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February 8, 2016

With FAA Reauthorization Ahead, New Advocacy Group Backs Infrastructure Spending

As Congress moves toward reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration next year, a new group called Travelers’ Voice is joining the fray to urge Congress to spend more money on aviation and airport infrastructure.

Two veteran politicians, former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, a Republican, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, are taking the lead as Travelers’ Voice’s advocates.

“The problem is an air transportation system that is breaking down under the weight of increased demand,” Talent said. “What we’re going to see is what we now think of as the busiest [air travel] days becoming normal days, at least at the busiest airports in the country.”

The airports want Congress to increase the cap on fees called Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs) from $4.50 to $8.50 and to index it to the inflation rate, so they can use the new revenue for infrastructure improvements and expansion.

But the airlines argue that higher fees aren’t needed and would be “punishing the passenger.”

To raise the revenue to pay for airport infrastructure, Rendell said he’d personally support a PFC increase, with part of that increase dedicated to airport infrastructure expansion and part earmarked for the Next Gen air traffic control modernization project.

Congress would have to change the law to allow this use of PFC revenue, but Rendell said it could do that as part of next year’s FAA reauthorization.

Next year’s legislation is “an opportunity that should not be missed” to address the infrastructure problem, Talent said.

The former Missouri senator contended that inadequate infrastructure will result in airline industry consolidation and higher fares.  “Four airlines control almost 90 percent of the business. And a big part of the reason is because the infrastructure can’t accommodate increased competition now.”

Asked if the airlines are the opposing force that needs to be overcome, Rendell said if Congress changed the law to allow some PFC revenues to be used for Next Gen, “I think that might lessen airlines’ opposition.”

He added, “The airlines come to this issue not necessarily with clean hands. They just put in a $25-a-bag charge. Our increase in the passenger facility charge — if we do it by $4 — pales into insignificance.”

“If we allow this system to continue to decline, are the airlines going to be better or worse off?” Talent asked. “They’re going to be worse off.”

According to Rendell, the U.S. Travel Association paid for an initial survey of air travelers showing support for more aviation infrastructure spending.  “We’re hopeful we can get a lot of stakeholders” to help pay for Travelers’ Voice’s advocacy, he said.

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