MIAMI — Voters overwhelmingly oppose an increase in the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC), also known as the airport tax, according to a new nationwide survey commissioned by Airlines for America (A4A), the trade organization that represents U.S. carriers.

A4A worked with The Tarrance Group, which polled 1,000 registered voters. The survey found that 82 percent of voters oppose almost doubling the PFC and tying future automatic increases to inflation. It also found that voters also understand airports have the resources they need to fund projects and believe air travelers are already taxed enough.

A4A CEO Nicholas E. Calio. (Credits: A4A)
A4A CEO Nicholas E. Calio. (Credits: A4A)

The survey comes at a time where Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) and the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), under the Airports United banner, are pushing to raise the cap on PFCs as part of the FAA reauthorization bill. The trade groups want to raise PFCs from the current $4.50 per passenger segment to $8.50 per segment.

Airports United argues that the PFC cap has not been adjusted since 2000, and since then, rising construction costs have eroded the purchasing power of the PFCs by about 50 percent. ACI-NA’s Capital Needs study, last done in 2013, indicates that commercial and general aviation airports, have $71.3 billion in total projects that are considered essential by the airport and airport users.

But A4A, along with industry stakeholders, anti-tax advocates, organized labor and consumer groups, are pushing back against Airport United’s attempts to raise the cap on the PFC. “The lack of a crisis in airport funding hasn’t prevented some from trying to invent one,” said A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio in a statement. “Since 2008, over $70 billion of airport capital projects have been completed, are underway or are approved by U.S. airlines and their airport partners at the nation’s largest 30 airports. Voters correctly believe that airports have plenty, yet passengers are taxed enough.”

Some of the key findings in the survey noted by A4A included:

  • 65 percent of voters view PFCs as a tax, not a user fee;
  • After learning that air travelers currently pay $63 in taxes on a typical domestic $300 round-trip ticket, 81 percent of voters are less likely to support an increase in the PFC;
  • When informed that airports have investment-grade credit, are financially sound, have ample access to the bond market to raise money and currently hold more than $11 billion dollars in unrestricted cash, 75 percent of voters are less likely to support a PFC increase;
  • Since 2008, over $70 billion of airport capital projects have been completed, are underway or are approved by U.S. airlines and their airport partners at the nation’s largest 30 airports without any increases in the PFC – a fact that makes a full 65 percent of voters less likely to support an increase;
  • Given the choice between improving airport facilities or improving roads and bridges, an overwhelming majority of voters – 89 percent – select roads and bridges, while just 6 percent select airports.

In an interview with AirwaysNews in December, ACI-NA CEO Kevin Burke noted how Airports United is working with non-aviation groups like the American Council of Engineering Companies and the National Association of Manufacturers. “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,” 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,” he said.

“Recent Congresses—under Democratic and Republican control—have held the line on a PFC increase,” said Calio. “They did so because passengers, airlines and the U.S. economy cannot afford higher taxes and fees, and because airports are capable of addressing capital needs through existing revenue streams. The same is true today, if not more so.”

UPDATE, 9:50 a.m.: AAAE President and CEO Todd Hauptli issued the following statement: “Surprise, surprise, an airline sanctioned survey reached a conclusion supported by the airlines. We are eager to see how respondents view bag fees and other ancillary charges that hit passengers with billions of dollars in added costs that do nothing more than flow to the pockets of the airline industry.”