MIAMI — Two airport associations have joined forces to ensure that their constituents are represented as Congress begins to navigate the FAA reauthorization bill. The last time funding for FAA was on the table, it took five years and a record 23 short-term reauthorizations to get it done.
Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) and the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) created the Airports United website to help them advocate for federal policies that strengthen the U.S. aviation infrastructure. The organizations have created a cross-section of aviation and non-aviation related partners, including the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), that all support the goal of having a safe, efficient, and modern airport system, including construction and engineering, tourism, and state and municipal governments.
The Airports United website is the partners — ACI-NA, AAAE and USTA — saying one thing in a powerful and unified way, said ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin Burke. “This has never been done in the aviation business. It was important to be able to be heard with one unified voice during this process.”
USTA is in the mix because it was thought they would be a natural fit, said Burke. “If we’re going to do joint lobbying, we don’t want Congress to hear different messages, we want a single message,” he said. “And the nice thing is that all three groups have a united position on FAA reauthorization.”
Priorities for the partners are:
- Modernize the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) program by setting it at $8.50 and adjusting it to offset the impacts of inflation;
- Protect the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) by giving it full federal funding to help pay for infrastructure projects;
- Maintain and expand tax-exempt financing options for airports and eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) burden on Private Activity Bonds (PABs);
- Support small community air service programs by fully funding the Contract Tower, Essential Air Service (EAS), and Small Community Air Service Development Programs, which enhance aviation safety and help small communities maintain and attract new commercial air service;
- Make useful investments in the NextGen System in order to create greater efficiencies in the aviation system.
- Enhance flexibility to mitigate environmental impacts at airports to create a more environmentally friendly aviation system;
- Reduce passenger wait times for international arrivals through staffing adjustments and technology deployment; and
- Prohibit cost-shifting to airports for federal security responsibilities and reimburse airports for the costs associated with meeting federal duties and requirements.
When Congress returns in January, ACI-NA, AAAE and USTA will be ready to pounce on new members, said Burke. “We especially want to cover the modernization of the PFC and what it means for local communities,” he said. “No matter what the party, we are showing them that it’s not a tax. It’s a local fee covered by the the people who use airports that pays for infrastructure and repairs at facilities.”
The partners are also working with non-aviation groups like the American Council of Engineering Companies, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers. “When you look at an airport, it’s not just there alone. There are outside groups that are a part of it, and these groups benefit greatly from modernized airports,” said Burke. “If airports get increased PFCs, they can build new facilities and runways, local firms can compete for that business and money stays in the community.”
And members of Congress can brag about how they brought money into their districts without tapping federal funds, said Burke. “We’re proud that we have 21 organizations that support us on FAA reauthorization, with 17 of them being non-aviation related groups,” he said.
ACI-NA and AAAE pushed hard for a rise in the PFC cap during the last FAA reauthorization bill but failed to get it included in the final measure signed in 2012. Burke blamed it on how and the way the message was delivered back then.
“This time, we’re working not only with airports, but outside groups and communities. When I took this job, I said the battle was not airports versus airlines. Instead, it’s about doing things like explaining why a raise in PFCs is needed, which is more practical and relevant,” said Burke. “We need to have members of Congress asking why they would oppose it. Our goal is to get 218 [House of Representatives] members to clear it and the majority of the Senate. If we do that, we’ve done our job.”