The Airport Authority has hardly won the prize for openness and transparency on the small matter of fees at Chek Lap Kok. Representatives of the leading airlines operating out of Hong Kong have tried all manner of cajoling and grandstanding in an unsuccessful bid to get the authority to show its hand. However, the authority's move last month to unveil limited information on fees appears to have opened up a period of media friendliness at the airport body. Outgunned by a savvy media campaign on the part of the airline representatives, it seems the authority realises it needs to get its act in order to win the media war on the fees front. Certainly the authority is making a concerted effort to be more visible in its debate with the airlines. Corporate development director Clinton Leeks on Tuesday held the first of what the authority says will be a series of briefings to keep journalists up-to-date with developments on the fees issue. Despite the claim the meeting was the first of a scheduled series, it was organised at very short notice. Journalists were not informed of the briefing until a couple of hours before it was held - suggesting the authority may have brought forward its attempt to limit the public relations damage from the airlines' claims. The catalyst for the authority coming out of its shell this week may have been the move by the US to enter the debate. On Monday, United States Consul-General Richard Boucher said US airlines may avoid Chek Lap Kok airport if operating charges were uncompetitive. The US representative in Hong Kong said US airlines were looking forward to the possibilities the new airport would offer - but only at the right price. Mr Leeks used the first briefing to launch an impassioned defence of proposed fee levels. His central claim was that the new airport ultimately would add to the bottom lines of the major international airlines operating out of Hong Kong - not eat into them. In making this case, Mr Leeks did something the authority has done precious little of since the fees debate started - launched an offensive against comments by the airlines. He accused carriers of helping to undermine Hong Kong's international competitiveness by making claims higher fees would cause a loss of competition in terms of Hong Kong's airport facilities. According to Mr Leeks, this sort of claim is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy if it is repeated loudly and often, as the airlines have done. Airline representatives claim Chek Lap Kok will be the most expensive airport in the world outside Japan for Boeing 747 aircraft, although on smaller aircraft it will not be as relatively expensive. Landing fees at the airport will be based on a per-seat fee for aircraft, regardless of how many passengers are being carried. This is designed to ensure airlines use their planes at close to optimum capacity at the new airport. On specific numbers so far released, there is a significant discrepancy between the fees anticipated by the authority and the peak airline representative body, the International Air Transport Association (Iata). Based on information it has received from the authority, Iata estimates the cost of operating a jumbo jet into Chek Lap Kok will be $67,700 - more than 2.5 times what it claims to be the charges at Kai Tak of $25,640. The authority itself has painted rather a different picture. It says the intended user charges for passenger aircraft at Chek Lap Kok will be $66,877 - compared with $31,426 at Kai Tak. Whatever the real charge turns out to be, the harsh reality for the authority is that it needs to start talking, and talking fast, if it is to win the war on fees. A public relations head-start of the magnitude of that grabbed by the airlines is not going to be easy to make up.