As the political parties wrestle for their priority of needs in the future, one of the areas that is chronically underfunded is that of aviation infrastructure. There are reliable estimates that the entire transportation infrastructure, the one we all depend on to traverse this great country, needs $125 billion more per year just to maintain current levels never mind making any improvements. As air travel has surged the past 7 years, capital spending on aviation infrastructure has actually declined, from about 21 billion in 2004 to 13 billion in 2014.
In Utah, the 2.5 billion dollar investment into the Salt Lake airport, over the next 10 years, is significant. But as we all know the population of Utah is growing North and South of Salt Lake. Currently 25% of the outbound passengers from Salt Lake live closer to the Ogden airport and 18% of the outbound passengers live closer to the Provo airport. Yes, there are airports in Ogden and Provo with commercial airline capability currently being served by one airline with minimal destinations. The transportation infrastructure to get passengers to Salt Lake, primarily I-15, can find itself significantly overloaded at various times of the day. Today’s airline passenger is looking for a convenient way to get from one transportation infrastructure provider to another for their desired destination. Add in the time for ground transportation and security screening to get to an airport many hours are spent in various levels of frustration, needlessly.
American airports could use some improvement. In the world of airports there is a ranking system. It is called the SkyTrax annual ranking, a system that shows how airports cater to travelers with amenities such as restaurants and various kinds of retail. The front door of a community for travelers. The first U.S. city to appear in this system at number 28, is the Denver International airport. That doesn’t say much for attracting travelers to our country.
Last year, one of the larger trade groups estimated that the U.S. would need to invest $75.7 billion to accommodate passenger and cargo growth through 2019. What are the improvements? Replacement of aging terminals, adding runways, and streamlining security. Collectively these three areas, if improved, would reduce delays and generally make traveling a less miserable experience. There already exists a partial funding mechanism called a Passenger Facility Charge that allows for airports to pay for upgrades. The PFC has not been updated or increased by Congress since 2000. Congress could do more to stimulate investments in airport projects with private investors by offering a tax preference for airport bonds or indexing the PFC to inflation. These ideas won’t make America’s airports move up in the SkyTrax rankings but they would ensure they are better at getting airline passengers where they need to go in relative comfort and in safety.