Opinion

The Time Is Right to Fix America’s Airports

The stars may be aligned for Washington to finally make much-needed upgrades to America’s airports. In his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump called for rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) released an infrastructure framework that includes concrete steps to modernize America’s airports. And several of the remaining presidential candidates, including former Vice President Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, have all expressed support for taking real action to fix our airports. It appears we have reached a rare bipartisan consensus in Washington – and we should act now. 

It’s no secret that America’s airports are in dire needs of infrastructure upgrades. With decade-old terminals and crowded facilities, even the most novice traveler could tell you major modernization efforts are needed. Much of the reason for our aging airports is due to the fact that airport funding has not been updated in 20 years.

Airports rely on what’s known as the Passenger Facility Charge, or the PFC, to fund infrastructure projects. The PFC is a small user fee paid only by travelers using the airport, which is a good thing for taxpayers because it spares the general public from footing the bill. 

The problem is that the PFC has not been updated since 2000. When you consider inflation, the PFC’s current $4.50 level is not enough to pay for essential infrastructure projects. What’s worse, America’s airports are saddled with nearly $100 billion in bond debt to pay for past projects because of the outdated PFC. 

A recent, congressionally mandated study from the RAND Corporation confirmed that modernizing the PFC will be the most cost effective and sustainable approach to solve the problem. This study reaffirmed our position that airports do the best they can with minimal resources, but without a boost from Congress, it simply won’t be enough.

Why should the average American care about fixing our nation’s airport infrastructure? It’s good for the economy, jobs and consumers. America’s airports support 11.5 million direct and indirect jobs, as well as $1.4 trillion in economic activity. In many regions of the country they are one of the most, if not the most important economic driver supporting local jobs. With an estimated $128 billion in infrastructure needs through 2023, taking on airport infrastructure projects would not only support existing jobs, but create an estimated 2.6 million new ones.

It’s also about American families facing ever-climbing airline ticket prices. Newer and better airports will create competition among the airlines, which in turn will drive ticket prices down. More gates will not only be good for travelers looking for a seat at the airport, but also for families wary of outrageous ticket costs. 

It’s no surprise then that major airlines oppose an increase to the PFC. The same airlines who readily charge $40 bag fees to pad their bottom line oppose a small but meaningful adjustment to fix America’s airports – all because it will not directly benefit them. They’ve launched a well-funded lobbying campaign opposing the PFC modernization, but the American public should be aware that the airlines’ efforts not only hurt consumers, but get us closer to a real-life tax increase, rather than simply adjusting a user fee. 

Luckily, Democrats and Republicans alike in Washington have made fixing America’s airports a priority. 2020 is the year for us to act on something that will boost our economy, support jobs, and help American consumers. In a year when there will be no lack of politicking, an increase to the PFC represents a golden opportunity to get something done for all Americans.

 

Kevin Burke is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA).

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