The Cost of Doing Nothing: Why Investment in our Nation’s Airports Matters
HVC 210, Capitol Visitor Center
Tori Barnes, Executive Vice President, Public Affairs, U.S. Travel Association | Written Testimony
No one denies that much of our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, but aviation is different. Tens of billions of dollars over the past few years have been poured into our airports. Last year, Congress authorized nearly $4.5 billion annually in airport grants while making it easier for airports to use PFC revenues.
Those investments have paid off. 98% of runways at commercial service airports are in excellent, good, or fair condition and new terminals open every year. However, more passengers than ever will travel through our airports this year, and demand is expected to grow. Therefore, reviewing airport infrastructure investment makes sense.
While I am grateful to today’s witnesses, I am disappointed we will not hear a greater diversity of perspectives. No one at today’s hearing can share the perspective of mainline, regional, or cargo airlines. Additionally, there is no one today from the finance community to discuss financing airport projects, including with private capital. And finally, there is no one here who can speak to the experiences of general aviation airports. As you may know, GA airports are economic engines, and are often the entry point into aviation for aerospace professionals. Not having these unique perspectives is a missed opportunity.
Regardless, it is important to keep in mind three key points on airport investment.
First, we have to understand what the actual infrastructure needs of airports are. A recently released survey states that airports have $128 billion in infrastructure needs over the next 5 years. This number is 80% higher than the same report 4 years ago – even though passenger traffic increased only 13%. We have to make sure that we’re talking about infrastructure needs, not infrastructure wants.
Second, we must make sure that private capital is part of any solution. All commercial service airports generate revenue, and therefore have the ability to attract private capital. Let’s make sure that airports can take advantage of private investment opportunities.
Lastly, it is clear that airports and airlines continue to accuse each other of wanting more control. Lost in this “arm-wrestling” is accountability – accountability to the passenger, who already pays more than 20% in taxes and fees on a ticket, and accountability to the taxpayer, who has little say on how their airport will serve their community.
In my district, voters have been sold enough versions of a new terminal at Kansas City International to make their heads spin. An unlimited PFC would have allowed the city and airport to circumvent the voters and spend without regard to impacts on taxpayers or passengers.
In terms of an infrastructure package, all funding options are on the table. But I am skeptical of any proposal that adds to the traveling public’s burden, fails to fully consider the views of local communities and passengers, and lacks a full range of financing options, including private capital.
With that, I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses, and I yield back the balance of my time.