Reach for the Skies

Investing in America’s Airports Will Make America Competitive Again

Throughout his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump decried the state of U.S. airports—how they’re aging, underfunded, overwhelmed, and outmatched by state-of-the-art facilities in other developed parts of the world.

He’s right. America has zero airports ranked among the global top 25. Our aviation system ranks 9th in the world, with one in five flights cancelled or delayed, largely because our airports aren’t equipped to digest the growing number of U.S. air travelers. That’s a missed opportunity. Our present aviation infrastructure and limited air service options are threatening our country’s economic growth, because investment in basic airport infrastructure has simply not kept up with the demand for air travel in the U.S. If our aviation system continues to fall behind, America loses out in a big way.

President-elect Trump has an opportunity to fix this problem, through focused, sustained policies aimed at modernizing our nation’s airports and travel infrastructure.

Here’s how he can do it—and make America competitive again.

First, we need more gates, more terminal space, and easier airport access for both planes and passengers, in order to encourage airlines to expand air service—and we need long-term funding to make those things possible. The U.S. travel community has long advocated for logical steps like lifting the cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC), a per-passenger user fee set and collected by local authorities. Private-sector investment in airport and infrastructure improvements is a linchpin of Mr.Trump’s initial infrastructure plan, and lifting the PFC cap will allow airports to take advantage of those funds for projects that will make all flyers’ journeys easier.

Another thing airports around the world have that ours need: the ability to accommodate more carriers, and provide travelers with more choices and better prices. Protecting and strengthening our nation’s Open Skies agreements with other countries will only benefit American flyers—and it’s even good for U.S. airlines' bottom line. The old adage that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” as it happens, applies equally to planes; there is zero downside to allowing more airlines to fly into U.S. airports.

The Trump administration should take note of recent rulings allowing Norwegian Air International, as well as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, to expand the number of flights they operate to the U.S., and prioritize pro-connectivity and pro-traveler policies to help our economy grow.

Improving our airports, and thereby giving U.S. flyers more choices and fewer hassles, would encourage travel and put Americans to work. In the next decade, the U.S. aviation system could see up to 927 million passengers per year, which would generate an additional $224 billion in annual U.S. travel spending, and support 750,000 new American jobs.

Improving our aviation system would also make America a more attractive and welcoming destination, and bring more legitimate overseas visitors and their dollars to our shores (they spent $133 billion here last year). America is still the top long-haul international travel destination, but the margin of our lead could slip, especially to European countries and the United Arab Emirates, which is rapidly growing in popularity among global travelers. Travel equals exports, and the U.S. needs to remain on top for the sake of our nation’s economic health.

It is also worth mentioning that travel is one of America’s best soft diplomacy tools. First impressions are important, and a positive travel and entry experience here can make or break an international visitor’s trip. When international travelers are able to travel securely and efficiently through modern airports, they feel welcomed and connected—and more likely to take that positive outlook back to their home country. The ripple effect strengthens our relationships with our allies, and sends an excellent message about our country to the rest of the world.

Modernizing our airports and encouraging more choices for air travelers isn’t just about making life more convenient for frequent flyers. Travel to and within the U.S. currently supports one in nine American jobs—and international visitation to the U.S. is particularly critical to our country’s trade balance, since it accounts for ten percent of all exports. Air travel has an impact on every rung of the economic ladder, and every congressional district in every state benefits from a robust travel sector.

President-elect Trump and the 115th Congress have a chance to significantly improve the lives of millions of Americans by investing in our nation’s travel infrastructure, as he promised to do while on the campaign trail. The U.S. travel industry stands ready to aid the incoming administration in making these promises a reality.