After more than a decade of lobbying, U.S. airport infrastructure stewards are relishing a baby step of progress toward the goal of raising passenger facility charges (PFCs) to fund more projects. At the same time, public-private partnerships and airport privatization are still on the table.
“In the United States, Congress is beginning to come around to airport infrastructure needs, despite age-old and inaccurate airline rhetoric,” noted Kevin M. Burke, president and CEO of the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA), addressing attendees of the group’s annual conference last month.
He was referring to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s recent approval of increasing Airport Improvement Program funding as well as a proposed increase in PFCs to $8.50 from $4.50.
“This is a very big first step in achieving airport priorities, but we have much more work ahead of us,” Burke said. He noted that Beyond the Runway Coalition, a group of non-aviation businesses that supports airport investment, has increased to more than 80 members.
Held in Fort Worth, Texas, the conference also highlighted continuing interest in U.S. airport privatization, despite previous failed attempts at Midway airport in Chicago and Stewart airport in New York. Three airports have applied to the Federal Aviation Administration’s privatization pilot program: Hendry County Airglades Airport, in Florida; St. Louis Lambert International Airport and Westchester County Airport, in New York.
Robert Collins, managing partner with 3i Infrastructure, cautioned that privatization is “an uphill battle in the U.S.” He used the $4-billion P3 redevelopment of LaGuardia airport’s central terminal as an example of a “yellowfield” privatization that could work.
Lysa Scully, general manager of LaGuardia airport for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, noted that the P3 “freed up money for other projects” in a 10-year, $32-billion capital program that includes $11 billion for airports. “Not enough,” she said.
Joyce Carter, president and CEO of the Halifax International Airport Authority, noted that one-third of major European airports are privatized and half the world’s top 100 airports rely on some sort of privatization.
RJ Steenstra, president and CEO of the Fort McMurray Airport Authority, in Alberta, Canada, said a cyberattack on the airport in 2014 resulted in a nine-day shutdown and $375,000 in damages. The attackers used ransomware to obtain employees’ files and demanded payment. The airport did not pay, but it took two months to rebuild its systems, he said.
Citing airport incidents around the world, Aura Moore, CIO of Los Angeles World Airports, noted that, at Los Angeles International Airport, “we block about 10,000 attempts a day.” Forty percent are in the form of website attacks, 30% are viruses, and 25% are phishing attempts, she said.