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Legislative Update: Airport Executives Testify Before House Aviation Subcommittee

March 1, 2017

Today the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation held it’s second of five hearings in preparation for FAA reauthorization. This hearing was on the current state of commercial service and general aviation airports across the nation and the challenges and opportunities associated with building a globally competitive 21st Century aviation infrastructure.

Testimony was provided by airport executives of a broad range of airport classifications and categories. While each airport represented had varying circumstances, there was general agreement from each witnesses that the PFC cap should be raised.

Early in the hearing, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) announced that he and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) have introduced a bipartisan bill that would eliminate $4.50 cap on per-passenger fee, which airports may choose to collect to improve capacity, reduce noise or stimulate competition among airlines. The bill trims AIP funding by $400 million annually to reduce federal spending. It also eliminates large hub airports’ entitlement to AIP grants if those hubs collect PFCs greater than $4.50. This provision aims to increase AIP funds available for smaller airports. Letters of support from ACI, AAAE, and the US Travel Association were officially entered in the record during the course of the hearing.

Todd McNamee explained that Ventura County operates two airports: Camarillo and Oxnard Airports. Camarillo is a general aviation reliever airport considered a national asset by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). McNamee advocated for eliminating the PFC cap, increasing AIP funding, protecting the Contract Tower Program, and supporting the Small Community Air Service Development Program. When asked about ATC privatization from a general aviation perspective, McNamee stated, “Many small airports are concerned about potential profit motives, what could happen to their contract towers, and representation on the board.”

Lance Lyttle of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) supports a PFC increase and would like to see more flexibility with the funds because of the high costs of ineligible projects under AIP. Lyttle referenced a preliminary financial forecast for Sea-Tac indicated that with the current PFC cap in place, the cost to airlines for enplanements would increase from $10.15 to $50 by 2024. He believes is it unrealistic to think that airlines would cover the increase.

Christina Cassotis of the Allegheny County Airport Authority stated that Pittsburg International Airport used to carry millions of passengers a year but have experienced a transformation to medium-size, origin-and-destination facility served by a mix legacy, ultra-low cost, and regional carriers. Cleveland, Cincinnati, Memphis, Milwaukee, Saint Louis, Raleigh Durham, and Nashville has also experienced similar transformations. Their passengers have decreased but all of the aging costly infrastructure remains. “Because we don’t meet capacity requirements, our airports don’t get funded and we end up paying to maintain old, underutilized space,” Cassotis said.

Lew Bleiweis of the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority stated, “Small and non-hub airports have difficulties attracting and maintaining air service for their communities. The consolidation of the airline industry has left a dominance of just four major carriers. These carriers decide which communities to serve, leaving many communities with little or no air service. In fact, over the past couple of years, approximately 50 small communities have lost commercial air service.” In addition to lifting the PFC cap, Bleiweis recommended loosening up regulations on how airports can use funds to incentivize airlines to come to their communities.

Sean Donohue of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) stated that, “the PFC is critical, but not a silver bullet.” He supported lifting the PFC cap in addition to broad financial solutions including public-private partnerships. As a large hub, landing fees, terminal usage fees and other air carrier associated fees are the main source of revenue for DFW.

Categories: Advocacy
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