LAX CEO: We Need to Bring the Passenger Facility Charge Back to its Original Buying Power

Last week, Los Angeles World Airports Chief Executive Officer Deborah Flint addressed the Washington Aero Club at a lunch event in Washington, D.C. In her speech, Flint described Los Angeles International Airport’s (LAX) current $14 billion investment project and how it will help to relieve congestion and improve the LAX travel experience for passengers.

She also discussed how airports across the country are using technology to improve efficiency and ease long lines.

Finally, she urged Congress to return the Passenger Facility Charge to its original buying power by updating it to be $8.50. She noted that it’s been two decades since the PFC was updated and that it’s well overdue that we modernize it to keep up with inflation.

Excerpts from her speech are below.  Her full remarks are available here.

Flint on the need to modernize the PFC:

A new level of investment in infrastructure is needed and for airports this can be real by bringing the Passenger Facility Charge to its original buying power.

“It is time. It has been two decades that the PFC has been unchanged even though there have been 26 models of the iPod, which was released the same year. It has been so long that the styles have even come back – parachute pants and tracksuits are back in again.

The ask is to increase the PFC from $4.50 to $8.50 and index it for inflation in the future. That will make a difference for airports of all sizes – large, medium, and small.”

Flint on LAX’s infrastructure projects:

We are making a $14 billion investment in an Automated People Mover train system, roadways, a Consolidated Rent-A-Car facility that will combine the 20 separate facilities that burden our neighborhoods and roadways, a connection to regional rail, and modernizing each terminal.

“And we are beginning the environmental review to improve the airfield, build a new concourse off of Terminal 1, and a new Terminal 9, which requires billions of additional dollars.”

Flint on airports improving efficiency through biometrics:

Back to my 16 year old and her airport expectations. For her, wifi and cellular are like air – as they have become for all of us. Her face is everything.

“I am talking about biometric aircraft boarding gates, self-baggage drop, TSA and CBP screening – all biometrically enabled at LAX today. While privacy and data security must have high bars, the efficiency of biometrics is astounding. We boarded an A380 using biometric facial boarding in 20 minutes.”

Flint on the future of the airport industry:

Airport by airport, working with our partners in airlines and throughout the industry, we need to be excited, energetic and chase the next evolution. We need to push for our airports to be more innovative, sustainable, to be stewards for local communities, to bring the joy and certainty back to air travel, and together get the funding to invest and let our industry shine. At Los Angeles World Airports our vision is Gold Standard Airports … Delivered.  The U.S. deserves that vision for each and every one of our airports.”

Infrastructure Week 2019: 20th Century Airports in a 21st Century World

Today marks the official start to Infrastructure Week 2019, the long-celebrated week each year when the infrastructure community comes together and engages in a broad conversation about the importance of modern infrastructure.  For us, every week is Infrastructure Week (we’re not the first ones to make that joke and we won’t be the last…), but we’re proud to join in and represent airports in such an important dialogue this week.

As part of our participation in Infrastructure Week, ACI-NA will continue to amplify our important message about the need to invest in America’s aging airports.  Beginning today, passengers in airports will have the opportunity to hear directly from ACI-NA on the benefits of an improved and modernized airport system.  Watch by clicking below.

We couldn’t think of a better way to get our message in front of those who stand to benefit the most from the improved passenger experience, increased airline competition and lower airfares, and enhanced safety and security that will come when we meet the nearly $130 billion in infrastructure needs of America’s airports over the next five years.

We are proud to count CNN Airport Network as a valued ACI-NA member and an active participant in our Beyond the Runway Coalition.  CNN Airport Network’s tremendous support for our industry is greatly appreciated as we ramp up our efforts to engage in a broad conversation about the importance of modern airports to local communities.

For the latest on Infrastructure Week, visit the Centerlines NOW blog or following along on social media using #InfrastructureWeek #BuildForTomorrow.

SLC – Designing for the Future

By Bill Wyatt, Executive Director, Salt Lake City International Airport

I’m often asked why, after a week of retiring from the Port of Portland (PDX), I decided to accept an offer to go back to work as the new executive director of the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC).

The reason is simple: SLC is building what will be the first new hub airport in the country in the 21st century. We’re not talking a remodel or an expansion, but an entirely new airport. The new airport will secure SLC’s position as a global aviation hub that will serve and grow with the region for decades to come.

As with many airports, SLC is experiencing tremendous passenger growth and operating in facilities that are over-utilized and well past their prime. The history of SLC goes back to 1961, when Terminal 1 first opened. Over the years, we added Terminal 2, additional concourses and an International Terminal. Our newest building is the International Terminal, which was constructed more than 20 years ago.

Our facilities were originally built to accommodate 10 million passengers and, today, SLC is seeing upward of 25 million passengers each year. We have become a thriving hub airport for Delta Air Lines and today are Delta’s fourth largest hub.

Our passengers experience congestion at SLC daily, whether it’s curbside, in the parking garage or when trying to find a seat in gate hold areas and restaurants. Plus, the lack of available gates limit new air service to SLC.

But that will all change the fall of 2020, when the first phase of The New SLC Redevelopment Project opens with a parking garage with double the capacity, one central terminal with 16 security lanes and portions of two new concourses. Once we open the first phase, the process to build the second phase begins with the demolition of current facilities, which allow construction to the east to commence. Come 2025, the entire project will be complete and passengers will travel through an entirely new, modern airport.

The advantage to building a new airport is that you can design for the future. The New SLC will be more efficient and more sustainable. The new concourses are designed in a parallel configuration, which will eliminate aircraft bottlenecks, so airlines can get their planes back in the air faster.

We are also aiming for a LEED Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and plan to achieve this through a variety of ways, such as converting all airline ground service equipment to electric by 2023. The use of natural light will also help to achieve our energy goals.

Those who have arrived at Salt Lake City may have experienced a phenomenon that is unique to our airport and which we are addressing in the new terminal. Thousands of young men and women travel around the world on missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and depart from our airport. SLC is also the place where friends and families come to greet these missionaries when they return home. It’s not unusual to see large gatherings at the luggage carousels with family and friends holding signs welcoming back their loved ones. This also presents a challenge to passengers attempting to get their luggage. In the new terminal, we will have a Meeter-Greeter Room where those waiting for passengers to arrive – whether they be military personnel, missionaries or a winning sports team – can relax in a comfortable setting.

But beyond the brick and mortar, the new airport has been designed to leave a lasting impression on travelers. Art and other elements will provide a sense of place through the use of sandstone, copper colors and native plants. The design incorporates plenty of windows to provide views of the mountains from many vantage points throughout the airport, including from an outdoor deck from Delta’s Sky Club.

Passengers will be wowed by massive art installations, such as The Canyon, which is being integrated on both walls of the airport terminal. The Canyon evokes the Salt Lake City landscape and spans roughly the size of a football field.

An expanded concessions program with 29 retail stores was recently announced and includes a mix of local, regional and national brands, including new brands such as Coach, Frye and Mac. The restaurant program announcement is coming soon and is expected to be just as impressive.

And the good news keeps on coming. The $3.6 billion-plus airport is being built without one cent of local tax payer dollars. For years, SLC was the only large-size, hub airport in the country to be debt free. That has since changed, but the foresight of those planning this project allowed the project to begin with savings. It will all pay off in the end. A recent economic impact study showed the project is contributing approximately $5.5 billion to the local economy.

SLC is currently one of the nation’s most cost-effective airports for airline operations and plans to maintain one of the lowest CPEs in the country for a hub operation.

So you can see why my plans to retire have been put on hold – so that I can be part of this remarkable program that will make traveling through SLC truly unforgettable.

Checked Facts: Airports Are Not Taxpayer Funded

Benjamin Franklin said there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes.  If there’s one more thing we can be certain of on April 15, it’s the airlines continuing to spread misinformation about how America’s airports are funded.

It is common misconception that airports are funded with taxpayer dollars.  In reality, infrastructure projects at airports in the United States are funded through three key mechanisms: federal grants through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP), the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) local user fee, and tenant rents and fees.

No matter how many times the airlines repeat it, the PFC is not tax. The PFC is a local user fee that airports rely on to repair aging facilities, improve aviation safety, improve the passenger experience, create more airline competition to lower airfares, and accommodate rising demand.  With nearly $130 billion in infrastructure needs over the next five years, the PFC is the cheapest and most sustainable option available.

Here’s why:  The PFC empowers those who know the most about the local airport needs, infrastructure investments, and safety upgrades to make the best decisions for the airport while balancing the passenger’s interests. The PFC is collected locally and, unlike other aviation-related fees and taxes, stays local. It never gets passed to Washington, D.C. The PFC is the only funding tool that maximizes this kind of critical local control.  The airlines’ erroneous “tax” argument doesn’t hold water.

Today’s modern conservative movement is diverse and often fractious, so it can be hard to find unanimity on almost any issue. But when it comes to support for the PFC, conservative think tanks and advocacy groups speak with a clear voice in support of this quintessential user fee.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, FreedomWorks, Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action, Reason Foundation, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, Taxpayer Protection Alliance, and Citizen Outreach are some of the leading anti-tax and free market organizations that agree the PFC is a local user fee.

User fees represent a better way to pay for infrastructure. Under this system, the people who actually use the airport bear the burden of upkeep and modernization. That is the most fair and equitable way to fund it – passengers who don’t use the airport will never be asked to pay for it. Americans certainly deserve to keep as much of their hard-earned money as possible.  How else would they be able to pay all those exorbitant airline bag fees?

Communities Left Behind and Airline Industry Consolidation: The Promise of Airline Deregulation Has Only Partially Been Fulfilled

To commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the enactment of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, championed by Dr. Alfred E. Kahn while serving as Chair of the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) under President Jimmy Carter, various industry experts were asked by the JDA Journal to comment on “whether the Airline Deregulation Act is meeting Dr. Kahn’s vision.” The following is the contribution by ACI-NA General Counsel Tom Devine.

 

The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 has certainly provided benefits to consumers in many areas, as airlines and others often point out, but the promise of deregulation has not been fully realized, and many communities have been left behind.

Dr. Kahn assumed we could rely on market forces to supplant government regulation, but industry concentration is now higher than it was prior to deregulation, due to waves of industry consolidation in the past decade.  It is also likely that Dr. Kahn did not anticipate the advent and widespread use of ancillary airline fees (totaling more than $20 billion in 2017) that distort market signals.  Moreover, the paucity of viable new entrants and the dominant carriers’ reaction even to small-scale challenges from other carriers has meant that the market has not always been effective in curbing anti-competitive behavior of dominant airlines.  A distorted or constrained marketplace does not realize the benefits of true competition.

Competition also depends on access by airline competitors to necessary airport facilities, such as runways and terminals.  Preserving and enhancing competition was a key goal of Congress in 1990, when it restored, in a limited form, airports’ right to impose per-passenger fees to raise money for necessary airport capital improvements.  This was critical, because, while dominant hub carriers, for instance, were willing to finance improvements to benefit themselves, they were naturally reluctant to fund facilities that would enable competitors to gain access to the airport.  The PFC statute helped solve this dilemma and enhanced competition by explicitly (1) providing that airline agreements could not govern the imposition or use of PFCS and (2) precluding the leasing of PFC-funded gates on a long-term, exclusive use basis.

Unfortunately, the PFC was initially capped at $3 per passenger in 1990 and has only been raised once, 18 years ago, to $4.50.  The erosion of PFC purchasing power over the years–coupled with the fact that many airports’ PFC capacity is fully committed to pay off projects already constructed–thwarts airports’ ability today to fund the necessary infrastructure to provide for competitive entry.

While the ADA provided some mechanisms for addressing communities and consumers that have been disenfranchised, such as the Essential Air Service program, their effectiveness has proven to be limited.  Reduction in air service is the biggest concern of many of our non-hub, small hub, and medium hub airports throughout the country.  While airports are working diligently to take the self-help steps they can to induce, attract and retain air service, the tools and resources available to them are quite limited.

It is in everyone’s interests — airports, airlines, consumers, communities, businesses and the government, alike — to come up with creative and effective ways to ensure that small and medium-sized communities throughout the country have access to, and connectivity with, the national air transportation system and that there is effective competition throughout the system.  Airports currently produce $1.4 Trillion in economic activity.  Expanding access to the national network of vibrant aviation activity to underserved markets and ensuring true competition throughout the system will allow the economic and social benefits of Deregulation to be realized by all.

A version of this column originally appeared in JDA Journal on October 23, 2018. Read the full article, “40th Anniversary of the Airline Deregulation Act: Retrospectives from 7 Different Perspectives” >>

BNA Is Ever-Expanding

By Douglas E. Kreulen, A.A.E., President and CEO, Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority

Nashville is on fire – there really is no other way to describe it. Always a great place to live, the city is now receiving an unprecedented level of attention from all across the country and beyond. National Geographic Traveller U.K. included Nashville on its “Cool List,” Business Insider named Nashville as one of the “33 Trips Everyone Should Take in the U.S. in 2018,” Forbes “The 20 Happiest Cities to Work in Right Now” list included Nashville, and the lists and accolades just go on and on. The word is out, and the world is coming here to see for themselves. In fact, according to recent U.S. Census estimates, 94 people are moving to Nashville every single day.

As aviation industry professionals, you know how this type of popularity and growth can put major demands on transportation facilities. The challenge is to anticipate and address those demands so as to best serve the aviation needs of the community.

The story of passenger growth at Nashville International Airport (BNA) has followed an irregular path. Nashville’s current terminal opened in 1987, built to accommodate the hub then-operated by American Airlines. Driven by that hub activity, BNA grew to serve more than 10 million passengers by 1992, though only 15 percent of which were origin and destination travelers. In the next year, however, American began reducing operations at BNA and ultimately “de-hubbed” from our airport, causing a steady decline in overall passenger traffic. As it turned out, the high water mark of 1992 would remain the passenger record at BNA for the next 21 years.

But the city and region continued to prosper, solid and steady, and passenger traffic grew likewise. With the end of the recession in 2009, Nashville boomed and growth surged, along with steep increases in air travel. Since then, we’ve been on a tear. By 2013, BNA finally surpassed that 1992 passenger record, and we would add an additional million passengers or more in each of the following five years, reflecting annual growth rates as high as 11 percent. Most recently, in our Fiscal Year 2018, BNA surpassed 14.9 million passengers, a ten percent increase, with nearly 90 percent origin and destination traffic.

This torrid growth required a response. Today’s passenger numbers are years ahead of the forecast found in our last master plan. It was clear to our Board of Commissioners and executive team that expansion plans needed to be finalized – and accelerated – to accommodate the region’s aviation needs.

So in 2016, after additional passenger analysis and forecasting, research and planning, we launched BNA Vision, our dynamic growth and expansion plan for Nashville International Airport. Upon its completion in 2023, BNA Vision will include a parking and transportation center, a new Concourse D, an expanded central terminal, an airport administration building, a possible hotel and transit connection, and a state-of-the-art International Arrivals Facility, among other features.

This billion-dollar project will be completed in phases, as to limit inconvenience and allow the airport to continue all operations. Current projects under construction include a terminal garage and transportation center; a second garage with an airport administrative office complex on top; Concourse D and ticketing wing expansion; and a terminal apron and taxilane expansion to accommodate the construction of our future International Arrivals Facility.

Our focus is on expanding and renovating BNA, and we’re working at a swift pace to add more than 500,000 square feet to our terminal. But the cranes and construction only tell half the story. Expansion for us also means adding air service to make certain we are taking Nashvillians to as many places as we can in the world while also bringing the world to Nashville.

In May of this year, transatlantic service returned to BNA after a 20-year hiatus. The long sought-after and highly anticipated service to London’s Heathrow Airport via British Airways was largely made possible thanks to the support from our community, business leaders, state and city officials and our Board of Commissioners. This new services truly opens Nashville up to the world with Heathrow serving as a gateway to so much of Europe and Asia. As our airport grows, and as Music City expands its increasingly recognized brand, we anticipate adding more international service to meet local demands and that of travelers worldwide.

And while we bring these dramatic changes to our airport facilities, it is vital that we maintain the sense of place and top-notch customer service our travelers expect. Nashville is truly a unique city – from the extraordinary food scene to the live music day and night for which we’re known. It is important to us that the moment you step foot off that plane you know you’re in Music City. This is top-of-mind with every decision we make during construction – the warm and welcoming vibe, the concession offerings, and especially the music. Our live music in the terminal program recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and touts more than 700 performances a year in six performance areas throughout the terminal, and we plan to add more. Nashville is southern hospitality at its best, and we want to make sure those values remain embodied in our approach to customer service.

So we’ve taken on a big challenge – expand the airport while maintaining that “Nashville feel.” We’re confident we will accomplish our goals thanks to the thousands of our hardworking colleagues and partners from all over Middle Tennessee. These are the people who make the aviation industry go. The people who show up every day, arriving before the sun rises and working until long after it sets, to open our storefronts and music stages, provide passenger safety and make sure our baggage systems are running while tackling so many other tasks necessary to make a modern airport function. Because of their commitment and dedication, we know the best days at BNA are in front of us.

And in this fashion, we’ll provide our world-class city with the world-class airport it deserves.

Crowd listening to a speaker at ACI-NA’s 2017 Annual Conference

Cheers to 70 Years: The Best Is Yet to Come

By: Kevin M. Burke, President and CEO, ACI-NA

2018 represents a great milestone for Airports Council International-North America as we celebrate our seventieth anniversary as the Voice of Airports in North America. Anniversaries like this provide a great opportunity to reflect on our past, celebrate our present and look ahead to the future.

As you know, air travel – and the world – has transformed immensely over the last seventy years. And our industry’s evolution along with it hasn’t always been easy or certain. That’s one of the chief reasons ACI-NA exists.

Then in a post-war world with a growing economy, air travel was increasingly accessible to the masses. As we entered the golden age of travel, airports faced many of the same challenges we see today, including burdensome government regulation, infrastructure and investment needs, and airline decision making.

Realizing that there was power in the collective, nineteen founding members convened in New York in 1948 to establish a body that would bring airports together in addressing the challenges and issues of an evolving aviation industry.  From there, our journey took off as the Airport Operators Council.

Looking back, this industry has overcome significant hardships and setbacks. From economic ebbs and flows to airline industry deregulation and airline consolidation to the September 11, 2001 attacks, this industry has always had to be nimble and responsive to the challenge of the day.

Your association has had to be nimble too. In the past seventy years, our name has changed from Airport Operators Council to Airport Operators Council International, and now to Airports Council International-North America in an effort to make room for our ever growing U.S. and Canadian membership and global connections.

While the issues of the past may sound familiar today, so much has changed. Today, airports operate more as businesses than they ever have before.  They are becoming cities unto themselves.

The current landscape presents many unique challenges that require solutions. Today’s airports are not your father or grandfather’s airport. We are seeing a change in the way technology affects air transportation across the world.

Meeting the demands of passenger and cargo growth has never been more important. Our airports must have the ability to modernize as they seek to accommodate rapid growth in passenger and cargo traffic. In the United States alone, airports need nearly $100 billion in infrastructure upgrades and maintenance in order to remain competitive with airports across the globe.

Solving today’s challenges are essential in order to lay the foundation for the future. As such, airports around the world are actively working to enhance competition, create efficiencies through technology, and improve the passenger experience.

There used to be more than thirty airlines that no longer exist because of airline consolidation. The future of the airport industry is at stake without an economic climate that fosters airline competition and choice.

Competition has many benefits in our industry, which can be enhanced through more air service routes and more airline choices. In order to ensure communities in North America remain connected to the global marketplace, we are actively working to make certain our industry – airports and airlines – are as competitive as they can be. Our work in this important area will only grow in the years ahead.

Technology will also be a large part of an overall improved and seamless passenger experience. Today, easiness is synonymous with technology. What new technologies can we use to our benefit? Biometrics is speeding up the boarding process for certain flights, and in a just a few years, all flights may be boarded with the scan of a face.

It’s clear that we must focus on enhancing the passenger experience for a successful future. But these challenges are too big for anyone to handle alone. And that’s where your association comes in.

Members always tell me the real value of ACI-NA comes through our ability to advance airport priorities in Washington and Ottawa, provide essential industry intelligence by keeping the pulse of the issues impacting airport operations, and foster industry collaboration by creating a forum to develop and exchange best practices.  The rich history of advocating for policies and services that strengthen airports will continue as we reflect on our accomplishments and look beyond the horizon.

ACI-NA is only as strong as its members and their active engagement. Our team is proud of the members we serve because of the profound and positive impact they have on local communities across North America. Thank you for your leadership.

Today, as we celebrate our seventieth year with a strong membership and transnational – even global with the establishment of ACI World in 1992 – reach, we recognize that there are obstacles still to overcome. We’re not done yet. We’re just getting started.

Here’s to the next seventy years.

Meet the Member: Rep. Jeff Denham

ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke recently caught up with Rep. Jeff Denham, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to talk about prospects for an infrastructure bill in Congress.

ACI-NA Celebrates 2018 Infrastructure Week at TPA

Infrastructure Week, a week-long celebration of the vast network that supports – and moves – the U.S. economy, is taking place this week. ACI-NA’s Airport Infrastructure Needs Study details that U.S. airports have nearly $100 billion in infrastructure needs through 2021 to accommodate growth in passenger and cargo activity, rehabilitate existing facilities and support aircraft innovation.

For Infrastructure Week 2018, Tampa International Airport hosted ACI-NA and Building America’s Future (BAF) along with members of the Tampa Congressional delegation for an event focused on the need for airport infrastructure investment. This video highlights the lawmakers and industry leaders who called for robust infrastructure investment during the event.