The ACI-NA Small Airports conference wrapped up in St. Louis last Friday. As I wrote last week, those men and women who run our smaller airports are knee-deep in every issue. They also keenly feel the impacts of economic changes, as well as the increased costs of regulatory mandates; since airlines are increasingly conscious of costs and anything that adds costs for airports or airlines puts their air service in peril. We are in a tough time.
Government can do a few things. Congress can pass a multi-year FAA reauthorization bill so we can avoid having any more short term extensions. When the authorization is extended on a short term basis, the FAA can only make infrastructure grants on a piecemeal basis. This makes planning impossible, especially for smaller airports that depend heavily on federal grants for their capital budgets.
The government can also pay closer attention to the cumulative costs of the regulations they issue. Each regulation, on its own, carries a cost that can be borne, but on a cumulative basis it is much tougher, especially for smaller airports.
When I was in state government, our governor and legislature raised revenue to invest in transportation infrastructure, including airports. A fair amount of that money went to airports in smaller communities. Whenever the governor would talk to a company about investing in our state they always had two questions: how is the education system and what kind of transportation links do you have. Judging by the success we had, it seems like those are the real keys to economic development.
A couple of random points: went to a game in the new Busch Stadium, my first time there. What a great stadium. Lots of food choices. Two home runs by Albert Pujols, the best player in baseball today. And they make great use of the arch, the old capitol and the rest of downtown St. Louis to give you a real feel for where you are at the ballpark.
After attending a family wedding and visiting some family in Champaign, Ill., we drove a truck filled with family heirlooms back 14 hours through 7 states. Saw lots of road work being done, some with stimulus money (according to the signs). I thought about the fact that nearly every penny of the airport money in the stimulus package is already spoken for; making it among the most effective and efficient parts of the stimulus package. When you combine that with the tax changes enacted in the stimulus that freed up the market for airport bonds, you’d have to say that airports really are a stimulus success story.
Now, just think about the all the infrastructure that will be developed and JOBS that will be created, when the Congress passes a long term FAA reauthorization — with an increase in the passenger facility charge, the SINGLE MOST EFFECTIVE AND EFFICIENT USER FEE IN AMERICAN TRANSPORTATION TODAY.