Saturday, May 28, 2016

U.S. airports ‘grossly underfunded,’ need updating

Kathryn's Report:

(CNN) — Travelers across the U.S. have complained about the lengthy security lines at America’s airports, but the problems at these airports run deeper, and critics are saying the country’s airports are grossly underfunded.

The troubles facing America’s airports goes far beyond the security checkpoint.

“People are going through airports that are built in the 50s, the 60s, the 70s, so the airport structures can’t accommodate them,” said Kevin Burke of Airport Council International.

Decades ago when U.S. airports were built, there were more than 62 million travelers. Today, that number has grown, but capacity has not — more than 750 million passengers are expected to fly this year.

Also in need of updating is the FAA’s air traffic control system. “Our flight times, and what we schedule our times to be, are longer than they would be if we had a more efficient air traffic control system,” said American Airlines CEO Doug Parker.

Airports like New York’s LaGuardia and LAX in Los Angeles have ranked as some of the country’s worst in the past because of outdated terminals.

“These terminals are old. They’re kind of falling apart and we really, really needed to upgrade them,” said Mary Grady of Los Angeles World Airports. “But that’s difficult to do when you’re really constrained for space.”

Funding is finally coming through in some major cities, but at smaller airports like Kansas City, which lacks amenities and space for passengers, they’re still looking for the cash.

“We have new aircraft for example that are now flying in the United States where gates that don’t accommodate an A-380,” Burke said. “Somebody has to pay for that.”

In the U.S., funding comes from airlines, states, local municipalities and the federal government.

But it’s a much simpler funding process in other parts of the world. In South Korea, Incheon International consistently ranks as one of the best in the world. It’s heavily funded by the government.

The airport has entertainment, high end retail, computer stations, showers, spas, an onsite hotel, and the terminals are massive.

Congress regulates a tax capped at $4.50 on passenger airfare and a $9 tax for roundtrips. That money goes to airports for construction projects, but the fee hasn’t been raised to account for inflation in 16 years.

“It’s not a fair fight.” Burke said. “Their governments recognize the importance of airports. Our government says it does, but they need to show it by increasing funding for us, and looking at us as an economic engine for local communities.”

Burke said an estimated $75 billion needs to be invested in airport infrastructure over the next five years to even compete with airports around the world.

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