Approved by the Transportation Policy Committee on March 15, 2021
Approved by the Public Policy and Practice Committee on May 5, 2021
Adopted by the Board Policy Committee on July 16, 2021
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports the permanent extension and increase of user fees to adequately fund the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) through the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF). Such funds should not be used to pay for security costs but specifically be used for enhancing airport safety, capacity, and maintenance. Furthermore, ASCE recommends that all monies collected from these user frees be deposited in the AATF with budgetary firewalls to eliminate the diversion of transportation revenues to other purposes. ASCE supports the removal of the Federally imposed cap on Passenger Facility Charges (PFC) providing funds used by airports for safety, security and capacity enhancements, and other airport improvements not funded through the AIP. ASCE supports timely multi-year reauthorization of aviation programs to ensure predictability and stability in airport improvement funding. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the need to provide resilient revenue streams to support air transportation programs and when appropriate, have federal support to preserve AATF viability.
AAFT balances should not exceed necessary funds to meet obligations plus an appropriate reserve. Budget protections, such as firewalls or spending guarantees and supporting mechanisms, which make it difficult for Congress to appropriate less than the amount authorized for the AIP, should be part of the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs to maximize investment in the nation's aviation infrastructure.
Lastly, ASCE supports the continued and accelerated implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).
AIP is the major airport infrastructure investment program of the FAA and provides grants to the nation's airports for capital projects such as capacity enhancements, airfield and airport access improvements, facility enhancements to meet current design standards, and major aviation projects. It is important that all the AAFT receipts collected in the fiscal year are timely allocated to projects and not used to create an uncommitted surplus. The expenditure of Trust Fund monies for airport improvements is critical to meeting both existing and anticipated future demands of the national aviation system. Additionally, Congress needs to provide continued but separate funding for security operations that are not reliant on AIP or PFC funds.
According to the FAA Aerospace Forecast for fiscal years 2020-2040, the total system revenue passenger miles (RPMs) increased 4.3% in 2019 while system enplanements grew 4.1%. U.S. air carriers flew 42.9 revenue ton miles (RTMs) of air cargo in 2019, an increase of just 0.2% from 2018. Although the uncertain time frame of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic for the aviation industry is not included in their estimates, the FAA projects an RPM growth of 2.5% per year for the 2020 to 2040 time period, while total RTMs are predicted to increase 3.5% annually.
Congestion continues to cause delays at the nation's busiest airports. Prior to COVID-19, the FAA reported that in 2019 over 20% of commercial aircraft flights were delayed, including just under 6% due to national aviation system delays including runway closure, heavy traffic volumes, and air traffic control reasons.
In general, AIP grants have primarily been used for eligible airfield projects, while revenue generated through PFCs and tenant rents and fees support terminal gate baggage system, banking, security, checkpoint, ground access and runway improvement projects. These demand and service-based funding elements are critical for a safe, efficient, and globally competitive aviation system. Although being a major source of revenue for airport improvements, the FAA acknowledges that the PFC’s are not sufficient to meet capital needs of the nation’s airports.
The Airport Council International-North America (ACI-NA) Airports Infrastructure Needs 2019-2023 estimates that United States airports have nearly $128 billion in infrastructure needs to accommodate growth in passenger and cargo activity, rehabilitate existing facilities, and support aircraft innovation. The National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) estimates that over the next five years (2021-2025) approximately $43.6 billion of AIP-eligible infrastructure development will be needed at 3,304 public-use airports an increase of $8.5 billion or 24% from the 2019-2023 plan, to meet the needs of all segments of civil aviation.
The viability of the AATF Trust Fund and PFCs used to fund aviation system costs are dependent on revenues derived from passenger fees. In 2020 due primarily to the Coronavirus pandemic, passenger counts declined by more than 50% when compared to 2019 levels, resulting in a significant loss of program revenues.
Effective planning and demand forecasting will play a key role in effectively dealing with the disruptions and uncertainties created by the pandemic. While the timeframe for recovery for the aviation industry from the pandemic is uncertain, the revenue lost due to the sharp decline in air passenger travel has illustrated the need for resilient funding options.
Under pre-COVID conditions, the FAA forecasts total annual U.S. commercial air carrier domestic passenger enplanements would surpass 1 billion by 2040. In order to increase capacity and reduce congestion, the nation must continue to increase funding for airport development and upgrades, and for the modernization of the national air traffic control system. Additionally, the FAA, estimated that the total cost of air transportation delays in the U.S. in 2019 was $33 billion, 55% of which was borne by passengers for lost time due to airline schedule buffers, flight delays, and cancellations, and missed flight connections.
Airports also face the challenges of accommodating a variety of existing and evolving aircraft, integrating unmanned aircraft systems, managing increasing data needs, and implementing infrastructure and operational changes that capture NextGen benefits. ASCE continues to support the use of dedicated user fees and trust funds to fund infrastructure needs.
ASCE Policy Statement 445
First Approved in 1996
The other ASCE policies that relate to aviation transportation program are:
PS 404- Endorsement of Infrastructure Projects
PS 434 – Transportation trust Funds
PS 471 – Aviation Infrastructure Research
PS 549 – Unmanned Aircraft Systems