President Donald Trump reiterated his desire to help rebuild the nation’s airports, roads and bridges by investing heavily in infrastructure during a meeting Thursday with airport and airline officials.
He also told aviation leaders who were present that he wants to help the industry by rolling back burdensome regulations and fixing an air traffic control system that is “totally out of whack.”
“We want the traveling public to have the greatest customer service, with an absolute minimum of delays and with great convenience at the lowest possible cost,” Trump says in a copy of remarks posted on the White House website. “We want to help you realize these goals, and we will indeed help you realize these goals. Airports are very important when you travel.”
Trump was less than thrilled at the idea of raising the passenger facility charge, which airports have supported as a measure for building capital projects. It’s currently at $4.50 per flight. Airports want to raise it to $8.50. Airlines oppose the increase, saying it would be a deterrent to travel.
“The problem is I don’t like raising taxes or fees,” Trump says. “I mean, we’re spending all this money overseas, we’re giving away trillions of dollars to all these countries. All of the countries that trade with us are ripping us off. The last thing we have to do is raise the fee. I understand what you’re saying, but $4.50 – it’s a lot when you look at all of the passengers.”
Kevin Burke, president and CEO of Airports Council International – North America, attended the meeting, as did several airport directors, airline officials and Airlines For America.
He was happy with Trump’s strong desire to find ways to improve airport infrastructure and streamline Washington’s involvement in the process.
“We greatly appreciate the president’s persistent, vocal support for building airport infrastructure as a key component of improving the passenger experience, rebuilding our nation, growing our economy and creating jobs,” Burke says. “We had a very productive conversation today that focused on our commitment to improving the passenger experience at airports across the United States.”
Burke adds that ACI-NA believes 2.1 million jobs could be created along with customer experience enhancements by removing the federal limits on the PFC fee. ACI-NA’s research indicates that airports have more than $100 billion in infrastructure needs over the next five years.
“We can quickly fund and undertake these much-needed infrastructure projects with no federal budget impact by giving airports more control of local investment decisions,” Burke says.
Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, thanked Trump for his willingness to meet with industry leaders. But he lamented the lack of progress in air traffic control modernization despite billions of dollars of investment in recent years.
“I think we’re very well aligned with your philosophy,” he says. “We would welcome tax reform. We would welcome regulatory reform. And [we’re] very well aligned on the need for infrastructure investment.”
In addition to infrastructure improvements, ACI-NA emphasized in the meeting the need to enhance the aviation security process and improve the international arrivals process by ensuring that the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection have the officers and technology needed to provide effective screening. And Burke asked Trump to help improve air service by giving airports more flexibility in spurring competition and attracting more airlines to their communities.
Privatizing the air traffic control system, pushed in the House of Representatives in recent years by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), was also under discussion. Shuster has seen Trump as a potential ally in the push for a not-for-profit air traffic control organization, but Trump was non-committal on the idea during the meeting. He, instead, suggested that the FAA should be run by a pilot who understands the sophistication of the air traffic system.
Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America, also expressed gratitude for the meeting. “U.S. airlines are an integral part of our nation’s economy, as millions of Americans depend on safe, affordable and abundant air travel and shipping options each day,” he says. “We are grateful to President Trump for hosting this meeting and were encouraged by his in-depth understanding of our industry and the need to reform our air traffic control system. We share his administration’s goals of growing jobs, reducing taxes and regulation, and expanding our economy.”
Airport directors who joined Burke at the meeting included: Current ACI-NA Chairman William Vanecek, director of aviation at Buffalo Niagara International (BUF); Ginger Evans, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation; Deborah Flint, CEO of Los Angeles World Airports; Patrick J. Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Joseph Lopano, CEO of Tampa International (TPA); John E. Potter, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority; and Robert Wigington, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority.