Inside the Fence

Jan. 10, 2007

On consultants, funding, the cost of construction, and the emerging corporate aviation facility ...

The key message from this year's annual meeting of the Airport Consultants Council is that the consulting sector, vital to various aspects of airport development, is experiencing a significant shortage in expertise. New hires — engineers, architects, planners, designers — are getting harder to find.

One reason, say ACC officials, is that the IT profession draws from the same talent pool. Another reason, says a long-time consultant, is the intense consolidation that the consultant community has undergone in recent times. His assertion: forced retirements due to bottom line considerations account for some of the shortfall.

Meanwhile, with the turn of the new year the aviation funding battle begins to heat up in earnest. Incoming ACI-NA chair Rick Piccolo says changes in passenger facility charges are at the top of the airports' wish list.

Comments Piccolo, "We should at least get to where we would have been based on inflation. If the PFC had been indexed the last time it was raised to $4.50, it would be in the $7.50 range today. That makes a lot of sense to do; otherwise, your PFC dollars are degraded each year."

Piccolo, who heads up the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, talks airport issues on page 31. One other key item he would like Congress to take into consideration is the dramatic increases in the cost of building things aviation. "The Southeast has been particularly hard hit," he says. "Katrina has put so much pressure on supply. Our projects have been coming in at double of estimates."

One other thought from Piccolo: "Even taking airports out of the equation, you have to fix the air traffic system and get it modernized. Leaving the system the way it is, is getting more expensive every year." That's causing a further drain on FAA's operations and maintenance budget, and in turn is impacting the Airport Improvement Program, originally targeted solely at infrastructure projects but which each year pays more of FAA's budget.

Finally, this issue's Business Profile features the Dulles Jet Center, another hybrid corporate aviation facility. The dramatic growth of business aviation has seen an influx of new money into the corporate arena, and some of that new money is coming from developers who have had success in other marketplaces. With new money comes new ideas, ala the Dulles Jet Center, which is in effect a property management firm that is subcontracting its refueling services to Signature Flight Support. Interesting times, indeed.

Thanks for reading.