Note: This blog was originally published on May 15 in Aviation Daily.
By Kevin M. Burke
Since joining Airports Council International – North America in January as its new President and CEO, I have spent the last few months meeting with airport stakeholders and policy makers all around North America. I went into this listening tour with my ears and mind open about the current and future challenges facing airports and their role in supporting our economy.
One of the needs I routinely heard – and one of my main goals for ACI-NA – comes back to the need to modernize infrastructure and our ability to advance airport priorities through the use of broad coalitions. As a lifelong advocate, I know that participating in coalitions provides voices with a greater platform to share their unique perspective within a context that can spur action.
This week marks the second annual “Infrastructure Week,” a week-long celebration of the vast network that supports – and moves – the U.S. economy. Endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Brookings Institute, and others including President Barack Obama, Infrastructure Week provides those in the transportation sector with a valuable opportunity to educate Congress and the American public about the important role infrastructure plays in creating U.S. jobs and growing our economy.
The aviation community is well aware that surface transportation currently is in the legislative spotlight. But that doesn’t mean aviation infrastructure issues need to take a back seat this week. In fact, now is an ideal opportunity to truly start gathering momentum ahead of next year’s Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization.
During Infrastructure Week 2014, we at ACI-NA will be working across the infrastructure and transportation community to share the industry’s important perspective. Our baseline message is simple and clear: airports are a fundamental component of our nation’s transportation infrastructure.
With more than 700 million passengers and 27 million metric tons of cargo traveling in and out of the United States through an airport each year, airports make a tremendous contribution to U.S. GDP—more than $1.2 trillion—and employ more than 1.2 million people. Those are not numbers policy makers can ignore, and we at ACI-NA will not let them.
In order to ensure that our airports and commercial aviation sector continue to lead the world, we need to get serious about investing in our future. That is exactly why ACI-NA is proud to participate in Infrastructure Week 2014.
Last year, we conducted a broad survey across North American airports to assess the current and future needs of airports as they are called upon to meet increases in passenger and cargo traffic. We were able to identify $71.3 billion in infrastructure improvements needed by 2017 to meet strong growth projections in both passenger and cargo activity and the need to update aging infrastructure. U.S. airports expect the number of domestic passengers alone to surpass one billion enplanements within the next 15 years, and their greatest challenge currently is obtaining the financial resources that will allow them to successfully tackle these infrastructure needs.
Airports need additional funding, and the primary source of this funding—particularly for our large hub airports—is the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC). The PFC’s maximum of $4.50 per segment, however, has not been raised since 2000, which has reduced its purchasing power by roughly half. To put it another way: the longer the PFC’s purchasing power continues to be stalled the more expensive necessary capital improvement projects become.
The investment we make in airports will help further bolster our economy by bringing growth to other sectors, including travel, tourism, and global commerce. If we allow U.S. infrastructure to continue to age without new investment, we will fall behind. Any lag in our economic growth because of an outdated infrastructure jeopardizes our competitiveness in the global market.
The world is growing more global each day. In an increasingly competitive global market, we must be able to successfully meet capacity demands with the safe, efficient, and modern facilities that passengers and cargo shippers expect. Modernizing the way we finance airport improvement projects is essential for airports to meet these needs, all while creating U.S. jobs and growing our economy. I look forward to working with my transportation colleagues to make that happen.