New Congress, Same Airport Priorities

Feb. 18, 2019

It’s often said the more things change, the more things stay the same. I have found this saying perfectly fits the ongoing work in Washington, DC.

The New Year has started with the political dynamics in the nation’s capital changing as the Democratic Party took control of the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years. While the political climate has certainly changed, what hasn’t changed is ACI-NA’s passionate advocacy for policies that strengthen the ability of airports to serve their passengers, customers and communities.

More than 1.8 billion passengers arrived at and departed from North America’s airports last year. According to our latest North American Traffic Report, passenger traffic grew by nearly four percent and cargo traffic increased seven percent in 2017. ACI World predicts that two billion passengers will travel through North American airports by 2020 and three billion by 2035.

With the number of passengers on the rise, our airports are at risk of falling behind. U.S. airports have nearly $100 billion in significant infrastructure needs that threaten their ability to serve their passengers, grow their local economies and create good paying jobs.

Modernizing the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) user fee and maintaining a robust Airport Improvement Program (AIP) remain two of our top policy priorities. Turning these priorities into reality would provide airports with the tools they need to make local infrastructure investment decisions.

Over the last five years, we have not relented in our efforts to provide assistance to airports. I am pleased to report that we have made significant progress to move the needle in Washington.
For far too long, airports were overlooked in the political system. We have spent abundant time on Capitol Hill highlighting the important role airports play in our nation’s economy. After all, the 493 commercial airports in the U.S. generate a collective economic output of $1.4 trillion. That’s seven percent of the national GDP.

To help us make the case for airports, we pulled together and have grown our Beyond the Runway Coalition to align support from food and beverage, retail, and construction and other industries that rely on airports to drive economic growth in their local communities.

Now at nearly 100 members, the coalition has amplified our messaging for modernizing airport infrastructure funding to ensure our nation’s airports have the resources they need to remain competitive and thriving hubs of economic opportunity.

Through these conversations and our ongoing efforts on Capitol Hill, we have been able to convince policymakers and political stakeholders that airports need a seat at the table when it comes to important policy discussions. We are well-positioned to advance airport priorities in 2019. With the House of Representatives under new control, we have new opportunities to address the significant infrastructure needs of our airports.

To our benefit, there is a lot of interest in moving an infrastructure package in the new Congress, and we think there is opportunity for strong bipartisan collaboration.

ACI-NA welcomed the election of Representative Peter DeFazio (D – OR) to be chair of the important House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. As a key original architect of the PFC, Chairman DeFazio has a deep understanding of how modernized airport infrastructure provides travelers with more choices, lower airfares, and a better airport experience.

Our members have already been on Capitol Hill to directly share their stories and challenges with the Chairman. They stressed that providing airports with the resources needed to modernize aging infrastructure will help create a more a hassle-free travel experience for passengers from the curb to the gate. We are encouraged by the conversations we have had so far and we are looking forward to working with Chairman DeFazio.

As we begin 2019, we are optimistic that our hard work over the last few years will enable us to capitalize on new opportunities that will strengthen the airport industry. In order to be successful, airports must stay engaged. I encourage you to speak with your policymakers about the importance of improving the airport funding system as a way to address the infrastructure needs America’s airports.

Cheers to another successful year for airports!

Kevin M. Burke is President and CEO of Airports Council International-North America.