Maynard H. Jackson. Jr International Terminal

MIAMI — As Congress continues to mull an FAA reauthorization bill, a trade organization that represents airports has released a study that says U.S. airports need $75.7 billion to fund projects to handle passenger and cargo growth and rehabilitate existing facilities, according to Airport Capital Development Needs: 2015-2019, released by Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA).

The new terminal under construction at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.
The new terminal under construction at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

The study covers projects that can’t use Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant funds or are constricted by a Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) cap of $4.50. Looking into the numbers, large hubs account of $40.1 billion, or 52.9 percent; medium hubs account for $9.1 billion, or 12 percent; small hubs account for $7.7 billion, or 10.1 percent; and non-hubs account for $5.3 billion, or 7.1 percent.

In 2014, more than 750 million passengers traveled through U.S. airports. Over the next 20 years, the FAA estimates enplanements will grow to more than 1.14 billion. At the same time, the FAA anticipates cargo traffic will double to more than 80 million revenue ton miles. To accommodate increased passenger and cargo demand, airports must keep a constant eye on the future and ensure their facilities are able to accommodate increased growth.

Commercial service airports reported significant capital project needs, up 9.1 percent from the last report, while non-commercial service airports fell by 1.5 percent. Significant development was identified at Austin, Nashville, New Orleans, Oakland, Columbus, San Antonio, and Maui Kahului Airport; in contrast, eight medium hub airports — Houston Hobby, San Jose, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Jacksonville, Memphis and Southwest Florida — all reported more than a 20 percent decrease in capital needs, primarily due to the completion of projects reported in the 2012 ACI-NA Survey.

The new International Terminal under construction at Houston Hobby Airport. (Credits: Houston Airport System)
The new International Terminal under construction at Houston Hobby Airport. (Credits: Houston Airport System)

The development cost estimate for 2015-2019 for large, medium and small hub airports combined shows an increase of 9.3 percent from the estimate for 2013-2017 and a 1.5 percent decrease for non-hubs and non-commercial service airports. The improving economic environment, increasing passenger travel, and aging infrastructure have forced airports to plan or begin capital projects that were previously postponed or canceled.

Examples of airport capacity projects hurt by an outdated PFC cap include: Los Angeles International’s plan to improve terminal connections to move passengers through the airport complex more efficiently; and JFK AIrport’s project to build new gates to meet growing demand and increase competition and upgrade its central power plant to meet capacity needs.

While airports keep a watchful eye on passenger growth, they must also ensure existing runways and terminal buildings are in good repair to prevent safety problems and service disruptions. The average airport facility in the United States is more than 40 years old, and our newest major airport is 20 years old, so many of its major facilities are coming to the end of their useful lives or need to be rehabilitated.

Examples of airport rehabilitation projects impacted by an outdated PFC cap include: Minneapolis-St. Paul International’s effort to replace jet bridges and undertake reliever projects for greater efficiency; and major runway rehabilitation at San Antonio International Airport.

Airport operators have a responsibility to make needed investments in modernizing aging airport facilities so that they can ensure efficient, safe and secure operations for aeronautical users and the traveling public, said the report. “Without adequate investment, the ability of airports to fully serve the public and the community as a growth engine is diminished. It is important to understand that the existing federally-mandated funding system fails to meet U.S. airport capital needs for modernizing and expanding airport capacity,” it warned. “Failure to meet the future capital needs of airports will impair the ability of U.S. airports to be globally competitive.”