On Monday, President Obama stood with former Transportation Secretaries Mineta and Skinner to call for bipartisan support for infrastructure investment. The two secretaries chaired a University of Virginia Miller Center conference on transportation, which last week released a report (which the president held up). The Miller Center is run by my old boss former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles. I was among the 80 experts called upon by the Miller Center to participate.
While the report has a heavy surface transportation focus, its recommendations directly relate to aviation:
- Recommendation 1: Stop the Bleeding. Federal aviation infrastructure spending has gone down both in real terms and because more of the money is spent on FAA operations.
- Recommendation 2: Beyond the Gas Tax. Of course in aviation it is the ticket tax. But the point is the same, the mechanism to fund aviation in this country is out of date as airlines move toward charging fees not subject to the ticket tax. It is time to get beyond the ticket tax as currently constituted.
- Recommendation 3: Jobs for the Future Not Just for Today. Aviation infrastructure is the perfect illustration of this, look at all the economic activity that grows around airports. Those jobs last!
- Recommendation 4: Pass the Power Please. Airports are key parts of their community and we believe the law should be changed where appropriate to give airports more say in their own economic affairs, including what fees to charge and how to finance projects.
- Recommendation 5: Adopt a Capital Budget. Airports already essentially do this. It is time to give them the freedom to finance it.
- Recommendation 6: Connect the Dots. Airports are also increasingly doing this, looking to better connect to downtown and surrounding areas. Let’s remove restrictions that hold airports back.
- Recommendation 7: Getting Americans Home for Dinner. Air transportation congestion has been well documented. Let’s move forward with NextGen, and allow airports the flexibility, especially including a higher PFC cap, to finance infrastructure to take full advantage of NextGen. There is NO NextGen without a PFC increase, and there will be lots more missed dinners.
- Recommendation 8: It’s All About Leveraging. Airports are involved in public-private partnerships every day. Perhaps there is no mode better at this. Let’s remove remaining obstacles, and I would implore the airline industry to join us (as they often, but not always, do).
- Recommendation 9: Delivering Transportation Investments on Time. Airports have an outstanding record in this regard, but the stop and start of 16 FAA Reauthorization extensions and no PFC increase puts this in peril. We need a long-term extension and a PFC ceiling increase so projects can continue to come in on time and on budget.
- Recommendation 10: Build a Foundation for Informed Policy. This is why airline mis-information about airport infrastructure is so frustrating and why ACI-NA investments so many resources in data collection. In fact, private conversations, even with airlines, based on our data are usually quite constructive. Informed debate is useful. Ideological debate is not.
These are the 10 recommendations from the Miller Center’s work. They make all the sense in the world. I applaud Secretaries Mineta and Skinner, Gov. Baliles and President Obama for focusing on them and call on all my colleagues in aviation to approach this FAA bill, and all its future successors, with the same constructive spirit.