2023 U.S. Airport Infrastructure Needs Report: Growing Needs Heighten Urgency to Modernize America’s Airports
Airports have a footprint in every community in America and are critical to our country’s economic success. Airports support 11.5 million jobs in the United States and produce an annual economic output of $1.7 trillion. As the aviation industry continues its recovery and addresses the long-term operational challenges presented by the pandemic, sustained investment in infrastructure is now more necessary than ever. Continued infrastructure investment and reduced regulatory burdens for America’s airports will support good-paying jobs, stimulate the economy, advance important environmental goals, and improve the passenger experience for millions of travelers.
Airports are still recovering financially from the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic that decimated the entire global aviation system. Congress and the administration acted swiftly to provide emergency relief funds, which were an essential lifeline that helped airports continue to operate and build a healthier, more resilient system. While relief funds were necessary to keep the lights on at many airports, that money represents less than half of the more than $40 billion U.S. airports lost due to COVID-19, causing many airports to take on more debt. And just as airports retooled their infrastructure after 9/11, they need to continue investing in additional modernization projects to make the system more resilient before the next major disruption.
Airports depend on congressional authority and funding to modernize aging facilities. In 2021, airports faced a backlog of planned and necessary infrastructure projects that totaled at least $115 billion. Now, just two years later, airport infrastructure needs have swelled to $151 billion over the next five years. The total cost of these critical projects dwarfs the funding available through annual Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants, Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) user fee collections, grant funding available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), and net income generated by airports. Regulatory burdens that have hamstrung airports for decades continue to constrain the industry’s ability to invest in infrastructure. And just like every other segment of the economy, airports have been impacted by inflation and the cost of infrastructure projects has skyrocketed.
Increasing AIP funding, expanding AIP eligibility, modernizing the outdated PFC, and reducing regulatory burdens would allow airports to use funds in a way that benefits them the best, which in turn benefits the communities they serve. Local airports know their needs better than anyone; in order to maximize that expertise, they need more flexibility to spend money as efficiently as possible, both for ongoing and future projects. AIP funding has remained stagnant for nearly two decades, and, in most instances, cannot be directed towards terminal projects—even though, as this report shows, these projects make up the vast majority of airports’ infrastructure needs. Similarly, the PFC has been capped for more than 20 years with no adjustments for inflation. In other words, airports’ primary funding mechanisms continue to lose purchasing power as inflation makes material, services, and labor costs increase while critical infrastructure needs continue to grow.
Airports are public institutions with a primary goal of serving communities and travelers. They have every incentive to use federal and local dollars responsibly. Airports need help cutting through unnecessary red tape to reduce regulatory burdens that are time consuming, delay critical infrastructure projects, and increase costs. Raising the cap on the PFC, allowing airports to use AIP funds to expand terminals, and providing more regulatory flexibility would result in more airline competition, lower fares, and an improved passenger experience.
It’s time for Congress to make meaningful reforms in how we fund America’s critical airport infrastructure.
Airport Infrastructure Needs by State
Regulatory burdens, inflation, and increased costs have hamstrung airports for decades and continue to constrain the industry’s ability to invest in infrastructure. When the Passenger Facility Charge user fee is maxed out, airports aren’t able to fund needed infrastructure projects that help the airport keep pace with growth in passenger and cargo volume.