Last month we talked a little about the unfunded part of aviation infrastructure. Within 24 hours of the election, November 8, 2016, the largest industry trade organization, Airlines for America, (A4A) congratulated the President Elect Donald Trump on his historic election as the 45th president of the United States. The industry was also quick to point out that Mr. Trump, during his campaigning and in his acceptance speech, had plans to improve infrastructure as part of his first 100 days of priority issues. It is widely accepted that the airline industry is generally recognized as a growth engine for creating good high paying jobs. The industry is also recognized for moving the economy of those direct communities, it serves, forward as opposed to communities without an airport.
The priority for the Airlines for America CEO, Nicholas Calio, seems to be the sky portion of the infrastructure first. The sky portion is the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system. The ATC system, while still very safe, is a product of the 1940s in America. In Utah for instance there exists in numbers about 140 airports of various sizes. About 40 of those airports receive some form of FAA Airport Improvement money. However, in Utah there are less than 5 airports with a tower wherein the bulk of tower money may be allocated. The most recent completely remodeled airport, smaller than Salt Lake, is the St. George airport which doesn’t have a tower.
The airline industry is looking for more efficient ways to move the estimated 2.2 million daily passengers and 50,000 tons of cargo. Doing this along with designing a more efficient infrastructure system for the future is their largest goal. The industry claims to support 10 million jobs and drive 5% of the total U.S. economy each day. They equate this to 1.5 trillion annual dollars in the U.S. economy. The airline industry connects people, goods and services in a way almost no other industry does. The industry feels that modernization through appropriate technology, similar to that of many foreign countries, should be our first priority.
On the other hand this organization is not generally supportive of an increase in the Passenger Facility Charge, (PFC), discussed briefly in this blog last month. The PFC is the ticket tax that allows communities to build their terminals and other supporting infrastructure. The PFC increase is currently under consideration with the most recent FAA reauthorization funding.
Herein comes the political give and take if Congress agrees to address it. The airline industry wants to improve the infrastructure of the sky. The communities of this country want to improve the ground facilities for their visitors. All of this becomes the process of negotiation and possible compromise. Time will tell who has the most influence.