By Debby McElroy
One year ago, Congress allowed the authorization for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to expire for two weeks, throwing a huge wrench into one of our nation’s most important resources – our air transportation system. Despite the fact that airports are locally owned and operated, our members were significantly affected by this federal shutdown – and by the uncertainty that persists in federal aviation policy.
Airports think and plan in the longest of terms, as we face the projection of continued growth in both passenger and cargo traffic. In fact, the FAA projects that by 2024 over 1 billion passengers will travel through U.S. airports. The terminals and runway improvements required to ensure safety and meet future capacity and efficiency needs average 5 to 10 years to complete, and are crucial to ensuring that airports can support growth in our local and national economies. Yet despite the fact that Congress reached agreement this February on a three-year FAA reauthorization, many challenges remain.
Airports and their communities still lack the control, flexibility and options to help raise non-taxpayer funds for airport improvements. Our major tenants, the airlines, continue to face financial challenges and are flying fewer planes and reducing air service, in an effort to increase their profitability. And airports wait, with many other industries, to understand the impact that sequestration will have on the FAA, TSA and CBP staffing.
A strong airport helps attract new businesses and jobs to a region, and helps existing companies grow and expand to new markets and new opportunities. Airports themselves are a source of employment for 1.3 million Americans, and support a total of 10.5 million jobs and $1.2 trillion in economic output. And although our members are federally regulated, they’re locally owned and operated, and don’t rely on taxpayer dollars for funding.
In fact, it’s possible that one of the reasons that Congress decided to use the FAA as a political example is that they knew that the real backbone of the system – airports – would continue to be open for business. But as we reflect on the vital economic role airports play in our communities and our country, we feel it’s a role that makes us deserving of a more constructive and productive approach to future policy debates.
Your support is crucial. If the airport is a vital part of your life or business, we encourage you to help us share our message. As you may have heard, a few miles of highway gets you further down the road, but a few miles of runway gets you anywhere in the world. So please urge your elected officials to consider the important role that airports play in our communities, and our country, at every opportunity.