The current President of the United States once derisively described LaGuardia Airport as “third world”. That was a decade ago. Today, La Guardia is unrecognizable, and sparkling terminals have sprung up from New Orleans to Kansas City and Seattle to Orlando.
The forces that bring this sweeping renovation in passenger-facing infrastructure are rooted in funding mechanisms that have had a long, political history. Yet, despite these improvements, there have been no major updates or reforms to the system’s two congressionally-controlled funding measures -— the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) and the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) — in nearly two decades.
Now, new Congressional proposals expanding the eligibility for how Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants can be used, included in this year’s FAA reauthorization package, could bring some of the most far reaching reforms to airport funding in decades — potentially accelerating these modernization efforts across the rest of the system. However, with uncertainty still looming over when the current reauthorization package will pass, if at all, industry stakeholders seem unsure if that type of reform will actually help close the gap on airports’ projected infrastructure costs.
The question of delivering for airports centers around a disagreement on their needs: the FAA says industry will need $62.4 billion from 2023-2027, but according to the North American division of Airports Council International’s (ACI-NA) Infrastructure Needs Report, that number is just over $150 billion.
These new proposals to reshape airport funding have re-surfaced the decades-old debate over how airport programs should be funded — and, more importantly, who has control over the future of America’s aviation infrastructure. It’s a power struggle that likely will not be resolved soon, but which could have significant long-term consequences for the nation’s more than 5,000 airports.
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