Galvanized by the Federal Aviation Administration's two-week shutdown this summer—and the 22nd consecutive short-term funding extension—airport advocates are stepping up a campaign calling for both the government and airlines to agree to an increase in airport user fees and a decrease in federal regulations.

“Our airports are being held back due to a Nixon-era framework of government regulations,” said Greg Principato, president of Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA), in remarks at the association's annual convention in San Diego on Oct. 17. Criticizing airlines for agreeing with the regulations in order to stifle competition, he added, “Let’s tell them to get out of our way. Free airports to get their own resources and build their own infrastructure.”

Airport officials are chafing at the unwillingness of Congress to agree to raise passenger facility charges (PFCs) on each airline ticket to at least $7 from $4.50. Like the gasoline tax for highways and transit, PFCs fuel a trust fund for airport projects.

ACI-NA officials constantly invoked the Canadian airport industry, in which airports have the ability to raise their version of PFCs at will. “In Canada, the government has let airports operate as businesses,” said Frank Miller, ACI-NA chairman.

Noting that an estimated $80 billion is needed over five years just to meet current airport infrastructure needs, Principato added, “We’re celebrating a four-month [short-term funding] extension? That’s pitiful.”

ACI-NA is planning a new policy strategy in collaboration with the American Association of Airport Executives to send a more forceful advocacy message to airlines, politicians and the public, he added.

The annual meeting in San Diego, which is expected to draw about 2,000 attendees, featured the award-winning Associated Press correspondent Kimberly Dozier as keynote speaker. A survivor of a terrorist bombing in 2006 that killed her CBS News crew and an Army captain, she urged airport officials to be resilient.

She warned that Al Qaeda’s focus is still on airplanes and airports and that another terrorist incident was likely. “Our test is to recover quickly, learn from it and move on,” she said. “You’re facing less large-scale threats. But the terrorists are sending smart individuals to probe your defenses. You have my sympathy and respect. I wish you resilience.”

After mesmerizing the audience with her experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, she took questions. One audience member asked her opinion on the Transportation Security Administration’s efficacy.

Diplomatically, she replied that, as a journalist, she was not allowed to specifically comment on issues directly related to ACI-NA. But she noted that, overall, the TSA is constantly working with Homeland Security and various American intelligence agencies to get updates on possible terrorist trends.