Modernizing Airports and Air Traffic Control Facilities Among Top Priorities in Aviation Infrastructure Funding

Modernizing Airports and Air Traffic Control Facilities Among Top Priorities in Aviation Infrastructure Funding

June 25, 2021  | Caroline Marete

The Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing titled Aviation Infrastructure for the 21st Century, on June 23, to discuss the current state of aviation infrastructure in the United States as well as plans for maintaining and modernizing such infrastructure. The list of witnesses and their testimonies are as below.

In her opening statement, Subcommittee chair Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) highlighted the importance of investing in modern aviation infrastructure in order for the U.S. to remain the world leader in aviation safety, to improve air travel efficiency, and to modernize air travel for the 21st century. Sinema emphasized the need to improve the current state of aviation infrastructure citing the 2020 American Society of Civil Engineers Report that rated U.S. aviation infrastructure at D+. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the ranking member of the Subcommittee, stated that the nation’s aviation infrastructure needs improvements to make them more resilient, and urged all stakeholders to consider “bold and creative solutions” that will bolster the aviation infrastructure for the next 50 years.

The discussions mainly centered on two key components of aviation infrastructure: airports and air traffic control facilities.

Airports

Airports are an essential component of the U.S. transportation infrastructure that contribute to the national and local economies by providing jobs and attracting new businesses to regions where they are located. Currently, airport operators face numerous challenges that may hamper their ability to provide the necessary services and operate efficiently. Some of the challenges are those related to funding long term airport development projects. Danette Bewley cited a 2020 Airport Infrastructure Needs Study arguing that even before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, airports were chronically underfunded. As a result, the report showed that there is a backlog of more than $115 billion in airport infrastructure needs.

The need to modernize the antiquated airport infrastructure was echoed in statements by Sean Donohue and Paul Rinaldi. Bewley presented several policy recommendations to help fund projects in airports, including providing direct federal funding for airport infrastructure funding by providing at least $50 billion over the next 5 years in airports of all sizes and increasing the federal cap on the passenger facility charge (PFC).

Tapping the PFC as a source of funding for airports was among the recommendations presented by Benjamin Miller based on the findings of a recent RAND report, U.S. Airport Infrastructure Funding and Financing. However, Paul Cullen of Southwest Airlines was not in complete agreement that PFC would significantly increase funding for airports. On the contrary, Cullen argued that increasing PFC will increase air travel fares and may result in reduced number of air travelers. In addition, Cullen mentioned that passengers who use multiple airports on one trip will pay PFC in multiple airports resulting in double taxation.

Air Traffic Control

On air traffic control facilities, Paul Rinaldi provided several examples of some of the facilities that are in dire need of replacement. With facilities that are more than 60 years old, water leaks, plumbing issues, broken counter tops, and nonfunctional elevators are a few examples of the many infrastructural challenges in air traffic controls facilities. Responding to Sinema’s question on how aging facilities may affect the work of Air Traffic Controllers, Rinaldi responded that ATC is a high intensity and high focus job. Aging facilities that do not provide friendly and conducive work environment may impede safety. According to Rinaldi’s written testimony, priorities for air traffic control facilities going forward include replacement of antiquated facilities in some U.S. regions and territories, modernization of communications technology, and updating traffic management tools for existing users and new entrants like UAS and commercial space users.

Throughout the hearing several Subcommittee members and panelists acknowledged the critical role played by the CARES Act funding in supporting the air transportation industry—both airports and airlines. Bewley and Donohue testified that the CARES Act funding was beneficial in supporting employees’ payroll in addition to providing support to airport concessionaires.

Share

Related Articles

Modernizing Airports and Air Traffic Control Facilities Among Top Priorities in Aviation Infrastructure Funding

Modernizing Airports and Air Traffic Control Facilities Among Top Priorities in Aviation Infrastructure Funding

The Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations, and Innovation of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a...

Guest Op-Ed: Action and Reaction: The Belarus Gambit to Force Diversion of Ryanair Flight 4978

Guest Op-Ed: Action and Reaction: The Belarus Gambit to Force Diversion of Ryanair Flight 4978

Before the end of World War II, the United States government brought representatives of nations from around the world to Chicago to hammer...

Frustration on Progress, Concern About Noise are Key Topics at House NextGen ATC Roundtable

Frustration on Progress, Concern About Noise are Key Topics at House NextGen ATC Roundtable

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation held a virtual roundtable this week on air traffic control (ATC)...

$1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Bill Moving to House Vote Next Week

$1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Bill Moving to House Vote Next Week

A $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, which incorporates a $494 billion, five-year surface transportation reauthorization (backed by a $145...

Senate Committee Approves Several Aviation Bills

Senate Committee Approves Several Aviation Bills

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on December 11 approved five aviation-related pieces of legislation. War risk...

Senate Subcommittee Revisits Air Traffic Control Modernization

Senate Subcommittee Revisits Air Traffic Control Modernization

Hopes for air traffic control (ATC) reform, a proposal that Eno has investigated in the past, were dashed last Congress when attempts to...

Guest Op-Ed: Safety, Shutdowns, and Air Traffic Control

Guest Op-Ed: Safety, Shutdowns, and Air Traffic Control

On January 25 2019, the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history ended after 35 days. As the government shutdown entered its...

Webinar: Aviation Workforce Challenges in the US & UK

Webinar: Aviation Workforce Challenges in the US & UK

  When: 11:00am ET, Friday, March 29, 2019 Where: Via webinar     The global aviation industry faces...

CBO Estimates Future Transportation Excise Tax Yields Increasing

CBO Estimates Future Transportation Excise Tax Yields Increasing

January 31, 2019 Yesterday's release of the annual Budget and Economic Outlook by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office contains a...

The Shutdown's Effect on Air Traffic Control — and How to End it

The Shutdown's Effect on Air Traffic Control — and How to End it

This piece was originally published in The Hill. As the federal government shutdown stretches on, its effects on the nation's aviation...

Defining the Success of Modern Airline Deregulation and Competition

Defining the Success of Modern Airline Deregulation and Competition

November 2, 2018 The Brookings Center on Regulation and Markets hosted scholars and a former airline executive on October 30 to discuss...

FAA Bill Requires 119 New Reports to Congress

FAA Bill Requires 119 New Reports to Congress

October 5, 2018 The staffs of the House and Senate transportation committees are going to be doing a lot of reading over the next three...

Be Part of the Conversation
Sign up to receive news, events, publications, and course notifications.
No thanks