air fares.

"The governments in Canada are taking a billion dollars a year out of the air transportation system. That money has to come from somewhere," Innes said.

"It's coming basically from the consumers. We want governments to — and it's all three levels of governments — to review their taxation as it affects flying in Canada."

Innes said money lost from lower fees would be recouped from revenue gained from the thousands of passengers who now drive to American airports.

Earlier this week, David Ganong, chairman of Ganong Bros., said New Brunswick should have one main, international airport.

The businessman said Moncton’s airport would be the ideal pick for the main New Brunswick international airport. He said Saint John and Fredericton would still offer regional flights.

Ganong said centralizing the airport is an easy way to boost the economy. He told a business audience on Tuesday the three airports compete more than they co-operate and they duplicate some of the same services.