Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers graded America's infrastructure a D-plus. Our roads are riddled with potholes, our trains and buses are overcrowded, and many of our ports are not deep enough to accept larger cargo ships.
Airports are not exempted from this need for modernization. At an average age of 40 years old, U.S. airports have an estimated $100 billion in infrastructure needs over the next five years, according to a new study by Airports Council International - North America (ACI-NA).
Without robust funding at all levels of government and the private sector, America's infrastructure will continue to lag behind the rest of the world. According to the World Economic Forum, in 2016 the economic competitiveness of U.S. infrastructure ranked number 11, behind countries such as France and Netherlands. In 2005 we were ranked number one.
In an increasingly interconnected world, cities and states can only compete by having the facilities and the ability to move people efficiently. Airports are one part of a larger aviation ecosystem, and one weak link contributes to a lack of confidence in the industry. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that the number of passengers will grow from 825 million in 2016 to more than 1 billion over the next decade. To accommodate this growth, U.S. airports are due for a much-needed modernization.
We know America's airports are more than just gateways to travel. Airports are engines of economic growth for communities across the country. They employ more than 1.2 million workers, and their operations support nearly 10 million additional jobs, totaling $360 billion in annual wages. In Philadelphia, the airport generates $15.4 billion annually for the economy and accounts for 96,300 full-time jobs.
President Trump has often decried the poor condition of America's infrastructure and has vowed to put forth a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. While the details are still unknown, we believe that it must include significant funding for airports. As the president drafts his plan, Congress is moving forward with legislation to reauthorize the FAA and its various aviation and airport programs. This legislation provides an opportunity to transform our airports into modern and efficient hubs of activity.
One way to address airport needs is through modernizing the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC). This modest user fee goes directly to airports to invest in facilities. Updating the PFC to permit more local control would make airports less reliant on federal funds and allow for government spending on other important items. The PFC cap, which is set at $4.50, has not been adjusted in 17 years, meaning the buying power of airports has changed dramatically as the costs have risen.
Airports need to be given the tools to modernize terminal space, rehabilitate runways and taxiways, and address other needs in order to compete in the 21st century. Republicans and Democrats know that for the United States to remain economically competitive our infrastructure must be strong and resilient. And because every flight in the United States begins and ends at an airport, it is essential that airport priorities are reflected in the FAA reauthorization as well as the president's trillion-dollar infrastructure plan.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell is a co-chair of Building America's Future. Info@bafuture.org
Chellie Cameron is CEO of the Philadelphia International Airport. contactPHL@phl.org