Friday, February 24, 2017

“We need to have a sexier airport” -Robin Brown, member of Grand Junction Regional Airport (KGJT) Authority

Airport needs more flexibility on fees


The nation’s aging infrastructure is a hot topic in Washington, D.C., as Congress and the president grapple with the best approach to revitalize roads, ports, tunnels, bridges and airports.

Do they go all in with $1 trillion in public works funding or take a free-market approach to incentivize private investment?

The question as it relates to airport improvements is important because it could affect how much money is directed toward smaller, regional airports like ours.

Under the current system, numerous aviation taxes are imposed by the federal government. A portion of these funds are disbursed through grants to airports nationwide to finance improvements. Critics of this type of centralized redistribution system say it unfairly deflects money away from the biggest airports with the most passenger traffic. Air travelers are subsidizing improvements at small airports they rarely use.

A recent report authored by the Heritage Foundation’s Michael Sargent, titled “Building on Victory: An Infrastructure Agenda for the New Administration,” recommends eliminating the Airport Improvement Program and allowing airports to better self-fund their own improvements.

Sure, that would be great for the nation’s biggest airports, but it leaves Grand Junction out in the cold. Local leaders met Tuesday to brainstorm how to improve passenger numbers. A lack of direct flights to Los Angeles is widely seen as a barrier to more robust economic development.

“We need to have a sexier airport,” said Robin Brown, a member of the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority.

But the airport has limited resources. It depends on the Airport Improvement Program for the bulk of its funding to plan and build for future needs.

The likelihood of increasing passenger loads and proving demand for more flights to places like L.A. and Chicago may depend on the community’s willingness to underwrite seat guarantees. If infrastructure improvements are to be borne exclusively by each airport, we’ll have a hard time rising to the occasion of creating a first-rate flying experience.

Sargent’s 1-2 prescription isn’t completely without merit, however. Airports are able to collect a passenger facility charge, which they can use to finance improvements according to Federal Aviation Administration guidelines. The PFC has been capped by the federal government at $4.50 since 2000, hindering the ability of airports to fund their own improvements.

Lifting the cap, as Sargent recommends, would help the Grand Junction Regional Airport build up reserves to fund needed improvements. But we don’t have the passenger traffic to make this the primary source of funding.

Hopefully Congress will see the wisdom of lifting the cap on PFC without abandoning rural airports in the process. Reforming airport funding based on free-market principles would ensure that the most-used airports would get the most resources, but would consign small airports to a no-growth strategy.

Original article can be found here:   http://www.gjsentinel.com/opinion

No comments: