Friday night, Congress finished work on the economic stimulus package and sent it to President Obama for his signature. We all hope it has the desired effect of stimulating economic activity and creating jobs.
Infrastructure investment is an important part of the package — and that includes aviation.
The package includes $1.1 billion in new Aviation Improvement Program (AIP) funds. This new money will not require a local match, which is important with so many communities hurting financially. It is important to note that $1.1 billion represents 33 percent of a full year’s AIP program. While the House had proposed more, this is not an insignificant sum and it can be spent quickly and effectively on job-creating projects of importance to our air transportation system.
It also includes $1 billion for new security equipment to screen bags and passengers.
Critically, the package also includes relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax for private purpose bonds issued over the next two years and also allows non-AMT refunding of AMT bonds issued over the last five years.
Incredibly, many airport bonds are treated as private purpose bonds rather than public purpose and so are subject to the AMT. Most people would see airport projects as public purpose but many of our bonds are not classified that way.
One of our top priorities at ACI-NA the past 3 years has been to change this and the stimulus package gave us the chance to make something happen. ACI-NA arranged sponsors in both Houses and worked with our members to ensure leadership support.
We will continue to work on the ultimate goal of removing all airport bonds from the private purpose classification, but this provision is huge news for the traveling public and for all aviation stakeholders.
The story is not over, of course. We continue to press for a long term Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill that increases the Passenger Facility Charge (PCC) to permit needed investment in infrastructure and helps move us closer to true air traffic control modernization.
ACI-NA just completed a capital needs survey and I will write more about that in the future. Suffice to say that it shows tens of billions in needs over the next five years. Anyone who has flown at any point in recent years knows our infrastructure is not yet adequate to the demand. Our study shows that in detail.
But in the meantime, this was a good week on Capitol Hill for aviation and we will continue to work to make it better.
Here’s a quick addendum:
I was having a very nice Valentines dinner with my wife on Saturday and she told me about a story that she had read about what some airports were doing to promote love and domestic bliss around the country.
She told me that Denver would arrange for travelers’ Valentines Day greetings to be postmarked from Loveland, CO. Phoenix Sky Harbor was handing out heart-shaped cookies while La Guardia was giving out chocolate hearts.
Traveling can be a difficult experience, especially around a special occasion or holiday. These are just the latest examples of airports’ Passengers First Commitment.